If you're struggling to decide if you should choose Institute for Excellence in Writing's themed or Structure and Style resources, the choice comes down to your personal family needs. Below are some considerations to help you find the best fit for your family. Spoiler alert: Both options are great!
First, it's important for you to know the product similarities.
Both include lessons and sources for all of the IEW Units.
Both offer literature suggestions, but no formal instruction for those suggestions.
Vocabulary words are included with the lessons
Daily schedule suggestions and checklists are included which make execution and grading easy
Both offer brainstorming ideas for the students with each lesson
Both still require parent involvement throughout the process
Here are the significant differences and their benefits to parents.
1. SSS offers instruction for each lesson taught by Andrew Pudewa.
Benefit: Because the lessons are taught, parents only need to support the student through the writing process and act as the editor. If your'e new to IEW, it also gives you a chance to learn alongside your children. Having four children, I really appreciated not having to do all the instruction on my own. The first two days of instruction include video lessons that average 30 - 40 minutes in length. I could be in the room watching the video with my children while folding laundry or getting another household chore done.
2. Theme-Based Writing focuses on a specific subject.
Benefit: Because many of the themed-based lessons focus on history, parents are able to cover two subjects at one time. For example, when we used Ancient History Based Writing Lessons, we also read the suggested literature or other books and counted that as a history credit. Unfortunately, there are no video lessons that accompany this option, so parents must teach the curriculum or find an accredited IEW instructor to guide the student through the lessons. In order to teach the curriculum on their own, parents need to purchase the TWSS program which is designed for teachers.
3. While vocabulary words are included in both, there are some differences in how those words are introduced.
SSS Vocabulary: During the video lessons, the vocabulary words for the week come from words in the source text. When Mr. Pudewa reads through the source text and defines a word, the definition flashes on the screen. Students must pause the video and write the information on their own. There are no flashcards for these words, which is what the themed lessons include. There is also no cumulative list of vocabulary words and definitions in the teacher or student guide. I appreciate the words being taught in context, but I wish IEW would have included flashcards like they do for the themed books.
Themed Vocabulary: Students are assigned vocabulary words that align with each lesson. They are encouraged to include these words in their final draft according to the checklist. At the back of the student books, there are visual flashcards for each word. This was helpful for all of my children, but especially useful for my visual learners. We were able to play games with the flashcards to help them remember the words and their definitions long term.
4. Themed-Based Writing offers practice pages and SSS offers on-screen brainstorming.
SSS Brainstorming: Andrew Pudewa brainstorms the dress-ups with the students in the video lessons. Students can write down those ideas and use them in their paper for the week. Seeing Andrew model the brainstorming process on the whiteboard is extremely helpful for students and is a value add that this program offers. For students who aren't great note takers, having guided notes for the KWO or practice pages for each lesson, which the themed lessons provide, would have been helpful.
Themed Brainstorming: Worksheet-style brainstorming pages that are specific to each lesson are included. KWO pages are also included in each lesson as well. These are guided notes that my family found tremendously helpful. We didn't need a separate notebook for note taking because everything is contained in the student guide. If students are adding -ly adverbs or who/which clauses to their writing for the week, they are given practice pages to help them brainstorm options they can include before writing their final paper. Those practice pages also encourage them to brainstorm the use of vocabulary words that have been introduced in the lesson. The appendix offers vocabulary quizzes and other content not found in SSS.
5. Themed lessons are spiral bound, and SSS has a three-ring binder with tabs.
SSS: I love the sturdy notebook with tabs that comes with this option. It helps with organization and gives students a place to store their handwritten work and hand outs. The posters are included with this program, so those are useful visuals that do not come with the themed lessons. However, I did find it cumbersome at first to move each lesson to the appropriate section every week. Once the system is understood, it's easy to follow.
Themed: Everything is in one spiral binder. This is my personal preference having multiple children. It made keeping up with our notes easier since everything was all in one place. If students handwrite their papers, there is no place to store their work with this option. That could be a deterrent for some families.