WriteShop or IEW?

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My family has used both WriteShop and Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). If you read both my review of WriteShop and my review of IEW, you’ll see that I am enthusiastic about both, which usually leads to some questions.

  • Why did you switch?
  • How are they different?
  • Which do you recommend

I’ve answered those questions so many times, I thought I might as well write a blog post comparing the two.

Pencil erasers

How are WriteShop and IEW different?

WriteShop and IEW have many similarities. Both encourage what IEW calls “dress-ups.” These include strong word choices – interesting adjectives and more creative verbs, for example. They also encourage a variety of sentence types – such as starting a sentence with paired adjectives or an adverbial phrase. I think many parents who have used one of the programs would recognize similarities with the other.

I noticed three main differences between IEW and WriteShop.

Modeling vs. original compositions

IEW’s main focus, at least at the beginning, is modeling. Students use a passage from someone else’s writing (a fable, for example) and use it to create a key word outline. They pick out one or two words from each sentence to make notes. Students then use this key word outline to rewrite the paragraph in their own words.

The idea behind this is that seeing good writing modeled will help students learn to write well when they move on to original work – similar to the way a student learns to play an instrument by using sheet music before he writes his own musical compositions.

With WriteShop, it is the parent who is providing the modeling. Parents guide students through brainstorming exercises and demonstrate how to write a paragraph from the ideas jotted down during brainstorming. Then, the students write their own paragraph using the techniques learned while writing the practice paragraph.

Scope of WriteShop vs. IEW

Institute for Excellence in Writing is designed as something of a course for the instructor. It teaches the parent how to teach writing and is designed to be used from elementary school through high school. Basically, you teach your student through the appropriate level of Student Writing Intensive (elementary, middle school, or high school). After that, they use the techniques to apply what they’ve learned across the curriculum.

Students only go through one level of SWI. The techniques are the same in each, but with a higher level of writing depending on the student’s grade level. Once they’ve learned the basics, writing isn’t supposed to be a separate subject to be taught, but rather a skill to be applied in all other subjects.

WriteShop I and II are designed to be used for about one school year each (though we’ll probably take it a bit slower), giving them, perhaps, a more limited scope than IEW. That being said, the same principal is true: once writing skills are learned, applying them can be done across the curriculum no matter the subject.

Lesson plans

WriteShop offers specific lesson plans, where IEW does not. When we used IEW, we did have a certain rhythm to our week. We’d watch the DVD on one day, do the KWO another day, and write paragraphs the third day.

With WriteShop, there are three specific lesson plan outlines: one for completing the program in one year, another for completing it in two years, and a third for completing it in three years. Each lesson is designed to take about a week or two. We’ve adjusted the three year track so that we’re completing two lessons in each six week period, working on writing two or three days a week.

Is WriteShop or IEW better?

The two questions most people want to know are: why did you switch and which program is better?

We put IEW on the shelf because, while I saw the value in them, after awhile my kids found the Key Word Outlines tedious. Watching the DVD was somewhat time-consuming. Doing the KWO outlines were time-consuming. Writing was time-consuming.

Yes, I know I said in my IEW review that it wasn’t as time-consuming as I thought it would be and it wasn’t…but it wasn’t something I could send the kids off to do on their own either. It did require a decent amount of time on my part.

So, IEW sat on my shelf collecting dust. I refused to sell it, though, because I was sure we’d come back to it at some point. It is an excellent writing program.

Meanwhile, I started hearing people talk about WriteShop. It was shiny and new. It looked easy to implement. It caught my attention.

So, I emailed its author, Kim Kautzer, and told her I’d like to review it. She asked me why I wanted to use it instead of IEW. I told her about the KWO. She started telling me about WriteShop and the differences and similarities between the programs and, you know what? I started thinking, “Uh-oh. This sounds kind of time-consuming.”

And, you know what? It kind of is.

I have discovered something about writing. If you want your kids to do it well, it takes some input on the part of the parent. It’s not just something you can send them off to do – at least, not at first. As I said in my review of WriteShop,

Teaching writing this way is very teacher intensive at first. Writing time is not always my favorite time of the day. It’s kind of like teaching reading, though. If you put the effort in at the beginning, they can work independently a lot more effectively later on.

You know what that means? WriteShop and IEW are both excellent choices for teaching writing.

I tell people it’s kind of like choosing between a Nikon and a Canon when you’re shopping for a camera. Nikon users will tell you that there’s no better camera on earth. Canon users will tell you the same thing about their cameras. The fact is, though, whether you buy a Canon or a Nikon, you’re going to get an excellent camera. It all boils down to a matter of personal preference.

If you like to have lesson plans and a specific scope and sequence laid out for you; you prefer a guide to teaching writing; and your kids prefer doing their own original writing, you’ll probably prefer WriteShop.

If you want to learn how to teach writing so that you can teach it to your kids, you prefer to coordinate your own writing lessons, and your kids would benefit from the modeling technique, you may prefer Institute for Excellence in writing.

We are currently using WriteShop because I like having the ease-of-use of the lesson plans and a predictable weekly schedule. My IEW materials are currently on loan (yes, I still refuse to sell them) to a friend in a unique situation. She moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine 10 years ago. She speaks English amazingly well with a beautiful accent. However, she was very unsure of her ability to teach her children to write well in English. Her family is a prime example of one who will benefit immensely from the modeling that IEW offers.

As for us, Brianna continued moving through WriteShop II primarily on her own last year. She wrote some amazing papers that showed me two things: 1) She can write well and 2) I can expect independence in writing from my younger two after I put in some time on the front end.

Writing took a backseat for Josh last year as we focus on his dyslexia treatment. I’ve decided to have him and Megan work through WriteShop I this year since it will be easier for me to teach them both at the same time. (Last year, Megan did WriteShop Junior, Josh started on WS I, and Brianna was working on WS II.)

So, WriteShop or IEW? Which should you choose? I really don’t think you can go wrong with either.


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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Wow, and I thought I had my challenges selecting a Math for next year. I am also evaluating writing programs for my kid. She loves writing but needs to tighten her skill. I was considering Time4Writing but am putting the decision off to later this year. Thanks for posting your review of these two programs I was considering.

  2. I haven’t had any experience with IEW, but I do like WriteShop. Like you, I prefer a curriculum that Jenny can do independently, so I’ve struggled with the time commitment WS takes. But, it’s like you said, no matter what curriculum you use, you’re going to have to put in the time at the beginning to build a solid foundation that your kids can build on the rest of their lives. (P.S. I liked the Canon vs Nikon comparison!)

  3. I used WS with my daughter in middle school. She was, and still is, a reluctant writer – but she is competent! I have some experience with writing but I had no idea what I was doing teaching it. I can’t compare it to IEW but I can say WS guided me through the teaching experience and we continue to use the WS essay evaluations for her writing assignments. We followed WS up with Analytical Grammar’s How to Write a Literary Essay (6 weeks or so of work) and How to Write a Research Paper. The first unit gave us an alternative & valuable approach essay writing, and the second unit spells out research paper writing in a user friendly manner. As I say my daughter isn’t enthusiastic about scholastic writing but she will be able to feel confident as we approach college in two years. Best of luck to all!

  4. Just an FYI- IEW now has a scope and sequence and lesson plans laid out in the student notebooks that go with the Student Writing Intensives. I used the original notebook with my oldest, and recently downloaded the ebook version of the updated notebook and was very pleasantly surprised to find lessons laid out for me for when I go through it with my next two oldest kids this year 🙂

  5. I am going to be using IEW this year for the first time. I was wondering if maybe the reason your daughter is doing such a wonderful job with writing could be because of the foundation she got from IEW. Or are they different enough that you can tell it is from WriteShop? This is my first time teaching writing and I struggled with what curriculum. I have invested in IEW so have to see it through right now. I just hope I made the right choice.

    1. They are both excellent programs. I’m sure that concepts she picked up from each contributed to the improvements in her writing. Perhaps I noticed it more with WS because the papers she wrote were her own original compositions.

  6. Just so you know, you don’t have to use the Student Writing Intensive with IEW. They have many great theme books that are cheaper and really interesting. In fact, you can even have them write from any source that you want them to. You just need the Teaching Writing: Style and Structure DVDs. The Student Writing Intensive programs are more independent, though.

  7. Thanks so much for this helpful comparison and review. We used IEW for two years a couple years ago with three of the children in 8th, 6th, & 4th grades. I totally agree with your description of it. I love the curriculum. I felt like it produced results. And I look back on it with fond memories of sitting around the table and working on dress-ups together. But I also agree with your comments that its time-consuming. I really believe it has benefited the children as I see them use some of the techniques as they get older. I highly recommend it to my friends. I would be interested in looking at Write Shop too. Thanks again for the review.

  8. I have a very gifted 9 year old boy! He is goimg into the fourth grade! I wanted to start him in writing but I am not sure at what age I should start him and what the best grade/age and program would be! We currently use AOP curriculum entirely on the compute. Your input would be greatly appreciated! Thank you, Michelle

    1. I would suggest that you look at my reviews page under “writing.” There you can see all of the reviews I’ve done for writing programs.

  9. Thank you. I needed this info. So many friends use IEW and I like most of the concept; however, we live in a rural area (away from those friends) and I wasn’t sure I could do on my own or wanted to invest in it. I had recently been reading your curr choices for this year and looked into WriteShop. I signed her up for an online IEW class. She’s looking forward to it. I worried it won’t be much or worth the cost. We’ll see. I now have a good next option. Thanks again for blogging.

  10. Great review. Thanks for all the ideas you shared.

    I would agree with the other comment that IEW has weekly lesson plans with schedules for each day of the week. They didn’t have those 15 years ago when I used IEW. All their resources have weekly schedules for a homeschool mom to follow!

    I also understand why you say Keyword Outlines are tedious. However, my kids moved from basic outlines to the research outline or narrative outline. They have used some type of outline for every writing assignment they do, including college papers.

    We used IEW for 10 years in our homeschool and my daughter told me last Monday the reason she writes well (with style & structure) is IEW! Not that she works through a checklist, but all the basics are in the back of her mind. She writes in her job & is often complimented on her writing.

    My best friend strongly recommends Write Shop. It fits her personality perfectly, but wouldn’t fit my family’s personality. You are also right that both are EXCELLENT writing program and will produce good writers. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this comparison. I’m just beginning to think about writing for next year. We’ve been using IEW for the last 2 1/2 years and my son (almost 11) is *very* tired of key word outlines. We need something fresh and IEW is definitely off the table. I’m considering Write Shop. Or, perhaps, ‘Write Shop Jr. Book D’ because he is a reluctant writer (though an incredibly bright kid). We very successfully used Writing with Ease in his earlier years. Now that I’m using it again with my younger son, I’m also considering Writing with Skill for 6th grade for my older kiddo – I’m impressed anew with the author and her approach. Anyway, I appreciate your time with this review. Hopefully I’ll find a good fit for next year! I don’t mind putting in the time, but we’ve really plateaued with IEW and I’m wondering if Write Shop is too similar to that. I’m also wavering over placement with Write Shop. If you have any words of wisdom, I’m all ears. Thanks!

    1. I would suggest that you take a look at WriteShop Junior D. It might not be right for your son, but it’s a lot of fun with hands-on activities. It focuses on creative writing, which is often more fun for younger students.

  12. I’ve spent more hours than I count count researching to find a simple approach to teaching writing. IEW videos seem like more than I could handle right now with a 2 year old although everyone seems to be using them. I was wondering if you have any suggestions if I were to use WriteShop I for 9th grade and WriteShop II for 10th what would be a great follow up for 11th and 12th? Thanks so much for sharing your review!

    1. I’m really not sure. You might message the folks at WriteShop through their contact page. I know I’ve seen them mention something, but I can’t remember what it was.

  13. I’m new to both programs. Do they focus on the creative aspect of writing ( getting ideas on a page) or is it about the mechanics?
    Thank you

    1. Both programs are actually a bit of both. I think they both have sample lessons on their sites that you may want to check out.

  14. Do you have any thoughts on what to use after write shop? We are finishing up WS II with my 8th grader and he has really done well with it. I’m looking toward high school writing and I would like to expand on what he has learned without confusing him with a different method.

    1. WriteShop advises, “Continue to teach and practice writing. When focusing on more advanced writing skills, include literary analysis, longer essays, research papers, poetry, business letters, and résumés.”

      We didn’t finish WSII that early so I don’t have any personal recommendations to offer. Sorry!

  15. You mention having a child with dyslexia, as do I. Can you tell me what you ended up finding most successful for him?

  16. This was incredibly helpful, especially, since I have stopped using IEW and was in search of a writing curriculum. Can I ask two questions.
    What grade were your children in when they used Wristshop I and II?
    Would you recommend buying the Blue Book of Grammar?
    Thank you!

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