Three Surprising Ways to Use the Structure and Style Method

Oct 04, 2021 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Recently we received an email from Marie Greenhalgh. Marie is an IEW Registered Instructor. She contacted us, mentioning that she had noticed that her family was incorporating Structure and Style ideas not only during writing class, but across the regular parts of life as well. Feeling inspired by the realization, she decided to write a blog post, which she kindly shared with us. We enjoyed reading it and thought our readers would enjoy it as well, so we are posting it below. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


Three Surprising Ways We Use the Structure and Style Method

by Marie Greenhalgh

How many times have you called your family for dinner and no one responds? Well ... maybe that one perpetually hungry kid shows up but no one else. You continue to intermittently holler, ring your dinner gong, or whatever you do in your house to get your family to the table. You wonder if you should just tuck in and finish the meal off yourself since no one seems particularly hungry. Maybe they wouldn’t even notice! Enter: IEW to the rescue! After six plus years of using IEW’s curriculum (increasingly so—and that’s another story), we realized that this systematic approach to writing is actually just one little bite out of a bigger ideological brownie as it were. Indeed, IEW’s writing methods are built on principles of logic designed to give the minutiae of our daily lives order and purpose. Unsurprisingly therefore, these logical systems can relieve much parental frustration which ultimately stems from the effects of unclear expectations, unheeded instructions, and the incessant and seemingly unnecessary “why” questions. Properly applied, IEW’s principles have the potential to foster in the whole family an appreciation of curiosity with a side of logical thought, an acceptance of personal responsibility with a side of guilt-free natural consequences, and a sense of security in a visible daily schedule with a side of flexibility.

Consider first those long, peaceful road trips where everybody in the back seat is getting along swimmingly. Everybody is individually engaged in his own quiet pastime of reading, sketching, or boxing each other. What? Did I just say “boxing?” That never happens in your car, you say? Sigh. Sadly, sibling strife in my vehicle is continually bubbling way too near the surface. And if it’s not that, it’s an endless litany of “why” questions. Why is the sky blue? Why are the fields striped? Why did my brother just look at me?! Enter the brain questions!

Sometimes you can waste (ahem, employ) a good half an hour on one absorbing question if you are clever. Take the question of striped fields, for instance. Generally asking the Brain Questions out loud, in order, seems to work best. (You should always ask each one out loud anyway and leave the answer blank if it doesn’t seem to apply.) “Who owns the field? Who takes care of the field? What do they do to the field? What kinds of tools do they use? When do they do the different tasks? When do I see these stripes? Where do I see them most prominently?” Now you come to the how and why questions that your kids had wanted to start with originally. I was incredulous at how long it took our “town kids” to get to the truth of this particular question! At one point during the conversation, I had them physically draw a field on a piece of paper and use their eraser to “plow/combine” their field. Depending on your kids’ frustration limit, you can choose how much to guide them. Older kids benefit greatly by asking and answering the questions out loud by themselves. Obviously, you don’t want to discourage them by withholding answers for too long, but as you practice this more frequently, their capacity for logic and reasoning will grow and blossom. We have been using this systematic method for all kinds of “why” questions, and it works pretty well on a number of levels:

  1. Our kids now think twice about asking too many unnecessary questions.
  2. They begin to be able to ask themselves increasingly useful questions and come up with more logical answers. (Surprisingly, I have caught myself using this method as well for many life questions, and my husband and I have been experiencing absolute life epiphanies!)
  3. Finally, if nothing else happens, you are fifty miles closer to your travel destination without a boxing match breaking out in the backseat! It’s a win-win!

Fast forward to dinnertime. How often are you forced to call before every family member is seated? You begin to wonder if you feed them too well. Even the desperate greediness of a pig would be evidence of more gratefulness than these tardy terrapins. Key words are, well, the key, in this situation and so many others like it—specifically parental calls to action. If we deliver a direct verbal command, especially one that must be obeyed promptly, we end it with “... key words?” The recipient of the directive then repeats the key words only back to us. Many times our kids try to get away with simply parroting back to us, verbatim, our exact string of words. However, we found that they are often able to accomplish this incredible display of instant replay by some remote part of their subconscious without having to actually engage warp drive at all! Thus the call to arms goes unheeded. By requiring a verbal response of the instruction’s key words only (or if it is a multi-step instruction, a verbal mini-outline with numbered steps), you end up achieving three outcomes:

  1. Due to the audible repetition, the command is much more likely to be obeyed promptly.
  2. The recipient’s capacity for attention and memory is expanded—especially if it is a multi-step directive.
  3. And, because I personally am prone to second guessing myself, the most salient advantage in my opinion is this: Once you have verified that your child has indeed heard and understood the instruction, you can now allow the natural consequences of a possible lapse in obedience to occur—guilt free—such as eating supper without said child, and without calling again.

The third way we incorporate IEW’s method in our daily routines is distinctly more writing based. A set of personalized, reusable, laminated checklists and two portable whiteboards serve us well for organizing each child’s schedule. To my intense chagrin, I came to the realization that I was becoming very annoyed (and annoying) by attempting to verbally guide the kids from one activity to another—all. day. long. Not only was I getting intensely frustrated at perpetually nagging them, but the children were definitely dreading whatever horrible chore mum was going to suddenly spring on them next. Enter the checklist! We decided to laminate the morning and evening routines as simple, reusable checklists that can be checked off with a dry erase marker every morning and evening. I admit, it’s not an instant fix to the parental nagging, as it requires some ingenuity on my part to bribe (ahem, reward) them to be more independent in this area, but success is coming slowly and surely. At least I only have to say one programmed sentence now: “Go check your list, please.” For a busy mum’s fractured mind, this is a definite relief. As for sorting the rest of our day, we have two portable whiteboards (one for each child) which we treat as a sort of announcement space. Since they are both very familiar with key word outlines, that is the form that many of our announcements take. Posting entries such as this in written form as opposed to giving verbal directives seems to relieve a great deal of mutual anxiety due to any perceived ambiguity of expectations or anger at lack of “prior notice” for unexpected events, especially for a child on the autism spectrum:

  1. math, 1st
  2. Science, gather, leaves
  3. Doctor, 3 PM
  4. out, garbage, thank you

Furthermore, I don’t feel the need to announce things “out of season” or give chores the exact moment they come to mind, just so I don’t forget. I simply write the key words in the “announcement space,” and they can look at it later. We are all more peaceful when we are allowed to continue the linear flow of our thoughts for at least a few minutes in a row without interruption. Additionally the kids use the same whiteboard space to tell me stuff. They often write down the key words of a question, idea, or activity they want to do with me since I am not, unfortunately, omnipresent. Being able to solidify their requests and ideas by writing out just the key words (which makes it a less onerous task for them) teaches the children responsibility, ownership, and the security of being valued. “Mummy won’t forget. It’s written down.”

Whether we are travelling, learning, or just attempting to progress through a normal day, I am amazed at how much we have come to appreciate and make use of this idea of “separation of complexity.” Being of a certain personality (wink, wink), checklist-making and outlines come naturally to me. So I’ve been unwittingly incorporating these tools for years. But other ideas, such as brain questions and key words, have been surprisingly useful tools I only recently discovered through the pages, programs, and podcasts of IEW. As our family navigates through these difficult times of uncertainty and confusion, we have all been learning to think and reason by asking ourselves questions in an orderly fashion before taking any action. Surprisingly, we seem to be gaining an ability to live our lives on purpose as it were. Our thoughts, once put in order, give birth to meaningful actions, which in turn produce good fruit.


We’d like to thank Marie for sharing her thoughts about how IEW’s principles have helped to make their family feel a little more peaceful and her parenting a little more joyful. We hope that you may also feel inspired to inject a little more of IEW’s structure into your day to help lighten the load and lift the spirits.

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