Tag Archives: Institute for Excellence in Writing

Our Fifth Grade Curriculum: Writing

ahw-t_thumb_0Listening to my friends who “public school,” I’ve noticed a trend towards moving formal writing to earlier and earlier grade levels .  Never mind they can’t write cursive (I’m referring to the fact that cursive handwriting is being dropped from many public schools’ curriculums.), let’s force them to synthesize grammar, spelling, main ideas, building ideas, and abstract ideas.  Talk about boring and burn-out.  Even worse, sometimes they make them do it as a group project.  The most dreaded words EVER:  Group project.

Written communication is invaluable.  Thus, here am I writing to you.  But, I just don’t think pushing it younger and younger makes for better writing.  The loud voices didn’t ask me, though.  So here I am homeschooling my kids, for better or worse.  🙂

Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive

Our writing curriculum here at home definitely follows a cyclical pattern.  For a few weeks in a row, we will write grandparents and left-behind friends.  Then, we stop.  For a month, we’ll keep a journal going strong, documenting our days and dreams.  Then, we stop.  The Institute for Excellence in Writing program suits our cyclical style just fine.  It provides a video where a man named Andrew Pudewa walks the kids through getting started on formal writing.  There is accompanying written material to emphasize and practice what he teaches.

Last year in the second semester of fourth grade, after slamming through her grammar text in about a semester, I started with the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Student Writing Intensive.  The Writing Intensives (there are a  few levels) seem to be where most people start at in this program.  My daughter learned a lot, and I learned a lot about teaching her just by trying to watch the required videos with her.  (I have NOT managed, even as of yet, to watch the teacher’s video I purchased.  I feel like my limited writing skills still have been enough at this point with Andrew Pudewa’s wonderful guidance.  I do plan to watch it, however, by the time she enters about eighth grade.)  We managed to squeak through until almost the last assignment.  The beginning was more fun than the end.  If I had to do it over again, I would have waited to do it this year, her fifth grade year.  But I was excited and in a hurry.

Institute for Excellence in Writing:  Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons

This year, I decided to tie our history curriculum (we are doing ancient history) into our writing curriculum using IEW’s Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons.  Well, let me say, we move a lot more quickly through fun history than we do boring writing–so they don’t align too well anymore!  Ha!  What we do, we do well in our writing curriculum, but we have not gotten very far in the book.  I bought both the student manual and the teacher’s manual.  I’m glad I did that.

The Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons build on what we learned in the Writing Intensive listed above.  However, it is very nice that the passages are regarding what we have discussed in history.  I LOVE that reinforcement.  I am glad that we did the Writing Intensive first so I see the pattern that is followed by IEW’s program.  However, I like the Ancient History Based Lessons better because it has a few more worksheets to practice key concepts, because it is all in one binder already put together for me, the binder moves logically forward with just turning a page, and it offers some vocabulary to practice.  Plus, it builds even more deeply on the lessons we learned in the Writing Intensive.

There are several things I like about IEW in general that will keep it as our writing curriculum:

  • It teaches students how to outline, an invaluable tool to me in my pharmacy and medical school education.
  • It uses common language to help students understand how to enliven their writing:  use of adverbs, who-which clauses, sensory words, alliteration, and strong verbs.
  • It bans certain verbs which dull writing, calling them banned verbs.  Examples:  go/went, come/same, say/said, get/got.
  • It teaches how to choose titles.

Well, that’s about as far as we’ve covered this year.  I really like IEW, and I will continue revolving back to it in our cyclical approach to writing.  Our biggest impediment to writing is the physical act of it.  My daughter is allowed to type most essays, but even with a little exposure to keyboarding from her grandmother who taught that at the high school level, she still struggles to physically get the words on paper.  But, we’ll get there.  We will keep working through Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons, most likely finishing it in the sixth grade year.

Anyone care to comment on how they teach writing?  Anyone used IEW?  Which parts?  Did  you love it?  What strengths and weaknesses did you see?

Have just a super weekend!



Our Fourth Grade Homeschool Curriculum: Grammar and Writing

Today is a homeschooling post.  I love homeschooling.  It is the tops.  I’m not very patient, and homeschooling elementary school has been challenging for me.  Crafts and finger plays not appealing.  Teaching handwriting like pulling teeth.  “Whatdya’ mean you don’t remember what a contraction is?”  I’ve decided that you don’t have to have patience to homeschool, but if you don’t, you’d better have some self-control/self-discipline.

Fourth grade, however, is turning into fun because the topics are becoming more advanced and the student more independently capable.  But no matter what, the whole homeschooling ride is one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Up now–grammar and writing.  Last homeschooling post was math.

Easy Grammar:  Grade 4

Love Easy Grammar by Wanda Phillips, PhD!  We have used it for three years in a row now.  Simple, straightforward presentation of grammar without any fluff, just the nuts and bolts and good stuff.  I thought figuring out what to order was a bit confusing!  Daily Grams?  Workbooks?  Teacher editions?  Test booklets?  What?  Here’s what I ordered and I’ve been exceptionally pleased:

  • Daily Grams  The daily grams are one page, cumulative worksheets, reminding me of the cumulative concept of Saxon Math.  Capitalization, punctuation, Easy Grammar Textadverbs, adjectives, prepositions, objects of the preposition, complex sentence formation, and more–they are all reviewed throughout the year so the student doesn’t forget the concept even if they learned it on day 1.  Daily Grams are designed to do one worksheet a day, requiring maybe five minutes or so.  For second grade, I used ONLY the second grade Daily Gram book for the entire grammar course that year.  When third and fourth grade came, I wanted more focus and explanation of each grammatical concept with more practice than the Daily Grams offered.  So I bought the Easy Grammar text.
  • Easy Grammar:  Grade 4  Okay.  There are three books you can buy:  Easy Grammar Grade 4 teacher’s edition, Easy Grammar Grade 4 Student Workbook, and Easy Grammar Grade 4 Student Test Booklet.  I purchased only the teacher’s manual.  However, the cover of the book I bought doesn’t say “Teacher’s Manual!”  It only says “Easy Grammar Grade 4.”  The teacher’s manual contains the grammatical explanation text, worksheets, reviews, tests, answers, and teaching tips all bound together in one book.  My daughter works from the teacher’s manual.  One very minor glitch in this is that the answers are on the left side of the page and the worksheet/ test on the right side of the page.  We cover the answers with a sheet of paper and have no issues.  Alternatively, you could copy the assignments ahead of time from the book so the answers aren’t tempting your student.  Another minor glitch with using the teacher’s manual for the student textbook is that they can read the author’s tips to the teacher if they wanted to.  No biggie to me.

Easy Grammar Daily GramsPoints to know:

  • It’s all black and white.  Often this can be a deterrent, but I feel in this case it is a strength.  Wanda Phillips, Ed.D. runs such a tight ship with the books.  Seriously, she manages to get what you need in there with nothing extraneous to distract and frustrate!  It’s a clean, concise machine.
  • Work usually can be completed independently without much, if any help.  I love this.
  • The author teaches a prepositional approach to understanding sentences, allowing easy recognition of the parts of a sentence.  One of the hardest parts of the book is having the kids learn the required prepositions at the beginning–after that they then look for prepositional phrases  and can exclude them from searching for subjects and verbs.  Makes understanding the parts of the sentences much simpler, but they have to do a little work up front which can seem intimidating.  We memorized them over a few weeks and continued on.
  • Pages are not perforated in the teacher’s manual or Daily Grams.  You cannot tear them out easily, which can be a problem if you only buy the “all-inclusive” book I bought, as the answers for the worksheets are sitting right on the next page.
  • At the end of every chapter, there is a chapter review, a cumulative review, and a cumulative test.  I did not make my daughter do all of those as it was way too much busy, repetitive work if she understood all the concepts!  However, we usually did the chapter review and the cumulative test.  I really appreciate the cumulative nature of this text!
  • The difference between the Daily Gram Worksheets and the Worksheets is that the worksheets pertain only to the material being learned in the current chapter.  The Daily Grams are cumulative and very quick and concise.  I did both because I like repetition and always having the brain presented with what it learned in the past, so it doesn’t forget.  However, I do think we could have gotten by in fourth grade without the Daily Grams.
  • There is no writing practice.  This text doesn’t try to incorporate writing skills with the grammar skills–EXCEPT she does have the kids practice combining simple sentences into complex sentences in the Daily Grams.  My daughter can make nice, complex, grammatical sentences because of this text, but it does not offer writing practice.
  • She provides enough teacher instruction without making you googly-eyed trying to sort through it all!  Her tips are valid and thoughtful.

How we did grammar this year: 

This year, I decided to actually double up on her grammar lessons in the first semester.  She did two Daily Grams every day, and I mapped out the Easy Grammar:  Grade 4 text/worksheets/tests so that we finished it in one semester.  Even doing this double-pace, she rarely punked an attitude about grammar!  Whew!  I chose to do this so she could begin focusing on writing in the second semester–rather than combining them together throughout the year.  I thought she’d do better focusing on one side of “writing” at a time–grammar first and then actually putting together ideas.  So far, I’m very pleased.

IEWInstitute for Excellence in Writing (IEW):  Student Writing Intensive

This will not be a comprehensive review because I’ve only used the Writing Intensive Level A and that only for a 2-3 months.

We began Institute for Excellence in Writing for my daughter’s writing curriculum in the second semester.   I’ve heard great reviews on IEW, and we have enjoyed our last couple months with it, as well.  Again, what in the heck do you purchase?  Reading all those descriptions on the web-site gets really confusing!  I bought Package A:

  • Student Writing Intensive Level A  This came with DVDs to watch, a binder, lesson plans, and passages to practice the writing techniques taught.  It’s what I needed for sure.  (Although I wonder if I couldn’t have gotten by with a  theme-based book and learned the same things and had my child learn a particular topic area, too.  More below.)
  • Teaching Writing:  Structure and Style  I also bought this because I thought I might need it;  it was part of the package.  I have not watched it yet!  I plan on it, but we have had NO problems doing the Student Writing Intensive Level A assignments just based on watching the DVDs and following the lesson plans.  I don’t know when I’ll get around to watching this.  Money could probably be saved by not purchasing this.

Points to know:

  • Perhaps it was pregnancy brain, but I thought the binder/planner could have been organized just a wee bit better.  We got it figured out.
  • Students learn by watching a DVD and then applying what is taught to passages provided in the binder.
  • The DVD is not divided up into lessons so you have to thumb through the planner and figure out when you need to stop the DVD.  Basically, the DVD is just Mr. Pudewa giving his presentation live in a workshop to a group of children; it rolls from beginning to end.  You or your child (if you’re trying to prepare lunch) has to know when to stop it.  Minor complaint, but I wish they’d break it up according to their lesson guides.
  • My daughter really liked this program at first because Mr. Pudewa was funny and it was new and exciting.  As she has been required to write more and more, she doesn’t like it so much anymore.  She hates the physical act of writing and she now transfers that on to poor Mr. Pudewa.  But I still think it’s one of the best programs to get her to do writing.
  • IEW teaches writing by using existing written passages/stories and outline formation.  I was ecstatic to see outline formation taught to her at such a young age!  It will serve her well throughout the rest of her education!  She keeps asking when she can “write her own story,” so she does have a sense that she is not really writing with this approach.  We are not yet through the complete program, and this may come later–I don’t know.  If not, no biggie.  I’ll just have her write her own story!
  • I saw a friend had the Ancient History based writing lessons!  This is a part of IEW’s “them-based writing.”  As I looked through it, I realized that it was teaching everything that is taught in the Writing Intensive A!  We will definitely be purchasing some of these themed books to use for writing after we finish the Writing Intensive.  I would suggest you look, read, and ask around because you may be able to skip the Writing Intensives and just do these nicely bound theme-based books without missing out!  They looked awesome and it really seemed to be teaching the kids the same writing concepts as watching the DVD!

I guess that’s it.  That’s how we’ve opted to handle grammar and writing this fourth-grade year.  How about anyone else?  What do you think?  What do you use?  Love?  Hate?  And after deciding on a curriculum, does anyone else have trouble sorting through exactly which books of the curriculum you need to buy!!?

I hope you are having a wonderful day!  ~~Terri