Grades 3–12 Teachers in Year 2 and Beyond: Customizing Lessons, Part 1 – Choosing Alternate Source Texts

Dec 08, 2020 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

by Jean Nichols and Janet Spitler


We have shared a plethora of information to help teachers and students who are new to the IEW approach to writing. This blog series answers the question, “What does Structure and Style ‘look like’ in Year 2 and beyond?” We will address the adjustments teachers should make in their instruction as they and their students move along a multi-year pathway toward mastery of the process. Let’s take a look at a skill you can put into practice no matter where you are in the pacing of the IEW units.

In the classroom, successful teaching practices are challenged by time management. The preparation and teaching of subject content requires much of a teacher's time and energy. During the time the teacher is learning our method, that stress can be heightened, but when he or she is committed to it, the Structure and Style writing method multiplies the fruit of the teacher's effort in teaching writing because the Socratic questions and the checklist activate the students' participation. Integration is the key not just to survival but to real freedom for the teacher. When the teachers integrate the writing process into the subject content areas as well, they and the students experience more fruit because writing becomes the means of learning. Therefore, teachers of Structure and Style dream of having writing assignments, source texts, and checklists on the content they are required to teach. We wholeheartedly agree.

The step-by-step teaching procedures, source texts, and checklists in the Classroom Supplement and Lesson Plans increase the likelihood that you will include all the necessary steps in each lesson. These steps include ample direct instruction and modeling, oral retelling, introducing stylistic techniques appropriately, and providing checklists for each assignment. Promoting accuracy, these steps result in better student progress. They are also the easiest way to begin customizing your writing assignments.

The ability to customize a lesson is part of a progression of skills teachers develop over their first several years of teaching the Structure and Style writing process, but as with any skill, teachers vary in their readiness and pace. The Classroom Supplement scaffolds writing instruction to gradually move teachers toward independence in planning and delivering lessons. The goal is to build your competence and confidence as a writing teacher so that you can create your own lessons using sources found across your curriculum.

The first step is to customize the lessons with different source texts. Depending on your comfort level with the Structure and Style process, there are several ways to do this.

Swap the source text.
The technique that provides the most support is to follow the Classroom Supplement lessons but swap the original source texts with new ones. Where can you find them? You have some good options available, starting with two IEW products that you may already have access to: File Box Source Texts (Levels A, B, or C) or the Writing Source Packet. If you own a Classroom Supplement, the File Box Source Texts e-book download is included. If you don’t have this file in your account, go to page 18 in your Classroom Supplement to find the password to download a copy from the Classroom Supplement Help Page. If you are a Premium Member, a PDF of the Writing Source Packet is included as a membership benefit.

Packed with potential sources for Units 1 through 6*, both File Box Source Texts and the Writing Source Packet have plenty of engaging material to use in your lessons. You won’t need to determine whether a particular source is appropriate for the unit you’re teaching because it’s been done for you. The sources are organized by unit and include reading levels. To see if you already have either of these e-books, log on to your account and click on the FILES tab. Contact your IEW Educational Consultant if you have questions or need some help accessing them.

*Because Unit 7 takes ideas from a student’s brain, prewritten sources are not needed. Unit 8 is taught with content from the same kinds of sources used in Unit 6, and Unit 9 is usually taught using fables, short stories, and other fictional materials, just as in Unit 3.

What does source swapping look like?
To illustrate the swapping method, I’ll use the Week 1 (Unit 1: Note Making and Outlines) lesson in the Level B Classroom Supplement. The source text for the Week 1, Day 1 lesson is “Sea Wasp,” which my students used last year in sixth grade. As their seventh grade teacher, I’ll want to choose something else. There are eleven source texts provided as possible substitutes for the Unit 1 and Unit 2 lessons in the Level B File Box Source Texts PDF. Once I’ve chosen “Desert Tarantula,” there are a few things I will need to do to prepare ahead of time before I can follow the lesson provided in the Classroom Supplement:

  1. Read “Desert Tarantula” and create my own key word outline example.

  2. Make a copy of the “Desert Tarantula” source text for each student.

  3. Print a copy of the Public Speaking Checklist (Student Handout 1.2 from my Student Writing Portfolio Blackline Masters), white out the source title “Sea Wasp” and change it to “Desert Tarantula,” OR as a Premium Member I can access the Online Checklist Generator™ in my account to create and print a customized checklist.

  4. Make a copy of the “Desert Tarantula” checklist for each student.

  5. Stylistic techniques aren’t introduced in Week 1, but because most of my students have prior experience using them, I will prepare some possible dress-up options for this paragraph ahead of time.

  6. When it’s time to teach the lesson, I’ll simply follow the steps for the Week 1, Day 1 lesson plan, using “Desert Tarantula” instead of “Sea Wasp.”

Choose a source from your curriculum.
As your confidence grows, we encourage you to choose sources from your curriculum by using textbooks, library books, or reprintable online sources on topics your students are learning in other content areas. Taking into consideration the unit you are teaching and your students’ grade level, select an appropriate portion of a source, e.g., a paragraph in Units 1 and 2; a short story or fable in Unit 3; a page, section, or chapter of a textbook or other nonfiction book in Unit 4; a photograph, drawing, or painting in Unit 5; or two or more articles, books, or online sources in Unit 6. Not sure what kind of source to choose? Your Seminar Workbook provides suggestions for appropriate materials on the first page of each unit. Always ensure that copyrights are being respected.

One benefit of teaching writing using material from your content areas is that it solves the problem of how to “fit it all in” when time is a concern. The key word outline process also teaches note-taking skills and improves reading comprehension no matter the subject area. If you want to teach writing using your curriculum but are not quite ready to create your own lessons, simply follow Day 1–Day 5 lesson plans for the week in your Classroom Supplement with your chosen sources, just as we recommend in paragraph six using File Box Source Texts and Writing Source Packet.

If you would like other resources for source texts, and are online platforms that provide accessible, leveled, standards-aligned content—both fiction and nonfiction—for in-person, remote, or hybrid learning environments. Both platforms are free to use and have content on a wide variety of topics. If you subscribe to ReadWorks, you’ll receive emails with up-to-date information for content geared to holidays and commemorative observances such as Native American Heritage Month, Constitution Day, and Christmas, as well as current events topics. Consider following both on Facebook. Newsela even has a private Facebook group for Newsela Educators. These are just two of many online resources for content for your writing lessons. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments section below.

When you are ready to create your own lessons, follow the Teaching Procedure located on the Overview page for each unit in your Classroom Supplement. It’s the first page in each unit, but you can quickly find the page number in the Contents section. If you aren’t using a Classroom Supplement, locate the Teaching Procedure for each unit in your Seminar Workbook. Depending on the unit, it can be found on the first or second page under each unit’s tab. Following the teaching procedure will ensure that you are teaching writing lessons with fidelity until you have mastered the process.

We hope these suggestions encourage you to begin to customize your writing lessons with different source texts. In Part 2, we’ll address how to customize lessons to the experience of the student. If you have any questions or need some assistance, please reach out to your IEW Educational Consultant. Don’t know if you have one? Email your question to, or call 800.856.5815, and we’ll connect you to the right person. If you are an administrator whose teachers would benefit from having an Implementation Coach demonstrate this technique in your classrooms at a Demonstration and Coaching Day or include customization as part of a Review and Refinement Day, contact your EC for information and pricing.

Live Chat with IEW