Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: IEW Resource Materials

After years and years of reviewing homeschooling curriculum and products, I can only count on one hand the number of vendors from whom I’d accept any product, just know it’s going to be good.  The Institute for Excellence in Writing is one of those vendors.  Every time we’ve reviewed a product, it has become a permanent part of our schooling. I’ve been using their Structure and Style writing program since my son was in first grade.  A few years later came the Literature Analysis course and most recently was their Grammar program.  This time, the products we received aren’t curriculum themselves, but resources to enhance or supplement homeschool studies—and not just in the area of language arts..

We received a spiral bound book for all three titles. The Teaching with Games set also included two DVD’s and a CD-ROM. 


There are over ninety pages of charts in Timeline of Classics, each giving the Description or Time Period, the Title, the Author, and the appropriate age level of the resources.  I use the word “resources” because you will find much more than books listed.  I’ve also come across audios, movies, magazines, television shows, etc. A lot of listings have “Compact Classics” listed with the title—a little research determined this book provides two page summaries of many “classic” books. 

I would say this book provides a jumping off place if you’d like to add books or movies to your study of a period of history.  There is no synopsis of any title so you’d still need to do some research to see if the title is going to meet your needs.  For example, since we were in the middle of studying ancient Egypt, I went to that section.  There I found listings for Motel of the Mysteries (which I happen to know is a spoof of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb) and the Cecil B DeMille version of The Ten Commandments.  I wouldn’t consider either resource for a serious study of ancient Egypt, but the might make for some family fun time to celebrate wrapping up our study. Often you’ll find a title in more than one format, for example most of the G.A. Henty books list the original book and the  audio versions available.  

Of the three books I received, this is the on I use the least.  If a book is worthy of being called a classic, then we will read the original (even if I have to read it aloud).  I’m not interested in two-page summaries or film adaptations.  I will keep the book with my other reading list resources because it does have a very thorough chronological list.

This year I’m help to teach a high school level biology co-op class.  We’re alternating labs with review sessions to prepare for tests.  What better tool for making reviews fun than the Teaching with Games Set.   The book gives instructions and often samples of games that require No Prep, versions of Flash Cards, asking Questions, drilling math facts, and games the students build themselves throughout the study.

I happen to learn best by having someone teach me as we actually play the game rather than reading the rules.  If you’re like me then you’ll want to get the DVD which shows a round of each game being played.  The CD-ROM has a PDF version of the book (so you can print your own copies of the sample games) and some bonus grammar games.

For our science co-op I’ve found the Hot Potato card game to be a great way to go through vocabulary terms.  Both the clue giver and the one shouting out the answer have to know the definition of the term so they can pass on the stack of cards before time runs out.  Other times we’d play a simplified version of Jeopardy or a game called The Question Bag when we needed to review information that required more than a one word answer.

The introduction in both the DVD and the book share how students are more likely to be motivated to learn when it’s done through a game.  I totally agree and can share my own story.  My son is the youngest student in science co-op—he’s only 12 but is taking this high school level course because he’s mathematically ready for it.  He has, however, won 4 out of 5 of the study games we’ve played thus far because he’s very, very motivated to win (winners get $5 gift cards to local stores and restaurants)—even if that means spending a lot of time with his nose in a science book. 

If you’re familiar with the structure and style method of writing, you might find A Word Write Now very helpful.  If you’re not familiar, let me give you an example from one of Schnickelfritz’s recent assignments.  He had to write a story based on three pictures, one of which shows a man swinging on a chandelier in a library. When he started revising his rough draft there were several required “dress ups” he needed to include in each sentence: strong verbs, quality adjectives, –ly words (the term used for adverbs), etc. 
The first half of the book is devoted to two-page spreads of various positive and negative character traits (e.g. courage, honor, and pride). Fritz decided the chandelier-swinging man could best be described as “exuberant” so he turned to those pages of the book and found plenty of examples of all three dress ups listed above—he settled on “high-spirited,” “reveled,” and “overzealously.”  The final word was chosen because Fritz decided the chandelier came crashing down when the man swung too hard.  The catastrophe caused the women who’d been watching to get very angry.  Of course Fritz’s next task was to turn to the anger section to find appropriate words to describe her thoughts and actions.  This idea of a thematic thesaurus is so helpful for my struggling writer because even if he looked up “angry” in a regular thesaurus it wouldn’t help him find words to describe how an angry person spoke or moved. 
In addition to words for various character traits, there is a section on descriptive words (color, size, texture, etc.) and a section on movement and the senses.  Fritz referred to this final section to find suitable replacement for words that have been banned (go/went, say/said, think/thought).  I think the descriptive section  will be a great help when we get back to writing essays and research papers.
IEW Review

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