Helping Reluctant Writers Write with Style

Dec 02, 2022 | Posted by Janet Spitler

Today's post is the final installment in a three-part series that explains the Structure and Style method. Part 1 examined four roadblocks associated with learning to write. Part 2 introduced structure. In this final post we will illustrate the process of teaching style, which equips students with tools to effectively express themselves.

Our method of teaching stylistic techniques begins with dress-ups. Just as we can dress casually or formally for a variety of social situations, we can dress up our writing to suit a variety of audiences. Six types of dress-ups are introduced, one at a time, as students move through the nine units. They are introduced slowly in the elementary grades and more quickly with older students. Like the key word outline process, they are modeled by the teacher and practiced by the students until they become easy. The first three dress-ups are the -ly adverb, the who/which clause, and the strong verb.

Here are examples of possible sentences from “The Fox and the Goat” with dress-ups added.

1. -ly adverb

The goat impulsively jumped in the well.

The fox effortlessly climbed on the goat’s back.


2. who/which clause

The goat spotted the fox in the well, which was dark and deep.

The clever fox convinced the goat, who immediately jumped into the well.


3. strong verb

The fox tumbled into a deep well.

The fox declared a drought was coming.

The -ly adverb dress-up is the easiest one to learn and apply. Choose a verb from the story, such as fell in the first sentence. Ask your students to brainstorm -ly adverbs that could complete this sentence: “The fox somethingly fell into the well.” Ask “How could he have fallen into the well?” Give an example or two to get the ball rolling. “The fox carelessly fell into a well.” As your students suggest other -ly adverbs, add them to a list on the board.

The fox ________ly fell into the well.






Once you have a variety of -ly adverbs on the list, ask for volunteers to retell the first sentence using the key words from the outline and an -ly adverb from the list. Then, choose another verb from the story and repeat the process.

Stylistic techniques follow an EZ+1 method. Students practice adding an -ly adverb to each paragraph that they write until they can do so easily. In their final drafts, they should indicate they have added an -ly adverb by underlining it in their paragraphs. Students are free to add more than one -ly adverb to each paragraph they write. However, they should only mark one per paragraph.

Students who can easily add an -ly adverb to their paragraphs are ready to learn the who/which clause dress-up. Follow a similar procedure to introduce this new dress-up. Who/which clauses are adjective clauses that describe the nouns they follow. Typically, we use who for people and which for things. In fables, however, animals are often personified, so using who is appropriate (e.g., Foxes, which live in a variety of habitats, adapt well to human environments. The fox, who wasn’t very attentive, stumbled into a well and could not get out.) Find a noun. Ask students for important information they can add to describe the noun. “The fox, who wasn’t watching his step, absentmindedly fell into the well.” Work with your students to create possible who/which clauses to add to the fable.

Students who are familiar with the first two dress-ups can learn the strong verb dress-up. Starting with the first sentence, ask the students to suggest words that create a stronger image and feeling than the verb fell does. List their suggestions on the board (e.g., tumbled, plummeted, stumbled, dropped, toppled). Follow with oral retelling as you did with the -ly adverb. Choose another verb from the story, such as said, which appears in several sentences, and follow the same process of brainstorming and retelling. “Oh, have you not heard?” _____ the fox (e.g., questioned, mumbled, shouted).

This is a brief explanation of how students learn to add style to their writing in the Structure and Style method. In addition to three more dress-ups and six sentence openers, the method includes decorations and advanced dress-ups. For a more in-depth look at the program from Andrew Pudewa, IEW’s founder and principal speaker, click here.

Are you a teacher or an administrator? We can provide a live interactive webinar on “Reaching the Reluctant Writer” for your staff. We also offer a wide variety of workshops and professional development that can be specifically tailored to your school or district. If you would like to schedule this or another workshop for your faculty, contact the Schools Division or your school’s Educational Consultant.


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