The Institute for Excellence in Writing provides a unique program based on two key ingredients: structure and style.
Units 1 & 2 – Taking Notes, Creating Key Word Outlines and Writing from Notes
These two foundational units provide the necessary backbone for each subsequent unit. Understanding how to take key information from a source text, create an outline from key words, tell back that information orally, and subsequently compose a paragraph from that outline in one’s own words is the basis for these units.
Unit 3 – Narrative Stories
Every story, from a simple Aesop’s fable or a 500 page novel, operates with the same basic structure. By learning to use the Story Sequence Chart in Unit 3, students are given a helpful and logical format to use in writing their own stories, retelling a story in their own words, or even as the basis for beginning book reports (fleshed out later in Unit 9 – Writing about Literature).
Unit 4 – Summarizing a Reference
As the basis for later units on non-fiction writing, this unit teaches students the essential skill of limiting information from one source text.
Unit 5 – Writing from Pictures
Like Unit 3 before it, Writing from Pictures is a creative writing unit which teaches a priceless skill – obtaining information from the brain by asking questions. Using a picture or series of pictures as the basis for the writing assignment, Unit 5 creates opportunity for students to practice invention as a way to tell a story.
Unit 6 – Summarizing Multiple References
This unit builds on the skill of limiting information began in Unit 4 by teaching the integral “fused outline.” As students progress through middle and high school, and even into college, they will be given assignments wherein they must take information from several sources, from articles to books, assimilate that information, and draw conclusions from it in their own writing. Unit 6 teaches students a logical, orderly method of gathering information from multiple sources, culminating in creating a master outline from which to write. Additionally, in preparation for Unit 8, the Topic/Clincher sentence relationship is taught, assisting students to create topical integrity in their paragraphs.
Unit 7 – Inventive Writing
Focused again on obtaining information from the brain, Unit 7 provides students with valuable skills in invention and arrangement when faced with the blank page. By asking questions, a student can use this structural model from everything to a freewrite prompt to a college application essay. Depending on the student’s level, Unit 7 can be his or her first introduction to the basic essay model
Unit 8 – Formal Essay Models
Beginning with the basic essay model, students advance through learning different types of essays, including narrative, expository, persuasive, and argumentative. There are plenty of opportunities for practice with writing introductions and conclusions, utilizing in-text citations, and crafting thesis statements.
Unit 9 – Formal Critiques
Expounding on the basic Unit 3 structure for retelling narrative stories, this unit continues honing the skills of building solid introductions and conclusions as one way to write about literature. Opportunities abound, but this basic structural model is helpful for moving beyond the usual book report, and can be used as a precursor to true literary analysis.
As students progress through the structural units, they are taught stylistic techniques to enliven and elaborate their compositions. So-called dress-ups complexity to the usual sentence structure, forcing students to combine ideas with who-which clauses and clausals, choose “quality” adjectives and “strong” verbs, and add adverbs to enrich their ideas. These techniques are added slowly as the student progresses, seeking for “EZ + 1,” not to frustrate but to simply practice toward mastery.
Once most of the dress-ups become mastered, a new way to build complexity of ideas is introduced by adding sentence openers. These are mostly just dress-ups that must now come at the beginning of students’ sentences, creating sentence variety in their writing.
Generally beginning with alliteration, simile and metaphor, decorations provide students with further tools to invigorate dull prose. These become especially helpful once students begin crafting essays, as many of the decorations can be used in creating strong introductions and conclusions.
Triple Extensions/Advanced Dress-Ups
With familiarity and repetition of the dress-ups, sentence openers, and decorations, students can begin to add further sophistication to their writing by learning advanced rhetorical techniques.
By working through the nine structural models, students begin to accumulate a toolbox full of useful techniques when faced with a writing assignment from any source. Whether beginning to write as an elementary student or preparing for standardized testing, whether writing a letter to grandma or the editor, whether taking notes to study for an exam or working through the elements of the classical progymnasmata, the synthesis of IEW’s structural models and stylistic techniques creates a fantastic foundation for the budding writer.