The crazy life of the ClarkClan. Living a life of grace through Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review–Institute for Excellence in Writing

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Teaching Writing Structure and Style

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Andrew Pudewa is a coveted speaker at home school conventions. His writing seminars are well attended and sought out. But not everybody can attend a convention or has access to a seminar. This is where Teaching Writing Structure and Style (TWSS) comes in. This is a full “how to teach writing” seminar on DVD.

Mr. Pudewa is a violin/music teacher who also began teaching 7th and 8th grade English in a private school in Montana. In order to be better prepared to teach writing he attended an 11 day writing workshop in Canada given by Dr. James B. Webster. After attending this workshop 3 years in a row, he was invited to learn to teach the workshop.

This was the beginning of the TWSS course. Mr. Pudewa and Mr. Webster redesigned the course to be taught over 2 days to home school parents. This course became very popular and from it sprung DVD’s with writing seminars for students. While skeptical at first, Mr. Pudewa found that parents liked the DVD’s of him teaching the writing seminars and their children responded to him.

There are 10 DVD’s included in the TWSS. The DVD’s are accompanied by a notebook of worksheets and note sheets just like you are in a live setting. The DVD topics are:

  1. Overview of Structure and Style
  2. Stylistic Techniques: “Dress Ups”
  3. Stylistic Techniques: Sentence Openers
  4. Stylistic Techniques: Advanced Dress Ups, Decorations, and Triples
  5. Writing Reports from Multiple Sources, Creative Writing with Structure
  6. Essays: Basic, Extended, and Super, Critiques, Conclusion
  7. Tips and Tricks
  8. Student Workshop, Grades 2-4
  9. Student Workshop Grades 5-7
  10. Student Workshop Grades 8-10+

There are two ways to use the TWSS DVD’s. You can sit for two days and watch them one after the other as in an actual seminar. Or, you can watch DVD 1 and teach Units 1 and 2 then watch DVD 2 and teach Unit 3 and so on. I choose to watch each DV D one at a time the day (or sometimes hour) before we were doing the lesson.  This worked for me as I then had all the information fresh in my mind in order to convey it to my kids.

Mr. Pudewa has an excellent way of presenting. He takes what could be a dry, boring subject matter and infuses humor and interest.  I found myself wanting to watch the videos because they were so interesting. Throughout the seminar you are given opportunities to put into practice the skills you are learning. While you may not be able to share your work with a partner at home, you can practice good writing techniques and be able to remember how to teach them with your students.

While watching the TWSS DVD’s you can follow along in the workbook. The Workbook is a three ring binder organized into the same categories as the DVD’s. Then while Mr. Pudewa is teaching on the DVD you can read the pages provided, make notes if necessary. I like how the presentations include teaching procedures, how to adjust for grade levels. Many, many examples are explained in detail. I found there was no question about what I was supposed to say or do. After watching TWSS I felt quite well equipped to teach writing to multiple age students.

TWSS is a detailed writing program. It does not, however, teach spelling, handwriting, or formal grammar. These subjects will still need to be taught. I also thought it was interesting that while this training seminar is a complete syllabus, you can also use it to supplement other methods of teaching writing.

Student Writing Intensive Level B

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The Student Writing Intensive (SWI) Level B is a video seminar designed for Middle School Students.  This is a DVD course of Mr. Pudewa teaching an actual seminar and being videoed while teaching. The SWI includes a notebook for the student. It is a three ring binder that is divided into five tabs: Models/Sources Checklists, Outlines/Compositions, Structural Models, Style Charts, “Banned” Words. The only supply that you will need to provide is notebook paper. There are detailed instructions on how to set the notebook up and where to put completed assignments.

Each lesson includes a page of detailed Teacher’s Notes. This note page starts with a chart telling which disc, disc times, Chapter Titles, what Student Handouts are needed and any Reinforcement materials. Then the notes page tells what TWSS disc to review (if using). The Lesson notes tell which disc to watch and where to start and stop on the disc. Sample outlines and Board notes are included on the back of the Teacher Notes page.

SWI Level B covers many of the topics in Level A, but expands upon them. If your student has never worked with this program before, they will start with the level they need. For Level B there are four disc which include the topics:

  • Outlines, Summary, and Dress-Ups
  • Story Summary, Dress-ups
  • Reference Summary, Paragraph Structure, and Sentence Openers
  • Creative Writing, Sentence Openers

Units 1 and 2 teach how to create a key word outline and a few simple dress ups. Dress ups are simply a way of changing a sentence to “dress it up” a little bit, to make it more interesting. Because all the paragraphs are provided, the student never has to worry about what to write about. The key word outline breaks the paragraph down sentence by sentence and asks the student to pull out what key words are in each sentence. The goal is for three words or less. Symbols are acceptable, as long as the student can remember what it stood for. After the outline, students narrate back what the story was using only their key word outline. Then comes writing the paragraph on notebook paper using the key word outline.

There are many “helps” for a student to succeed. There are “-ly” adverb lists for use when writing dress ups that include adverbs. There is a preposition list. There is a banned words list. The goal of the program is to help students to not only learn how to write, but have fun doing it.

ClarkClan Experience

I used this with four children. My two, Ben and Rebekah and their cousins Zac and Miri. The way we worked this was in two classes. One class was Zac and Ben, 6th and 8th grade and the other class was Rebekah and Miri 3rd and 5th grade.  I used the Student Writing Intensive Level B with the older boys. I also had Level A from  using it a year ago and I used that with the younger girls.

I had watched the Teaching Writing with Structure and Style DVD’s before I started working with the kids. To see how well I learned from watching this seminar course, I taught the younger girls level A. Since I had received a Student Writing Intensive Level B DVD to review, I used that with the boys. This worked extremely well for us. The younger girls got the face to face interaction they needed and they boys did very well watching Andrew Pudewa on the DVD.

The Boy’s Experience


Zac and Ben used the SWI Level B DVD’s. This meant that I would give them the papers they would need for that days lesson. Because our TV is in our living room, I had them set up two tray tables in front of the TV along with kitchen chairs to sit on. Then they would start the DVD. I would sit with them while they were working to answer any questions that would come up, I could stop the DVD when needed and make sure they were doing the work.

These boys enjoy working together and doing a writing class together was no different. They thought it was fun to be able to talk through things and share ideas. They could laugh at all the funny things that Mr. Pudewa says on the DVD and have someone to share the experience with. I heard them talking through things like what adverbs they were going to use and how they were going to  combine their sentences.

I found that for my boys, it was great having the DVD do the actual teaching and I could just facilitate. They responded very well to Mr. Pudewa and looked forward to each lesson.

The Girl’s Experience


To test how well I could teach without relying on the Student Writing Intensive DVD, I taught the girls. I had the Level A DVD from buying it in a previous year and going through it with Ben, but  did not use the DVD portion, just the lesson pages.

By me teaching the lesson, I was able to tailor the amount of time the girls needed for each part. I found that because they are younger than the boys, their attention span was a little shorter. So we would work a bit on the lesson, then take a break, go back and work some more.  The hardest part for Miriam was doing a lot of writing all at once. So we would write a couple sentences and then take a break and write a few more until it was done.

Just like with the boys, the girls really enjoyed working on this writing program together. I will say that I am not nearly as funny as Mr. Pudewa, but the girls did not seem to mind. We had a great time laughing and discussing what words should be included on the key word outlines. They learned that they did not have to have every word the same, but could pick their own key words, as long as they could narrate the paragraph back.

Miriam had the most trouble when it came to dress-ups. I think because of only just going into third grade, she is just learning the concept of taking two sentences and putting them together. This is where teaching without the video came in handy. I could work one on one with her until it clicked and she understood.


I would highly recommend both the TWSS and Student Writing Intensive. Because TWSS is a writing seminar, you can use the SWI as a stand alone writing program.  I had used only the SWI  about a year ago and it worked well. But, I found that I really learned a lot more by watching the TWSS. Even using the SWI Level B with the boys, it was so nice to know what Mr. Pudewa was talking about and I could help the boys with no problems.

If cost is an issue, my recommendation would be to go with the TWSS and teach writing on your own. The seminar is so complete that you really can learn to teach writing by watching it.


Many of my Crew Mates also reviewed the TWSS seminar as well as various levels of the SWI. Others reviewed a program called Teaching the Classics. Visit the Crew Blog to read more reviews on these products.

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