Friday, October 23, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing (review)

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) Review

Institute for Excellence in Writing is well-known in the homeschool community for their high quality writing and language arts materials, though I didn't have much experience with their products.  Recently I was given the opportunity to review some of their resources.  I received three items:  Timeline of Classics, Teaching with Games Set and a A Word Write Now.

Prior to this review, I was only familiar with their K-2 Reading/Writing Program (The PAL program I am using this year with Emory is what I reviewed in 2012 with Elliott) so I was interested in using more of their materials to see why IEW is so popular.

Timeline of Classics

 IEW Phonetic Zoo

Timeline of Classics: Historical Context for the Good and Great Books was written by Gail Ledbetter, and it began as a resource for her own family.  It is a chronological listing of literature, and some audio resources and movies, that can accompany any history study.  The guide is divided by major time periods in history:

  • Ancients
  • The Middle Ages
  • Renaissance and Reformation
  • The Modern World

This makes it easy to quickly reference the historical time period you are studying to find history and literature titles for all ages.  The guide is designed in a simple spreadsheet format, and it includes a description of the book or time period, the title, author and a general age recommendation.  The author uses the abbreviations of E for Elementary, M for Middle and H for High School levels.

Obviously this cannot be an exhaustive list of available books on a given time period, but it is a great start for finding books for both homeschooling and reading pleasure.  We are a mix of unit studies inspired by Charlotte Mason, so living books are the heart of our homeschool.  Having a list of Great Books to help facilitate my lesson planning is a blessing.  I have a general outline for our year with topics we want to study, so having this timeline to reference helps me plan ahead.  I can go ahead and research books that might be a good fit and notate if we own it or if I think I should buy it or borrow it from the library.  I have noticed many books we've already read and loved from our core curriculum, and others I remember fondly and can't wait to share with the kids as they get older, so I trust that the books I'm not familiar with are just as high quality.

Teaching with Games Set

 IEW Phonetic Zoo
Both of my boys like games, but my 8 year old in particular is especially thrilled when I tell him we're playing a game for school.  Naturally, I was very intrigued about the prospect of what this could do for our homeschool.  I received Teaching with Games DVD/CD-ROM Set for the review.  Written by Lori Verstegen, the purpose is to give teachers and homeschooling parents the resources and ideas to create a variety of games that can be used across all subjects, with any grade level, and with any number of students.  Games are an important tool for learning, because they help children with retention and critical thinking skills, and of course most kids are more interested when the "learning" is fun!

The games are divided into five categories.

1.  No-Prep Games
2.  Matching Card Games
3.  Question Games
4.  Math Fact Games
5.  Make As You Teach Games

The DVD/CD-ROM is a 3-disc set, and actually contains everything you need.  The first two discs are a recorded seminar showing us how to actually put the different games into play (play - ha, get it?) with actual demonstrations.  The third disc has the games and instructions in PDF format, as well as bonus materials.  While the physical book gives copying privileges to families for personal use, printing what I need from the PDF is much easier than copying out of a spiral book, but I like having the actual book for quick reference.

For every game, there are instructions for play and adaption for different ages/skill level, as well as samples and templates as necessary.  Some of the games were familiar, but had little twists or variations to the rules, while others were more unique.  While there are sample games, the intent is that you will take the material you are learning and make games unique to your students and curriculum.  So for instance, we played No-Noose Hangman with the mystery word "vowels" and the challenge after the word was revealed was for my 6 year old to tell me the vowels and sounds, while my 8 year old had to tell me as many vowel rules as he could remember from his spelling curriculum.

Simply put, I love this resource!  I want to make learning and review fun, but I don't necessarily have the time or creativity to come up with games and activities.  The internet is great, but it's never-ending, and I could sit all day trying to narrow down my options.  Teaching with Games takes the planning and work out of the equation, making it easier to choose games.  Having it handy has also given me the push I need to add Friday Funday.  We do the bulk of new material on Mon-Wed., and then we are out of the house for co-op on Thursday.  I often like to review on Fridays instead of starting new material, and now I have such a FUN way to review each week!  I love the tips for adapting for different ages, because my boys are 1st and 3rd grade, but playing together makes it more interesting, and I can 'kill two birds with one stone' so to speak.

A Word Write Now
 IEW Phonetic Zoo

A Word Write Now:  A Thematic Thesaurus for Stylized Writing takes a thesaurus to a whole new level.  Some children may need a little boost to their vocabulary while they are developing their writing skills, and a thesaurus is a valuable tool.  A Word Write Now has a unique layout and purpose, different from a traditional thesaurus.  The words are organized specifically by categories to allow students a variety of appropriate words from which they can choose.

Section A:  Character Traits
Section B:  Words to Describe
Section C:  Words for Movement and the Senses
Section D:  Appendix

There are quotes, and experts from classics literature, showing us how the topic can be expressed with rich language.  The lists are generally broken down by nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, though depending on the section the type of words may vary.  Each list has a space for the student to write in additional words that they they feel fit into that category as well.

We started out using this when we were discussing synonyms.  We looked at our given words:  pushed, pummeled, punched and pat.  We realized we could look in the section "Words for Movement," and go to the list Words for Hands.  From there we found nouns, prepositional phrases, adverbs, and verbs.  Then we were able to find several more words that might have worked in the context of our study.

What I like about this resource is that it gets you thinking outside the box.  It's not just direct synonyms.  Instead, it provides you with the ability to stretch your writing vocabulary and improve your writing skills by looking at the whole story that you are trying to tell.  The way the sections are divided helps you look at the way words are used and the meaning they convey, which can change the tone of your writing.  It is an excellent resource for students to use independently, especially those who enjoy creative writing endeavors.  As a blogger, it's something even I can use to spruce up my own writing!

Final Thoughts
These are useful resources for  any homeschooling family.  While Teaching with Games is more teacher/parent directed, the other two resources are ideal for helping students become more independent.  I would recommend all three resources for homeschooling families of any homeschool style, because anyone from Classical to Charlotte Mason to Unschoolers can benefit by utilizing them in a way that makes sense for their family.  They would also be valuable tools for teachers or co-op leaders to have on their reference shelf.  You can see full samples of Timeline of Classics, Teaching with Games and A Word Write Now on their respective pages on the IEW website.

In addition to these three parent/teacher resources, some Crew members also reviewed The Phonetic Zoo, so if you're in need of a spelling program, that's all the more reason to check out the other crew reviews, and look for IEW on social media!

IEW Review
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