Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Writing Curriculum

A friend recently asked me for advice about writing instruction. Actually, I get asked about writing fairly often, so here is a description of what we use.

I first began using this curriculum when Olivia and Julie were in the 6th and 4th grades. Clay began IEW when he was in the 4th grade. In my opinion, the 4th grade is a good age to begin IEW. Typically my children do the following for their "writing instruction" until the 4th grade:

1st--copywork, write letters to friends and family, dictation
2nd--the same as first, but longer assignments, plus begin a Journal. I make 5 basic writing assignments, one to be completed each school day. (1) copywork, (2) dictation, (3) doodling, (4) general journaling, (5) letter to someone. This journal can actually be started in first grade if the student is ready. The doodling is just this: I draw a little scribble or a few shapes on the page, the child finishes the picture to create something, and finally writes a sentence about what they have drawn. My children really loved doing this!
3rd--same as 1st and 2nd, plus I provide "story starters" weekly. These can be found on the internet. I would write the story starter either on the board or in their journal, and then they would complete the assignment. The story starter can take the place of one of the other journal activities.
4th--continue with letter writing weekly, plus begin Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW).

IEW teaches children to write by first rewriting already written paragraphs, short stories, and excerpts from books. They are taught how to outline simple paragraphs, put the paragraph away, orally retell the paragraph using only their outline, and then write the paragraph, using only their outline. Next they learn a series of 6 dress-ups, to include in every paragraph. These are taught one at a time, and the student practices including the new dress-up in his writing before learning a new one. Some of the dress-ups are -ly word (adverb), strong verb, quality adjective, and a because clause. As the course progresses, the students are also taught sentence openers and various other language techniques to enhance their writing. Once a technique is taught, it is required in all subsequent writing assignments. The curriculum includes checklists for the writing assignments, so both the teacher and student know what is expected. Over the course of the curriculum the children progress from writing short paragraphs to book critiques and five paragraph essays.

IEW at first glance may seem confusing. They offer a wide variety of products, and some of them are relatively expensive. Keep in mind that most of them are non-consumable, a feature that I always look for in curriculum since I have five children to educate. The first product that you need is Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS). This includes a set of DVDs for the teacher to watch and a teacher's notebook. You could buy this product alone, and implement the curriculum with your children. However, IEW sells a few more products that make teaching writing even easier. The next product you need (really you need to buy it at the same time that you buy TWSS...they offer a price break when you buy them together) is Student Writing Intensive Level A, B, or C (SWI). You choose Level A, B, or C based on the age of your child. You do not, complete Level A, then B, then begin with either A, B, or C, and then you are through with SWI.

The teacher must watch the TWSS DVDs before attempting to use the SWI with her students. If you don't watch these DVDs, and read through the accompanying notebook, you will be lost when your child begins SWI. SWI is also a set of DVDs and a notebook, for the student. SWI will take your about one school year to implement. It requires 15-30 weeks (30 if you take it slowly, which I advise) to complete each level. Since I also require letter writing, working through SWI takes us one school year. The student will watch a portion of a DVD one or two days every 2 weeks. The rest of the time is spent writing, editing, and rewriting. A note: I allow my children to complete all of their outlines and writing on the computer. Typing is so much faster than handwriting, plus it is so much easier to edit and reprint the final copy. They sometimes choose to do their outline by hand, but they always choose to type the actual paragraph, story, essay, or report. When Clay first began IEW, he could not type very well, so I sometimes took dictation and typed his paragraphs for him. Other times, he had to just write them.

Once you have completed a SWI course, you have a few choices. You can buy their Student Intensive Continuation Courses (SICC), which is another year of lessons and DVDs similar to SWI, you can use what you and your student have learned using TWSS and SWI and assign your own writing assignments using topics from your science, history or English curriculum, or you can buy and use one of IEW's other writing products. I have not purchased SICC, but I have done both of the other two options. This year, Olivia used the Medieval Writing Lessons, and Julie used the Bible Based Writing Lessons (both sold by IEW) for first semester, and are now writing one book critique per month plus weekly letter writing for this semester. IEW offers many writing instruction books for all grade levels, and they all can be used with ease after your student has completed SWI. These books are much less expensive, and they don't require any planning on the teacher's part. The student simply works through the book completing the writing assignments.

So that's the explanation! If you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I'll try to answer them. Also, the people at IEW are very helpful too.


  1. Teaching writing seems very intimidating to me so I've been putting it off. Thank you for the information. This may be just what we need.

  2. Roan,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great posts! I look forward to reading your posts each day as I have learned so much from your experience. As a new homeschooler, you know that we look to other moms that have been here...thanks for the tips!
    Nicki Bourgeois

  3. Wow! I like this, Roan. It's so refreshing to see a writing curriculum that seems to consider the whole writing process and the content, purposes for various kinds of writing, etc. rather than just some of the rote, memorized, and even computerized "stuff" that is going on today. The public education world seems to be making another swing back to basics and I'm pretty sure I don't like it.

  4. We have and currently have been using IEW and love it! However, we only have the dvd instruction kit and I have often wondered how to implement them. Thank you for this explanation, it really helps me. There were 2 curriculums (IEW and Mona Brook's Art book, Drawing With Children, that I fell in love with but had trouble using them because I never knew how to implement them and I tried at 2nd grade. My oldest is now in 4th grade and we also use Writing With Ease. This post could not have been more timely for me, as I just (1week ago) started using IEW again and was once again at a stand still not knowing how to advance.