Writing Programs I Like

Homeschool writing programs I like; from Janice Campbell of Excellence in Literature and Doing What Matters.As discussed in an earlier post, Learn to Write while Using Excellence in Literature (EIL), students are able to learn to write by using the classics and models/learning by doing approach of EIL. However, if you have a student who isn’t yet ready for EIL, there are several writing programs I like that can help you prepare for high school writing. I’ve seen good results from students who have used each of these, and I suggest choosing according your student’s learning style and the amount of time you have available.

Although I probably could have titled this post “best writing programs for homeschool students,” and generated a bit more traffic, I can’t really do that. It would imply that I’ve tested them all and made a considered judgement, and I haven’t (but Cathy Duffy has). These are the best programs I’m familiar with and have seen results from, and there may be other programs that are equally effective. If you’re looking for “best,” remember that best is what works well for your student.

All of these are good and have been used by thousands of students who learned to write well, but they are different in presentation, content, and format. Consider learning styles, teaching styles, and student strengths as you make your choice, then implement faithfully for at least a month. If you’ve given something a serious try and it’s not a great fit for your family, just release it — sell it or give it to someone in need, and move on to something else (see the C. S. Lewis quote at the bottom of the page for a bit of wisdom on this).

Favorite Writing Programs

Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive (SWI) with Andrew Pudewa

IEW Student Writing Intensive Level B by Andrew Pudewa and Jill PikeThis comprehensive DVD course provides a structured framework for learning to write. It is taught by Andrew Pudewa, a gifted and engaging instructor, and comes with everything you need to help students become comfortable, competent writers. SWI is organized and offers clear instructions. Using it is like learning to cook using a recipe. A recipe can help a student chef master cooking techniques, and Student Writing Intensive forms and structures can help student writers master the elements of writing. Just as a master chef can move beyond recipes once basic ingredients and techniques have become second nature, IEW students can soar into more creative realms and complex forms once the basics have been mastered.

Who does IEW work best for? SWI seems to work particularly well for auditory or kinesthetic learners, and writers who have little confidence; boys especially seem to enjoy learning from Mr. Pudewa. Students who are already competent or gifted writers may find the forms confining. They may prefer to move directly into Excellence in Literature if they are in grades 8-12, or into The Lost Tools of Writing for a different type of writing instruction.

IEW also offers Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, an outstanding video course for parents and teachers.

Cathy Duffy’s review of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

The Student Writing Intensive program is available from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).

The Lost Tools of Writing: Rediscover the Craft of Composition by Andrew Kern and Leah Lutz

The Lost Tools of Writing by Andrew Kern and Leah LutzFans of classical learning will love the newest edition of this beautifully structured, intellectually engaging curriculum. With the goal of cultivating wisdom and virtue through the practice of classical composition, The Lost Tools of Writing contains an audio overview of the curriculum, plus carefully structured lessons with complete teaching instructions for the parent.

The use of classical terms may seem daunting at first, but each term is well-explained and the teacher’s guide and audio/video resources make it easy to follow. If I could travel back in time and take any of these writing courses as a student, this would be my choice. It is outstanding.

Cathy Duffy’s review of The Lost Tools of Writing

An interesting post at Classical Conversations: “What Can Lost Tools of Writing Offer the IEW Writer?

The Lost Tools of Writing is available from Circe Institute.


WriteShop: An Incremental Writing Program by Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar

WriteShop Writing Programs“Step by step” is the guiding principle of the WriteShop approach. These ungraded manuals teach a variety of essay types using the building blocks of brainstorming, writing, editing, and revising. This flexible curriculum can be used with middle or high school students, and it includes a teacher’s manual with clear instructions and helpful information. WriteShop may be a good choice for visual learners who like the structure of IEW’s Student Writing Intensive, but don’t enjoy video (this is the student who says, “Just give me the book and let me read/see it”).

With each of these programs, you’ll get the best results if you choose one that fits your student’s learning style and aptitudes. Learning is easier and retention is better for adults when we work with our strengths, rather than against them, and it’s the same with students. There’s so much to learn during these years that we may as well be as efficient as possible!

Cathy Duffy’s review of WriteShop

WriteShop: An Incremental Writing Program is available from WriteShop.com.

Favorite one-book writing resources I like

Among the writing programs I like are several supplementary resources we used for filling in areas of need. This does not include resources for grammar and vocabulary and such — I’ll do another post on those at some point. Here are the top three writing supplements I like for middle school and high school.

The Elegant Essay: Building Blocks for Analytical Writing by Lesha Myers

The Elegant Essay Writing Lessons by Lesha Myers

Lesha Myers offers an elegantly simple introduction to essay writing, providing an introduction and specific instructions for each part of the essay. You can go through it from beginning to end, or simply turn to individual sections as needed. It’s useful even if you have other references on hand. Excellent for visual learners and those with an aptitude for writing. TEE was one book when I used it; it has now been expanded and includes well-thought-out teacher’s manual.

Cathy Duffy’s Review of The Elegant Essay

The Elegant Essay is available at Everyday Education.

Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers

Handbook for Writers: Excellence in Literature

The Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers is a unique one-stop reference for how to write essays, as well as a guide for punctuation, style, and usage. This hefty handbook (over 400 pages) includes detailed instruction in literary argumentation and essay writing,with topic sentence models and other helps. In the back, you will find a second section that is a general reference resource for grammar, style, and usage, including citations. It is suitable for high school, college, and adult users, and is helpful for teaching, reference, and writing evaluation.

The Handbook for Writers is available at Everyday Education.

Wordsmith: A Creative Writing Course for Young People by Janie B. Cheaney

I used Wordsmith with some of our boys and found it helpful. It’s not a complete, know-everything writing course, but it focuses on helping students refine elements of their writing such as grammar, sentence structure, etc. It is written directly to the student and has well-laid-out lessons that are easy to use.

Cathy Duffy’s Review of Wordsmith

Wordsmith is available at Rainbow Resource Center.

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be.
And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road;
and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
C. S. Lewis

*With respect to FTC guidelines on material connections: My endorsement of these resources is based on review of work from students who have used these programs, plus personal examination of each item. The Elegant Essay and Wordsmith were personal purchases, WriteShop was borrowed, and the Student Writing Intensive and The Lost Tools of Learning were provided by the author or publisher for review.



19 Responses

  1. Laura says:

    My kids and I went through some of IEW SICC before I chucked it: it sucked the creativity right out of them both. Following a Charlotte Mason approach of oral composition (narration) in the early school years followed by written composition at age ten, my teen daughter was an expressive writer before we started using the materials. Afterwards, not so much; and even she knew it.

    Perhaps the materials work best in homes where the mothers/fathers have little writing experience and read not much good literature, leaving them feeling inadequate to teach..?

    Our experience has made me hesitant to look further into the IEW catalog, although I was previously captivated by The Elegant Essay. I’m determined to use your materials regardless!

    • Great points, Laura. We used Charlotte Mason methods too, and that’s what I always teach in my language arts workshops.

      You’re right– these materials are most useful for parents who have little or no exposure to literature and writing. The Elegant Essay is a very nice reference/refresher, and Lost Tools is brain candy for those who love classical structure and terminology.

      The big thing I discovered when teaching the online classes was that average or below average students seemed to work much better when taught with something structured. Above average students rarely needed it, and tended to be held back by it. This goes back to the foundational principle for teaching: Work with your student’s aptitudes and learning styles, and drop what doesn’t work. Time wasted doing the wrong thing isn’t redeemed by doing more of the wrong thing!

      I hope you’ll enjoy Excellence in Literature–it’s meant to be engaging and adaptable, so feel free to use it in the way that works best for your family.

  2. Misty says:

    Perfect timing! I was just looking for some good ‘teaching writing’ ideas. We’ve been using Writing Strands a bit, but I’m trying to engage the kids a bit more. Looking for that spark that makes writing as enjoyable as reading a good book.

    Thanks for the ideas,


  3. Cindy says:

    We are using IEW for our 6th grader and find it to be an enormously valuable curriculum. To say his writing has improved tenfold would not be an exaggeration at all. I am looking into Write Shop as well to use as an alternate every other year as I feel that the two programs might piggy back well to provide variety and yet still keep with the same key points in learning to write.

  4. Michele says:

    Just wondering if one can use the SWI programs from IEW without first watching and studying the TWSS program aimed at teaching parents how to teach their children.

    • Based on what I’ve heard from parents at homeschool conferences, I know that there are those who do use them without first doing TWSS. I’m guessing it would probably be easier if you went through TWSS, but it seems possible. IEW results are pretty amazing, so it’s worth a try.

  5. Cindy K. says:

    We did IEW for the better part of a year when my boys were 4th-graders. I have TWSS and have been through it quite a bit. It would have worked well for ME when I was in junior high or high school because I never knew just where to start when it came to writing. AndI am very left-brained when it comes to learning something new – I like it to be very sequentially laid-out for me. But the boys were bored with it.

    As an adult, I know that the tons of writing that I do on blogs, Yahoo Groups, forums, and the like have really made writing easy for me. So I know that in order to write better, you have to write frequently. I have found, though, that my boys do better with a program that is somewhat systematic in its instruction, versus trying to get them to write written narrations. Due to various changing circumstances of the last couple of years, I have finally settled on a program that I think also “dovetails” very nicely with many of the components of IEW – it’s called Stack the Deck Writing.

    We are in Unit 3 of the Open the Deck level (they are 7th-graders now) and they are doing very well with it. It uses different approaches than IEW as far as style mechanisms, but they are working on the same basic style *components*, just with different names. It has a fair amount of scaffolding as well (reminds me of Andrew Pudewa’s “give them as much help as they need” adage), not expecting the student to just sit down to a blank piece of paper and write. It’s very good at building them up to different kinds of writing. I like the rubrics they provide, too, even though I have never been much of a rubric person – very age-appropriate and makes it super-easy to focus on the GOALS of each writing assignment instead of trying to focus on *everything* at one time. I can really see how each unit builds on the previous ones! Oh, and this program is much less teacher-intensive and easier to teach than IEW, much less expensive, even if you get a student book for every student using that level and one for yourself to read through together with them. The teacher manual is smaller than the student manual and really amounts more to teacher “notes” to use throughout the program.

    I don’t think the program gets enough visibility in the homeschooling community – yet – but I think it’s a great alternative to IEW, Write Shop, Writing Strands, and the other popular programs! My boys sure like it better than the others!

    • Thank you for sharing that. It’s one I’ve never heard of. I completely agree with Andrew’s idea of giving them as much help as they need, and I like to see them routinely using reference materials such as a writers handbook. Professional writers do it, so students should definitely be doing it too!

  6. Sharon Nelson says:

    I just read this post as I’m searching for a writing curriculum for my current 9th grader. Writing is not one of her strongest areas and I’m looking for something that she could use independently with little guidance from me (she rather work on her own). I also homeschool my 2nd and 7th grader as well as work p/t from home which is why my time is so crunched. I wish I could devote more time with them, but it is what it is. I was thinking about signing her up for an online class where she can get input from someone other than “mom.” She has a difficult time receiving from me. Any recommendations? Thank you!!

    • I understand about receiving input from mom– it can be a challenge! There are some excellent writing classes offered through classical schools such as Memoria Press (http://www.memoriapress.com/onlineschool/), Circe Institute (http://www.losttoolsofwriting.com/), and http://www.pottersschool.org/. I’m sure there others as well, and there may even be a local co-op in your area that has something useful.

      At minimum, The Elegant Essay is a good guide and could probably be worked through by the student with an outside evaluator. I know there are several people who evaluate, including Connie Schenkelberg, a retired teacher and homeschool mom and the author of Grammar Made Easy and Spelling Made Easy. If you’d like her contact information, please let me know.

      I hope you find something that fits!

  7. Samantha Lehmann says:

    Ok. So I have looked at all of the above extensively. Perhaps over-thinking it. I have two that I am focusing on for writing currently. They are my two at an age where we need something formalized that actually “TEACHS.” This is something my 7th grader struggles with. She is using IEW’s new grammar. She constantly tells me that the teacher notes don’t teach. They are just blurbs that I say. Painful truth there. She is math-spatial and exceedingly formula oriented. IEW? My other dd is in 6th and an artist – highly auditory / audiographic memory / artistic. The formulas drive her nuts. Life of Fred is her math 😉 Write Shop I? She is having a hard time wrapping her mind around a formula for a paper or essay. We are using BookShark – so there are quite a few with little or no instruction. Write an essay that compares / contrasts two states. Some poor graphic organizers that don’t lead to a product. HELP!

    $ is always an issue. I wanted to do IEW B with both girls now to get a jump on next year. We tried Beyond the Book Report – it went back. We tried Bauer – lovely, but too verbose. It wasn’t working. We are looking for composition. AHHHH! Ideas?

    I love, love Kern’s work for myself. I think that there is a nice blend of formula and classical structure. Visual and math-spatial. It is too dense for my younger dd.

    I have 4, so I am trying to order something now with my credit from returning what didn’t work this year. We school year round, so there is no start or end to life-long learning. The EE is on my list, but would be hard without the IEW structure – it uses the same terminology – which kind of markets many of us non-IEW folks out of the market / catalog.

    Your books are on my list. We start EIW I with both girls in the fall. They both read voraciously and we LOVE the classics.

    • Is there really such a thing as overthinking school materials;-)? It sounds as if you are discovering by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes that is just what you have to do.

      Your 7th-grade daughter’s comment about the teaching notes that don’t teach is interesting. Since I’m a learn-by-doing (and look-up-whatever-is-unclear) sort of learner, I’d be interested to know what kind of teaching she would like. With a student that age, I’d provide writer’s handbooks (and possibly some good websites) and expect her to look up things she has a question about. She’s also at the age when grammar instruction should soon give way to a foreign language. Latin will teach her more grammar in a more memorable way than anything else I could ever suggest. Other foreign languages are good, but not as good as Latin.

      For an artistic, creative student like your 6th grader, working with formulas can be like trying to dance in a broom closet — very frustrating. If this daughter has a decent grasp of mechanics, perhaps she’d like to do the One Year Adventure Novel or something of that nature. Model-Based Writing can also be good (my newest book is about that). I think she’d especially enjoy the Transform step. Working from models gives students tools that can be applied to any type of writing, and they can use it more or less creatively. Write Shop would be worth a look, too. I haven’t used it myself, but I like the way it’s set up, and I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from those who have used it. In a year or two, Lost Tools could be the perfect thing.

      I still like Elegant Essay for teaching composition. It’s simple, clear, and easy to follow, and it’s laid out so well that it can be used as a review or reference after the girls work through it. I don’t think it’s at all dependent on having done the IEW Structure and Style — at least it doesn’t appear so to me, and I know many who have used it without having done other IEW materials. After EE, she will continue to learn by doing if she goes into Excellence in Literature.

      As long as you read voraciously and love the classics, I’m sure you’re on the right track. I hope the rest of your year goes well!

  8. Christie says:

    I am stumped with where I want to go from where we are. I welcome any feedback you can offer.

    DD14 will be 9th in the fall. I’m feeling the need to have a roadmap for high school. She has always done oral and written narrations which are pretty good. She’s taking Essay Styles this summer and has done a little work with persuasive writing. She’s taken a lit. class from Center for Lit using Socratic discussion for analysis. I’m just not sure what direction I want or need to go. I own Lost Tools of Writing I, your Intro. To Literature. Other things that interest me – Power in Your Hands (may be overkill after the summer class, not sure), Windows to the World from IEW for learning close reading/annotating, etc., Lightning Literature. As you can see, I’ve too many options swimming around. I do think she needs more instruction than just direction. I feel I need a high school road map and I don’t even have the starting point.

    DS11 is different. His oral and written narrations are only fair and while I can’t believe I’m considering it, I think IEW SWI may really benefit this kid. He’s a get it done type. Wondering about just coming up with a literature list for him to narrate and using SWI-B for 6th, Jump In for 7th, Lost Tools of Writing for 8th, then moving on to your courses or something similar.

    Thank you for any feedback you can offer.

    • Dear Christie,

      We’re just walking out the door for a conference, but I’ll put together some ideas for you, and post them or email them as soon as we are back.

      I will say that for your 11y/o son, IEW might be a great choice. The reason I think so is because of what I have seen over and over at conferences—Andrew Pudewa can hardly walk through a convention hall without being approached boys of about that age who are fans. There seems to be something about the way he teaches that speaks especially well to that audience, and we all know what a challenge it can be to get them to write, let alone to love it and want to talk with the teacher!

      Will write more later. Thank you for stopping by!

      • Christie says:

        Thanks so much! I will order the SWI-B for my 11 year old son. I do think the formula will be helpful for him. I’ll look forward to hearing from you later re. my 14 year old daughter. It’s so helpful to talk through the options with someone who has been there and done that.

      • Hi, Christie,

        I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back with you. As I look over all your daughter has done already, and the things you are considering, I lean toward simplicity and focus. She has worked with both essays and analysis in a preparatory way, so I would just begin with Intro to Lit. If, after the first 2-3 modules, you feel that you want to add something extra, you can do so then.

        I’d be inclined to add in some form of art that includes art history, appreciation, and application (doing it). It may seem counterintuitive, but creative work can complement analytical study and writing, helping students to think and write more clearly. When we educate head, heart, and hand, we cultivate balance and perspective. Plus, it’s just plain fun. I hope that’s helpful!

      • Christie says:

        Thank you, Janice. This confirms my thinking. I lead a CM co-op where we study artists, composers, poets, as well as hymns and folk songs among other things. My daughters are great with practicing handcrafts and art on their own, so that part is covered. I agree with you about it’s importance!

        May I ask which volume of EIL would you skip if you have only the four years of high school remaining? I can’t see skipping American, British, or World, but both the Intro. and Lit./Comp. look great, too. Too many resources, too little time!

      • The co-op sounds wonderful–just the sort of thing i’d enjoy! The question of which level to skip is challenging. I’d be inclined to just pick and choose modules from the first two books to make exactly the kind of year you want. Your teen may have some input, too. Alternatively, you could just look at the books covered in each level, and pick a level based on what you want to read. Whichever way you go, I hope you have fun with it!

  1. June 22, 2017

    […] in preparation for Excellence in Literature, I’ll briefly outline a few in the next post, Writing Programs I Like. These aren’t the only programs available, but ones that I’m especially familiar with […]

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