Checklists—Not Just for Enchiladas!

Jan 24, 2017 | Posted by Jennifer


Has this ever happened to you? I had a crisis the other day. The week had been a crazy one, and when I opened the pantry door at 4:45 PM, I realized I was down to either serving my family a meal of stale graham crackers with gherkins as a side or making a run to the grocery store. It was a no-brainer because I don’t care for gherkins, and my children dislike chewy crackers. I scrambled out the door and into the van in a frenzy. The grocery store was not what I had planned, and I still had so much I had to do. I practically sprinted through the store, frantically and indiscriminately grabbing supplies.

I had decided I was going to make chicken enchiladas. I pushed the overloaded cart to the cashier, paid my $147.39, and drove back home only to realize that while I had purchased tortillas, chicken, and a lot of other stuff, I had completely forgotten enchilada sauce! Back to the store I drove, fussing and fuming at my forgetfulness. I had been given a painful reminder—a list would have saved me precious time, gas, and money.

Lists are incredibly helpful tools, and the IEW checklist is no exception. It is a powerful device that serves as a visual reminder to insert those important elements of style. Once I got my children accustomed to the idea of using the checklist, they found it to be a comfort in that they knew they no longer had to guess what I expected. The checklist made my expectations explicitly clear! In every paragraph they would write, they would refer to the checklist to verify all of the elements were accounted for.

We used the checklist for years. We used it over and over again, and eventually it became easy for them to insert a strong verb, a decoration, a #5 sentence opener, or any other element. And only then, once it became natural, did I begin to step back and see what the kids would come up with on their own. When I did, the kids found they were able to dig into their toolbox to create their own beautiful paragraph constructions with a selection of a variety of elements.

Equally important in the application of a checklist, though, is to provide a checklist that doesn’t overwhelm the student. Ideally, a student should only ever work on one challenging element at a time. We call this “Easy +1,” and it is the type of thing you see when a very young child learns his first word. Perhaps that word is mama. The child will repeatedly and delightedly spout mama for everything. This will continue until he has mastered it and moves onto the next new word in his developing lexicon. In a similar manner, create a checklist for your children that has them working on only one challenging element at a time. Once that element is mastered, at least most of the time, add another element. Continue this pattern until you have introduced all of the elements of the checklist, and then practice them over and over again.

Andrew Pudewa likens using the checklist to the practicing of scales with a musical instrument. While rigid and not the most beautiful of music, scales are very important. A musician who dutifully practices his scales daily, repeating them over and over again, grows in his talent. After years of regular practice, making his notes rise and fall in regular intervals, he comes to the point where he may select his own combination of notes to use to create beautiful music. His music soars. Does that mean he has graduated from ever practicing scales again? Definitely not! A musician understands that scales have their place and continues to dedicate time and effort in mastering them. So should it be with the student of composition.

Since that disastrous day last week, I have been doubly conscious about making and keeping a list for shopping. Yes, checklists serve an important role in our lives. They keep us on track and efficient. They are helpful and reduce stress. Do not neglect to use the checklist, both in your everyday life and in your IEW writing. Not only will your recipes and writing improve, but the relief you will experience is priceless!

Jennifer’s Chicken Enchilada Recipe* 


  • One whole rotisserie chicken from the deli counter at the grocery store
  • 1 10 oz. can of red enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • ½ package of cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 package of Fajita spice
  • 1 package of flour tortillas (you will need 8-10)
  • 1 jalapeño
  • Optional: fresh cilantro for garnishing the top
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.

  2. Spray a 13x9” baking pan with non-stick spray.

  3. Pour approximately ¼ cup of the enchilada sauce into the baking tray and spread around to cover the bottom.

  4. Pick the meat from the chicken bones and place into a mixing bowl.

  5. Dice the jalapeño, removing the seeds, and add to the mixing bowl.

  6. Add 1 cup of the shredded cheese along with the cream cheese and fajita spices to the mixing bowl. Use a mixer to combine the ingredients.

  7. Spoon the mixture into the tortillas and wrap them tightly, placing them seam-side down in the baking pan.

  8. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas, and top with the remaining shredded cheese.

  9. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and finish baking the dish for approximately another 15 minutes, removing it once the cheese is bubbly and the enchiladas are slightly browned.

  10. Serve alongside some refried beans and Mexican rice for a delicious and family-satisfying supper!

* Don’t forget the enchilada sauce!


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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