Writing Instruction: Curriculum, or NOT?

(Notes for a workshop given at the 2015 CHEC Conference.  http://www.checin.org)

Grammar is one of the five basic requirements for Texas home educators to cover as part of their curriculum (path of instruction, course of study, race to run.)


The reason we are to teach grammar is to produce competent writers.  Writers who are able to put words down on paper.  Words that tell stories, share ideas, offer instructions, or impart wisdom.  But, how do we set out to help our children learn grammar? The whole system of a language, its syntax, sentence structure, morphology, phonology, and linguistics can be rather daunting upon first glance.  But, is it really all that difficult to learn, or teach?

We are basically expected to teach our children the standard use of words in the English language, and in other languages if we so choose.  We are to instruct grammar in a bona fide, visual manner.  What does that look like?  Where do we start?

I’ve never had a problem understanding the writing process.  I love writing!  But, teaching it to my kids and others seemed difficult to me….until I began using resources from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  Andrew Pudewa is the Founder and Director and offers several webinars on the website and through other homeschooling sites.  You might find some of his videos on YouTube and Vimeo if you want to take the time to be inspired.  Mr. Pudewa and the resources his company sells and promotes gave me the ability to actually carry on a conversation about writing, which includes instruction of grammar.  Requirement met!

IEW http://www.iew.com

The Teaching Writing:  Structure and Sound DVDs sat on my shelves for almost three years before I took the time to watch them, do the assignments, and send them in for certification (in order to be an Essentials Tutor for Classical Conversations*.)  This was a requirement for CC Tutors, and the DVDs would likely still be sitting there, staring at me, if I hadn’t been “forced” into taking them seriously.  I’d purchased them in a desperate moment, but was intimidated by the word “excellence.”  Wouldn’t that mean difficult, or rigorous?

With the initial hurdle jumped, the fun began!  Everything made sense.  It became easy to teach writing.  And, I have to say, my kids, and the kids in my co-op classes have enjoyed the process….at least, they demonstrated enjoyment most of the time.  It hasn’t been intimidating for most of them.  The only student that I would say had a genuine struggle was one with a parent who seemed to expect struggles.  This child ended up doing quite well in the class.

Our eldest three children watched the TWSS lessons and parts, or all of IEW’s Advanced Communication Series without much participation from me.  This was prior to my certification as an IEW instructor for CC.  The three of them learned plenty just from the lectures!  They overcame any writing anxiety, except maybe a bit of spelling stress.  Parents can choose to have the DVDs do the bulk of the work, which still makes the purchase worth every penny.  I don’t think anyone would be disappointed by this type of writing instruction.  Every purchase I’ve ever made from IEW has been well worth the money!  They offer a no questions asked, money back guarantee….as long as the purchase of their products is made directly from IEW.

Theme Based Writing Lessons and other resources on their website give parent teachers the ability to tie writing to various parts of their children’s studies without having to come up with an assignment on their own.  These lessons cover both non-fiction writing through essays, and fictional stories through creative writing.  So, you’ve got the bases covered when using these thematic units. But, you may decide to use some of their Student Writing Intensives if none of the available themes particularly fit with the studies for the year.  Either way, both expository and creative writing will be studied.

But, what about GRAMMAR?  Wasn’t that the requirement we talked about at the beginning of this post?  Well, it’s taught incidentally while students write!

The first things you and your children will study are note making and outlines, which are preparation for writing.  Using key words from each sentence in a fable, or other short story gives everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with these two important tasks.  They’ll use these throughout their educational careers.  Why not learn them first?  Only three words will need to be chosen from any given sentence and these can even be used for beginning public speaking practice.  They will help each writer remember the basic story, or information of the writing sample that’s been chosen for imitation.  This unit won’t last long at all because they’ll be anxious to begin writing!

In the second unit, the key words and/or symbols will be used as the new writers begin to summarize from notes.  These summaries will be based on the short stories or articles that were used to make the key word outlines.  Students will also begin using “dress-ups.”   Indentation, punctuation, capitalization, and spacing are normally addressed in unit two and you will give the students visual reminders by way of checklists to make certain they’ve tackled these correctly.

Unit three covers the summarizing of narrative stories.  This is where students begin to demonstrate story sequence and will need to use their outlines to summarize each paragraph from a story they’ve already read and outlined.  Simple questions are used as Story Sequence reminders and there is a Critique Model for older students who are ready to discuss characters & setting, plot & conflict, climax, theme, and message.  Of course, these readied writers will also become skilled at writing introductions and conclusions with a final clincher sentence that ties to their title.

Units four and six work hand in hand as they instruct writers in the process of summarizing references and basic library research reports.  The models for demonstration even explain the three paragraph report from multiple resources.  This can certainly come in handy if you’re not a multiple choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank tester.  These types of essays will be a powerful for children to demonstrate what they’ve learned in any subject.

Jumping back to unit five gives students a chance to take a break while writing from pictures.  Logically ordered story pictures allow the budding writers to answer questions like who, before, why, history, think, feel, what, how, outside, after?  Clincher sentences help the writers to tie one paragraph to the next and make sense of the story’s progression.

Unit seven tackles creative writing.  Because the idea of introductions, topical paragraphs, and clincher sentences have been previously learned and practiced, the students are now able to move through their own creative stories to a smooth conclusion.

In unit eight, essay writing continues with persuasive models and even the “super essay,” if the writer is ready for it.

Lastly, unit nine encourages students to write critiques.  These will include book reports, reviews, and literary analysis.

Checklists are used in each unit to help students develop their own ability to edit and “grade” their own writing.  This is such a beneficial tool for busy homeschooling parents!  Banned words mean a strengthened vocabulary, and the handy Student Resource Notebook (SRN) will become a useful reference tool for each writer to fine tune word choice.

IEW is an exceptional, well, excellent writing curriculum that develops solid grammatical skills any Texas homeschooler will want to acquire.  My children and I have learned so much through these resources and methods that it’s hard not to try to convince everyone to use it.  It helped me teach my older children well.  Encouraged by the results, I’ve enjoyed teaching other children and their parents, too.  I’m excited to share it with others who are searching for a curriculum to equip themselves and their children while learning the writing process.  Frankly, I will never give up “fan status.”


I’ve realized that I no longer need a curriculum in order to continue teaching grammar and composition skills to my children at home.  I don’t think I could’ve considered this notion without IEW in my background.  The only way it would’ve been possible is to have thoroughly studied Charlotte Mason methods PRIOR to homeschooling.  I’ve studied CM methods along the way, but usually “after the moment has seemed to have passed” for any particular child, other than our youngest.  She’s the one who will benefit most from all the ground our family has covered during the almost quarter century I’ve been teaching and homeschooling.

You will find this blog post to be helpful if you’d like to get a glimpse of what writing instruction will look like from now on at our house.


If you’d rather not spend lots of money on curriculum and just want a simple, solid path to follow, this will be a good place to start.

I don’t want to steer anyone away from using IEW resources, or any other formal grammar/writing curriculum if they need to utilize a written curriculum to gain confidence in writing, or writing instruction.  These have their place in the grand scheme of things.  I will always recommend IEW, but no longer need it at home.  If I teach writing in a co-op setting, I will happily stick with IEW resources for practicality and ease of use.  BECAUSE.  IT.  WORKS.  If our youngest is ever in one of my c0-op classes, she will use it, too.  But, for daily practice, I will most likely be blessed to just watch a natural writer develop her gifts at her own pace based on her interests and what she’s studying.

Lindafay of Charlotte Mason Help shares a multitude of suggestions for writing instruction beginning with the practice of narration.  She has a wonderful series found at http://www.charlottemasonhelp.com/2009/07/narration.html.  I especially like the suggestions she makes in her posts called “You Don’t Need a Composition Program,” and “How I Raised a Professional Writer Without a Composition Program.”  Keeping CM methods in mind, I’ll share my plans for our youngest daughter’s grammar and writing instruction.


Along with the simple grammar resources that we will use as reference tools, copywork, narration (both oral and written,) and studied dictation will be employed to encourage growth in Posie’s writing abilities.  Howdy has proven that he can learn by example both through IEW’s resources and just ordinary observation of the stories and information he is currently studying.  This means, through practice, he is becoming a capable writer.  Amazing!  By example, our children can learn to write well.  Even though IEW appears to be fairly difficult to implement, it is a basic course in learning by imitation.  It is an example of how to convey grammar usage through the writing process.  Knowing this makes CM methods at home a solid choice.  While CM methods are viewed as “gentle” in many circles, maybe even too easy, they are also the most affordable way to instruct through example.  What a simple way to allow children to imitate until they have the ability to forge their own written trail.

Basically, the Bible and a library card are a FREE ticket to gaining solid grammar and writing skills.  If you need to build up courage, Andrew Pudewa and IEW will certainly give you the tools you need in your belt.  But, do not fear if the price tag is too high.  You have access to very similar tools.  You just need to use that habit of attention to notice them.  Creating an atmosphere that makes reading and writing important will encourage each of your children to develop these skills with her help.  And, a routine will give them the discipline to practice until it becomes a natural process.

*I am no longer associated with a Classical Conversations as Director, or Tutor.






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