Teaching Writing Structure and Style with SWI-A {Review}

I fell in love with Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) my first year on the crew when I had the opportunity to review Teaching Writing Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive Level C.  I loved it so much that I purchased more products from IEW and begged to review the SWI-Level B with Tailorbear.

Supergirl has been begging and begging and begging to do IEW “like [her] sisters.”  I heard that IEW updated and revised the Teaching Writing Structure and Style program. I was incredibly excited at the possibility of using the new TWSS with the Student Writing Intensive Level A.  We have been blessed to review Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive Level A {Value Package A}.

TWSS and SWI together form a solid foundation to teach writing skils to all students but is easily adapted for special need learners.

Background: Supergirl

I was asked to review this package specifically with a special needs student. Grab a cup of coffee or an iced tea and get comfortable. We’re going to chat about how I’ve been using this with Supergirl, my 17 year old, globally developmentally delayedSupergirl is tiny for her 17 years but adorable! daughter. She struggles with fine motor skills, and learning disabilities. Her ability to understand and comprehend materials read to her far out strips her ability to read, write, and express herself.  This means that if you read to her from a history or science text aimed at 3rd or 4th or even 5th grade she would be able to correctly answer questions demonstrating her understanding. She would be able to give oral narrations though she might struggle to find the right word. She wouldn’t be able to read the passage, nor would she be able to write her own narration. She has asynchronous skills so I have to adapt most things to meet her needs. Having seen her sisters using IEW over the years, Supergirl has been begging for her own level of Student Writing Intensive.  We had been using Primary Arts of Language Writing, also from IEW, but unlike the SWI, doesn’t have DVDs with Mr. Andrew Pudewa teaching. When her very own level of SWI arrived, she hugged the binder. She couldn’t wait to get started writing her own keyword outlines!

Teaching Writing Structure and Style

Read Tess's Review of Teaching Writing Structure and Style at Circling Through This Life

This seminar teaches teachers how to teach writing. The original program was filmed 20 years ago. Recently, IEW completely revamped the seminar including re-filming the class and revising the hand outs.

The new TWSS that I received included the DVD Set, Binder with the Practicum Workbook, and the Premium Online Subscription which gives me 1 year access to the streaming videos as well as pdf download extras.

TWSS is divided into Nine Units. The Units provide the Structure part and include:

  1. Note Making and Outlines
  2. Writing from Notes
  3. Retelling Narrative Stories
  4. Summarizing a Reference
  5. Writing from Pictures
  6. Summarizing Multiple References
  7. Inventive Writing
  8. Formal Essay Models
  9. Formal Critique

The Style part is addressed during Units 1 and 2 as Stylistic Techniques. Some style techniques include Dress-Ups, Decorations, and Sentence Openers.

The Structural Models build on each other. Units 1 and 2 are easy to combine for most students and they lay the foundation for the methodology of the program. The other units can be divided into more of a formal research/essay type of writing (Units 4, 6, and 8) or more narrative, creative, or prompt based writing (Units 3, 5, 7, and 9).

The Practicum Workbook has a tab for each Unit plus tabs for Writing About Literature, Stylistic Techniques, and Appendices.


Student Writing Intensive Level A


This is the student seminar program that prepares students to Write With Structure and Style. The program comes with a DVD set, a student binder with tabs and a packet containing the student handout materials. The tabs include: Models/Sources Checklists, Outlines/Compositions, Structural Models,  Style Charts, “Banned Words”.  Instructions are given as to what to put behind each tab.  The bulk of the packet is to be kept separate. These items are the Teacher Notes and the Source Texts.

IEW advises that the student handouts be given to the student when needed. This means that Supergirl’s writing notebook has several empty tabs at the moment. As we progress through the program she’ll be adding pages to the different tabs in her notebook.

In addition to the DVDs and student materials, students will need plain lined paper. Once you’ve added the plain lined paper to the binder, the student has a working writing notebook.

The Teacher Notes include instructions for using the SWI program, a Scope and Sequence chart, Scene Breakdown, a suggested course schedule, and Teacher’s Notes for each lesson.

The Teacher Notes include a chart at the top giving the video scene breakdown for the lesson, which student hand outs are needed and lists out optional reinforcement materials that are included.  Below the chart the Notes begin with a suggestion to review the TWSS if you have it. It will tell you which units to watch.

The Lesson Notes give specific help for teaching the lesson, gives sample outlines gives suggestions for the reinforcement materials.

There are 15 Lessons in the program and the suggested schedule includes two weeks per lesson for 30 weeks of work. You can adjust the pace of the program to meet the needs of your students.  Some lessons even state “if your student is finding everything easy thus far, you may skip this lesson.”  

The suggested schedule lays out a pattern of Week 1 DVD lesson and student handbook, Week 2 reinforcement materials. Not every lesson has a DVD session. Those lessons provide more practice and reinforcement and have the statement above about skipping. 

Using TWSS and SWI-A With Supergirl

Before beginning the program with Supergirl, I set up both the Student Binder and the TWSS binder. I took the Teacher Notes and Handouts from SWI A and put them in the front of my TWSS binder.  This way I could easily reference any notes for the Unit when reading the notes for a particular lesson.

Read Tess's review of IEW's TWSS and SWI Level A at Circling Through This Life

Supergirl was eager to start so I let her watch the TWSS is with me. Over the course of a few days I watched Disc 1 and Disc 2 which covered the history and overview of the program, structural model Unit 1 and Unit 2 as well as the Dress-Ups portion of Stylistic Techniques. I also watched the practicum for teaching Units 1 and 2 which is at the end of Disc 2. Watching the TWSS before starting SWI helped me to understand the program and the method and gave me more confidence in teaching Supergirl.

Andrew Pudewa stresses modeling, and helping.  Model the sentence for the student if s/he struggles. He states, and I agree, that you cannot help the student too much. He also emphasizes, when teaching the stylistic techniques, to teach one at a time and let the student master that technique before adding another requirement.

Supergirl needed more modeling and help than her sisters did so I felt encouraged by Mr. Pudewa telling me that I could not help too much. Because he encourages modeling, helping, and giving lots of practice, I slowed down the program right from the beginning.

We began SWI by watching the Disc 1 Section for Lesson 1. Unit 1 focuses on creating Keyword Outlines.  Unit 2 builds on this skill by taking those outlines and writing a paragraph. SWI combines Unit 1 and Unit 2. For most students this is not a problem or an issue. For Supergirl though, I found that I did need to focus on just keyword outlines before attempting paragraphs.

Though Supergirl has experience telling narrations from short stories, identifying key words, then creating sentences and forming a paragraph required a different skill set. No worries though because between finding some source texts from our history study, the extras included for practice, and uses some source texts from the e-book included as part of the TWSS Subscription, I had plenty of material to keep practicing keyword outlines, and writing paragraphs.  We used some source texts to just practice writing the keyword outline.

TWSS Premium comes with a subscripton loaded with helpful extras!

I used a modeling technique explained in the TWSS to help her identify possible keywords if she had trouble. I would read the sentence but put emphasis on the words I would choose for keywords. Most of the time she would choose those words.  This technique worked well for us.

I also slowed down introducing the which clause. The which clause is introduced right away in lesson 1 as way for students to combine two facts and write a shorter paragraph.  Once Supergirl was comfortable with keyword outlines and starting to get comfortable with writing a paragraph from those keywords, we began to work in the which clause.

Though our review period has come to a close, I asked her if she wanted to continue using IEW and she said “Yes!”  She is looking forward to the units where she can re-tell stories and perhaps adjust those stories to tell new versions.

Key Ways I Adapted This for Supergirl

Way back in the beginning I mentioned that Supergirl has special needs. I found it easy to adapt the SWI to use with Supergirl. The TWSS has sections for Adjusting for Grade Level which helped me to make the right adjustments for Supergirl. I would read through the sections for Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, and especially the English Language and Special Needs sections for ideas.

I followed the suggestions for modeling. For example, in the English Language and Learners section of Adjusting for Grade Level, it states to help students choose key words as long as needed. “Stress the key words when reading the original aloud to help students hear them.” (p. 11) She often struggled with the oral retelling so I followed the advice to help her by starting the sentence for her.  Again this is the modeling that Mr. Pudewa encourages!

In addition to adapting it by slowing down and doing lots of modeling, I adapted it by being her scribe. Again this was a suggestion from the English Language Learners and Special Needs section.  She would choose her keywords, and underline them. I would write them on a whiteboard (for her to copy) or on a piece of paper (for days we did not use them as copywork).

Supergirl copies her Key Word Outline into her Writing Notebook.

When we used the keyword outline to write the paragraph, she would dictate the sentence to me and I would write it out. Again sometimes on the whiteboard for her to copy a sentence or two or on paper for her notebook. 

To engage her interest and to give her more practice with creating key word outlines and dictating paragraphs, I found source text material from our history studies. She especially enjoyed being able to write about Knights, Nobles, and Castles!

My Thoughts

Though it takes a significant amount of my time to work with Supergirl because she cannot do it independently, it is well worth the effort. I have seen her improve in her ability to put her thoughts into words to form sentences and a paragraph. It has been so worth it to hear her say “I did it!  I used a which clause.  Can I show Daddy?” 

I think Teaching Writing Structure and Style along with the Student Writing Intensive is an excellent way to teach students to write. It is working beautifully with my special needs daughter who struggles with both cognitive as well as physical disabilities and learning challenges. It is also an excellent program for average, accelerated, or gifted students as it is easily adaptable to meet the needs of students.  

Read my reviews of SWI-B and SWI-C to see how this works with other children. Looking for a grammar program? IEW also includes Fix It! Grammar in their TWSS Deluxe Packages!

 Read Tess's Review of Teaching Writing/Student Writing Value Package Level A at Circling Through This Life

The Details:

  • The Vender:  Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)
  • The Product: Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive Level A {Value Package A}.
  • The Author:  Andrew Pudewa and Jill Pike
  • The DVD Presenter: Andrew Pudewa
  • Format:  DVD Seminar with handouts along with access to PDF downloads.  TWISS Premium Subscription includes access to the online videos for one year.
  • Price: $249 
  • NOTE:  The SWI DVD set contains an OVERVIEW DVD to help you understand the methodology of the program. If you do not have the TWSS, you can watch the Overview DVD to get a basic understanding of Structure and Style.  If you do have TWSS, it is not necessary to watch that dvd.
  • ANOTHER NOTE: Though I think using both TWSS and SWI together is the best way, Student Writing Intensive can be used alone.  Teaching Writing Structure and Style works well as a stand alone for parents and teachers who enjoy writing their own lesson plans and who have the confidence to teach the method.

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