Lessons Learned Teaching with IEW

May 25, 2019 | Posted by Michelle


I have been in the “IEW world” since fifth grade when I was first introduced to its method. Since then, I have known it intimately as a student, as a customer service representative, and now as a teacher. Putting into practice what I was given as a student and what I now recommend to parents and teachers not only grew my patience, but also strengthened my belief in the method. These lessons may be obvious to some—especially IEW veteran teachers—but their potency struck me after being on the “front lines” of teaching.


It is okay to go slowly.

While I assure parents and teachers every day that the best thing to do is to go at the pace of their student, it was a humbling experience to put that mantra into practice. Without a doubt, I felt the need to grow the students’ writing exponentially and impress the parents by that rapid growth and ability to achieve so much in a short time. Honestly, though, I had frankly forgotten what it was like to be ten years old and still navigating the meaning of verbs and nouns. I quickly realized I had to set aside my version of “success” and conform it to theirs. After all, it was their progress and their knowledge and skills that were growing, not mine. Why should I get to dictate what I view as success when I’m not the one doing the hard work of learning? That meant I had to slow down, enjoy the process, and simply teach. And how happy we all were at the end of the year doing this.

Model. Even when it’s hard.

I had to always remind myself that modeling and imitation is key to success. It was easy for me to be tempted to shrug off this responsibility. They shouldn’t need to rely on me to ask and answer the questions, right? How easy it is to be prey to the second deadly error of teaching writing—withholding help. On Mondays, when my patience was thin or I had a large list to accomplish, I have to confess I found the task of modeling tedious at times. However, I remember distinctly one class. We had been working on Unit 5: Writing from Pictures when I decided it was time for them to do it on their own. While a few eager students ran with this freedom, two students stared back at me, not sure how to handle the amount of responsibility that had been handed to them. I soon realized that it’s true—students like to do what they think they can do. So back to the whiteboard I went, modeling the entire time. This gave my students the confidence they needed and helped grow their skills.


There are so many reasons the chicken crossed the road.

Why did the Roman chicken cross the road?
She was afraid someone would Caesar!

I know. This lesson doesn’t seem to apply to writing, but let me assure you of its relevance. Students filed into the classroom each Monday afternoon, and their first question was “Did you bring a joke, Miss Michelle?” Thanks to Mr. Pudewa’s Joke of the Month, I proudly, and so imperfectly, had a joke or two to start the class off. The jokes had nothing to do with writing—more often they had to do with something like a chicken and a road—but they started the class out with laughter and good humor. Cheery dispositions are always eager to get to work, I discovered. I quickly learned the value of simply laughing with them over some of the most corny punchlines and variations to some of the most clichéd jokes. I recall when I was a student in Mr. Pudewa’s class. At the start of every session, he would share a joke, and I would be on the edge of my seat, attentively listening to each word. While back then I imagined we were simply wasting time, I now wonder if this wasn’t a brilliant way to set a tone of attentiveness for the remainder of the class.


Thinking comes easily…when you know how.

If you were to ask a group of fifth graders, “How do you think?” you’d likely get a variety of answers, including, “You just do it!” posed as an eloquent response. While we adults may have more sophisticated answers to that question, this task simply comes down to the skill of asking yourself questions (Is this fact interesting? Who is in the story?). However, thinking doesn’t come as easily as “just doing it.” It needs to be taught and refined and guided so that the student knows, without a doubt, they have the tools and know-how to retell a narrative story or to tackle a blank page. Throughout the past year, I had to stop and help the students ask the right questions. This often meant I had to do the asking and help give possible answers. The more I did this, the more the students were willing—but more importantly, able—to strike out on their own and do it by themselves.

So, now that the school year is over, what have I taken away from leading my own IEW class? It’s a good question. Quite frankly, I learned that it’s all too easy to forget what it was like to be learning something for the first time and the importance of patience and kindness. I also learned to fully trust the Structure and Style® writing method. I may have accomplished teaching this year with a few lame jokes along the way and some imperfectly chosen strong verbs, but the lessons learned will be invaluable the next time I head an IEW class.

Structure and Style is a registered trademark of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, L.L.C.


Michelle Robinson started out working in Production and as a marketing assistant, but now enjoys working with the Customer Service Department. Having been homeschooled her whole life, Michelle had the opportunity to compete in a homeschool speech and debate league. Because she is a Latin scholar, Michelle has been asked to teach that subject to the local homeschooling community. Michelle is passionate about photography, her friends, and her faith.

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