{Crew Review} Institute for Excellence in Writing ~ TWSS & SWI-B

We began investigating homeschooling when my now 18 year old was a mere 14 months old. We started doing some preschool things when she was 3 and at age 4 began looking at more formal curriculum. The kindergarten  language arts program we started with listed creative writing assignments such as “write 8 sentences about dirt.” No they did not expect students that young to do the actual physical writing. Mom (or dad) would be the scribe. I struggled because I just couldn’t seem to teach Boobear to orally “write” 8 sentences!

Teaching writing quickly became my number one nemesis. I could recognize great writing. Occasionally, I might even produce some decent writing of my own, but teaching my daughters to write overwhelmed and intimidated me. That is until I discovered Institute for Excellence in Writing and Andrew Pudewa’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style along with the Student Writing Intensive program. We received the Teaching Writing/Student Writing Value Package Level B.

Photo of TWSS and SWI IEW products reviews by Tess

I was blessed to be able to review the TWSS along with SWI-C a few years ago so I begged (yes begged!) to be able to review the SWI-B with Tailorbear.  She wasn’t quite ready for SWI C when I used it with her sisters a few years ago and though she likes to write what she wants to write, she doesn’t always like to write what she needs to write. Before begging for SWI-B I looked over SWI-C and decided that Tailorbear would really benefit from doing SWI-B now rather than waiting for her to be ready to complete SWI-C. 

What is Teaching Writing Structure and Style?:

Photo from IEW of TWSS materials

TWSS is a DVD Seminar with a Practicum Workbook.  This program teaches teachers (and parents!) how to teach writing. Specifically TWSS is “a compete syllabus for teaching writings skills to children in grades 2-10.” I would go so far as to say that these methods could be adapted for first graders and I think it could be successfully used by older students and adults wanting to improve their own writing. In addition to the 6 Seminar DVDs, the program incudes a Tips and Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units of Structure and Style DVD, and three Student Workshop DVDs labeled Elementary, Intermediate Level, and High School Level.

The Structure part of TWSS:

The structure part of the program refers to how to organize the material. Structure is a model or frame. TWSS teaches structure through nine units:

  • Unit 1: Note Making and Outlines ~ students learn to choose key words and to use a basic outline format. This is referred to as the Key Word Outline (KWO).
  • Unit 2: Summarizing From Notes: ~ with this unit students learn to write summaries using their own key word outlines.
  • Unit 3: Summarizing Narrative Stories: ~ In this unit children learn to identify elements of a story sequence (characters, plot, resolution) and use that information to summarize a story. This unit also introduces the very important concept that each paragraph has a purpose.
  • Unit 4: Summarizing References: ~ With this unit students are introduced to the Topic Sentence and Paragraph clincher. Students learn to use the library to finding reading material on a topic, take notes (similar to the KWO idea of units 1 & 2) and write a summary. Unit 4 is closely linked with Unit 6.  Unit 4 tends to be one topic first with one source (short) and move on to multiple topics and longer source text. Unit 4 uses only one source text even if the student chooses multiple topics (paragraphs).
  • Unit 5: Writing From Pictures: ~ One of the goals of this unit is to exercise imagination and creativity. The student gets to create all the details of setting, character motivation etc. This unit can be used to introduce or reinforce the topic/clincher relationship.
  • Unit 6: Library Research Reports: ~ Unit 6 is really a continuation of Unit 4 and the two are listed together in the seminar workbook materials. There are 5 stages described in the Teaching Procedure: the first three are covered as part of Unit 4. Unit 6 covers stages 4 and 5. With Unit 6 students use multiple sources.
  • Unit 7: Creative Writing: ~ This unit gives students a structure to use when writing about something that isn’t a report such as a letter to grandma or an essay about how they spent their summer vacation. I love that the seminar workbook materials include a list of ideas for creative writing assignments!
  • Unit 8: Essay Writing: ~ This unit will teach the proper structure for formal essays.
  • Unit 9: Critiques: ~ This unit is the structure for book reports, reviews, and critiques. Unit 9 combines the basic story sequence chart (Unit 3) with introduction and conclusion paragraphs to form a five paragraph essay.

Three pictures of different parts of TWSS program 

The Style part of TWSS:

If structure is the frame, style is what makes it pretty. The style part of the program is taught throughout the nine units at the student’s pace. In the TWSS seminar notebook, one tab is devoted to “Stylistic Techniques”. This is the syllabus for teaching style. In the DVD workshop Mr. Pudewa emphatically states that each technique should be taught one at time. He covers all of them all at once in the DVD so that teachers will be familiar with them but he tells us to not do that to our students. When a student has mastered one type of technique you can introduce another one. The techniques used are:

  • Dress Ups ~ there are six of these. Dress Ups are the first techniques taught
  • Sentence Openers ~ I think my 9th grade English teacher would get along well with Andrew Pudewa.  Ms. Bradovitch was very big on varying your sentence formats.
  • Decorations ~ When I think of writing style, I think of types of things you’ll find in the decorations section such as asking a question or using alliteration.
  • Sentence Styles ~ Also called Triple Extensions.  The idea is to repeat something within the sentence 3 times such as repeating three verbs, or three –ly words.

If you like lesson planning and are comfortable making your own, then you will find that TWSS will provide all that you need to create your own writing lessons custom fit for your students. The TWSS includes: Goals, Recommend Materials, Teaching Procedure, and Adjusting for Grade Level for each of the nine units as well as for teaching style. You’ll also find a sample year’s schedule and sample lesson plans as well as charts and information that you can use to make wall posters for your classroom. (For home use I highly recommend the Portable Wall).

If you are like me and love the idea of creating tailor-fit lessons for each child but really need more structure and hand holding, then you’ll want one of the Student Writing Intensive courses. 

Three photos showing different parts of SWI B

What is Student Writing Intensive – B?:

IEW describes the SWI as a “jump-start for teaching writing to [your] students by providing direct instruction for students or model lessons for teachers.”  I think of it as a good friend/mentor who holds my hand. The Student Writing Intensive provides all the handouts and materials that you need. I love that source texts, mini-books, charts and checklists are all there for me and I do not have to go hunting for the right length of a paragraph or an appropriate multiple topic single source for teaching Unit 4 concepts.

IEW Photo of SWI B materials

Student Writing Intensive Level B is intended for students in the middle school range (6-8 grades). I am using it through the summer with my 14 year old who just finished 8th grade. She’s had some exposure to IEW in the past but has a desire to focus more on creative writing. I don’t feel she is quite ready for the formal writing of high school (which is covered very well in SWI –C). SWI-B is working out great. She’s building the skills and the confidence in those skills that she’ll need to be successful in high school.

SWI focuses on units 1, 2, 3, 4/6 and 7. It does not cover unit 5, 8 or 9. For style the students will learn the 6 Dress Ups and the 6 Sentence Openers. Andrew Pudewa teaches these concepts on the DVDs. Originally, these DVD classes consisted of four 2.5 hour sessions. (No wonder it’s called Intensive!). 

IEW has taken those intensive sessions and broken them down into 15 Lessons. The suggested course schedule (included!) covers each lesson over 2 weeks providing 30 weeks worth of assignments. You can double up and complete the course in just 15 weeks if you wish.

We’re choosing to modify the schedule a bit by focusing on writing 3- 4 days a week instead of 5 days, but we are still completing one week’s worth of material in one week. This allows us to add in literature studies and grammar lessons so that we have a more rounded complete language arts program. Neither the TWSS nor the SWI include lessons for spelling, handwriting, or formal grammar. This is addressed on page two of the Overview in the TWSS Seminar Workbook.

Tailor Bear creates a Key Word Outline.

Can you use the Student Writing Intensive program without the TWSS?:

Yes, you could. IEW now includes an Overview DVD with the SWI DVDs. IEW, in the Teacher’s Instructions for Using the Student Writing Intensive Level B, says this :

If you do not have the teacher’s course, you can still use the SWI successfully. Watching the Structure and Style Overview will give you an overview of our writing methods. Reading the archived newsletter articles on the Excellence in Writing website and exploring our Help & Support section will also give you more help using our programs.

But I really recommend begging, borrowing, or purchasing the TWSS. Never mind the fact that Andrew Pudewa is very funny and easy to listen to, he’s done his research. He’s tried this method. Successfully used this method. By watching TWSS, I gained confidence in my own ability to not only teach writing but to improve my own writing.

The TWSS makes it easier for me to require written essays and papers for other classes because this is a system that provides me with a solid way to evaluate those papers. TWSS even includes sample check off lists that I have used to grade Boobear’s papers for Music Appreciation and Government courses. As Tailorbear begins her high school career in the fall, I will actually assign the suggested weekly current events report for our American History program. I know that the SWI will teach Tailorbear the skills she needs to organize those 1-3 paragraph papers and the TWI provides me with the guidance to create a checklist for evaluation.

Because the SWI does not cover all the units, having the TWSS means that I can continue to implement the structure concepts not covered and I can continue to add to my daughters’ style repertoire.

My recommended plan for using TWSS with SWI:

Invest the time to watch the entire Teaching Writing Structure and Style DVD seminar. I found that if I tried to watch more than hour at a time though, my head would spin from information overload. Fortunately, IEW included a DISC menu with the Seminar Notebook so I could find excellent stopping points.

If you do not have an extra two weeks or so to watch the TWSS before you need to begin the SWI, I would make the time to at least watch the Overview DVD now included with the SWI DVDs.

Whether you watch the whole TWSS or just the Overview DVD, I encourage you to make use of the Lesson Plan suggestions in the SWI which tell you which parts of the TWSS to watch as a refresher. For example Lesson 7 states “If you have our teacher’s course you may wish to review Disc 2 starting at “Observation from Practicum” to the end of the disc. It goes on to tell you which pages to read in the notebook. (This feature is one of my favorites from the SWI materials. I like this connection between the SWI and the TWSS)

KWO and finished paragraph

My Bottom Line:

This program lays such a solid foundation that I strongly recommend using this program.  It does require an investment of time by the parent/teacher/mentor because students need feedback, however, with the DVD sessions, I do not have to do the actual teaching. Tailorbear watches the DVD and does the writing assignments. I have come to enjoy our weekly (and sometimes semi-weekly) meetings where I read her paragraph and we discuss her dress-ups and I make notes of any grammar.  I love the encouragement that I get from watching the TWSS.  Because of the TWSS, I know that I don’t have to worry about all the aspects of writing. I can focus on what she is learning now, knowing that we’ll come back again and again to the different concepts. I was afraid of IEW because I thought it would be so much more teacher intensive than it is and I was afraid because I had sticker shock. Don’t be like me and allow your fears to cause you to miss out on the best writing program on the market!    home page logo for IEW

Summary of Details:

Schoolhouse Review Crew reviewed all three levels of the SWI (A, B & C). In addition to the TWSS & SWI combo. some Crew members reviewed Teaching the Classics another fabulous program available through IEW. Be sure to visit the blog to read what others have to say about Institute for Excellence in Writing.


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