Essentials in Writing

Essentials in Writing

See the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

Essentials in Writing is a complete language arts program for grades one through twelve with teaching presented on DVDs.

Instructor Matthew Stephens is energetic, interacting with an unseen classroom of students for each level. He continually works on a whiteboard while teaching. DVD lessons vary in length depending upon the complexity of the topics. Consequently, courses include from one to four DVDs.

An instructional manual/student workbook (which I will continue to refer to as the workbook) is required for each student. For each lesson, students first look at the workbook's assignment, then watch a segment on the DVD. Afterward, they read through and complete the workbook pages for that lesson. There is often a significant amount of instructional material in the workbook, especially at older levels, so no other textbook is needed. Sometimes students will watch a DVD lesson then work on assignments for one, two, or three days, but generally video and workbook assignments are completed the same day.

While most of the teaching is done for you via the DVDs, some parent interaction will be necessary, especially for younger children. Answer keys are at the end of the workbooks for the younger levels. Second edition courses for levels 4 through 6 now have separate teacher handbooks which are slim (22 pages or less) books that include the answer keys along with a syllabus and helpful information for the teacher on how to use the course.

Older students will probably need to discuss their ideas for their compositions and get feedback as they proceed. High school level courses do not require answer keys; instead they have rubrics and scoring guides that assist parents in evaluating compositions.... However, Essentials in Writing also offers Scoring Services for $97 a year for high school students. With this service students can submit one composition for each EIW assignment. They will receive it back with a rubric with a score plus detailed comments and suggestions.

The combination of DVD lessons and manuals is equivalent in amount of content to other comprehensive language arts courses, and instruction on composition skills is more advanced than in most other programs....

I mentioned that composition instruction is advanced. However, Stephens teaches in increments that are manageable for children to handle, walking students through the steps of the writing process on most assignments. He always models the type of writing students are to do. So while it might be more advanced, it is not more difficult. Stephens also uses graphic organizers at different points to make it easy for students to organize their ideas before beginning to write. Check list forms are included for students to verify that they have met the requirements of an assignment.

Assessment/Resource Booklets (about 100 pages each) are available for the second edition courses for levels 4, 5, and 6. These each include 25 assessments and two unit tests, an answer key, plus additional resources such as resource word lists, graphic organizers, and checklists.

While there is repetition from year to year, much more time is spent developing writing skills rather than reviewing grammar. This means these courses are likely to appeal to students who might be bored with other courses that spend a great deal of time on grammar review each year.

The publisher's website lists the table of contents for each course and includes the number of class periods the course should require, the number of video lessons, the number of manual pages, and a list of each lesson's title. (This information is not in the downloadable files.)

Pages in the spiral-bound workbooks feature a large font size, plenty of space to write (even for some composition activities), and some clip art illustrations.

[Descriptions of each level are in the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.]

Watch for High School Creative Writing and High School Technical Writing courses which are also in the works.

Essentials in Writing courses free up parents’ time by providing the instruction along with worksheets and writing assignments. Courses require little to no preparation time and are very easy to use. The price is very reasonable for courses that include both DVD instruction and the worksheets. Even better, Stephens offers free support via phone or email.

Pricing Information

All prices are provided for comparison only and are subject to change. Click on prices to verify their accuracy.

DVDs only - $50 per course set of DVDs and workbook - $67per course 

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Instant Key

  • Suitable For: independent study
  • Audience: grades 1-12
  • Need For Parent/Teacher Instruction: low to moderate; parents need to evaluate student work and possibly help from time to time
  • Prep Time Needed: none other than having worksheets selected and printed
  • Teacher's Manual: N/A
  • Educational Approach: traditional
  • Religious Perspective: secular but Christian friendly

Publisher's Info

Note: Publishers, authors, and service providers never pay to be reviewed. They do provide free review copies or online access to programs for review purposes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."