Essentials in Writing {Review}

EIW9thgrade_zps197c408aOne subject that our children struggle with is writing.  I’m not sure why, but I cannot seem to impart the importance of being able to translate thoughts into the written word.  ESPECIALLY, The Boy.  Ask him to orally narrate the history book he just consumed, no problem.  Ask him to write a written narration, suddenly he doesn’t remember a thing.

We’ve tried several options with him.  The most expensive has been the most effective.  The least expensive option (mom teaching him) has been the least effective.  It’s been frustrating!  When we started high school I became persistent about finding a solution that would allow him to work independently without paying $400+ for a semester class.

I believe we have found a solution!

I’d like to introduce you to Essentials in Writing.  I am in love with this DVD-based program by Matthew Stephens, an avid writer with a passion for teaching.  Not only is he credentialed in writing, he is also homeschooling his own children!   We reviewed Grade 9 with an emphasis on Essay Writing and Research Paper.

This course is estimated to average 150+ class periods, with the videos estimated to be 75 lessons.  They also estimate the workbook to contain 150+ worksheets.  As they are in the process of updating Grades 8-12, they only offer estimated numbers for the upper grades at this time.

At this time the upper level grades (Grades 6+) receive the worksheets on CD-ROM.  This will change in the future, and the workbooks will be available to download PDF after purchase of the program.

The worksheet CD-ROM does include a letter to the parent which will help with lesson planning.  Furthermore, there is an extensive FAQ section on the website.

Cost: $40 for the DVD and $20 for a printed workbook

Age Group:  9th Grade Level.  My son is 14.

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This curriculum covers sentence composition, paragraphs, the writing process, essays, using effective writing techniques, research paper, and other topics.

  • SENTENCE STRUCTURE – dependent and independent clause; simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences; address sentence errors (fragment, run on, and comma splice)
  • FORMAL PARAGRAPH – structure; expository, persuasive, compare/contrast, and descriptive
  • THE WRITING PROCESS – in depth study of each part of the writing process; practice the writing process with each multi-paragraph composition
  • ESSAYS (formal and informal) – detailed instruction and step by step process for, personal, expository, persuasive, and compare/contrast essays
  • RESEARCH PAPER (project) – detailed instruction and step by step process to conduct a research project and write a research paper (EXPOSITORY)

Our Experience

DSC_0003We received the DVD with the worksheets on CD-ROM.  The first thing that we did was watch the Introduction video together.  I asked The Boy to give his opinion about the video.  He was positive about the first video.  We discussed the path we would take for the review, as we wanted to get a feel for the entire program for this review.  We decided he would work on this program Monday/Wednesday/Friday with Tuesday/Thursday reserved for his PSAT/Vocabulary program.

To facilitate the independence we created a notebook separated by sections.  This contains the worksheets and a writing reference section.  As his work is competed (paragraphs, essays and research paper), they will be stored in this notebook.  Upon completion of the program, I will comb-bind this notebook (minus the reference section) for his high-school portfolio.


Each morning The Boy looks at his scheduled learning for the day.  If there is anything he  needs help from me, he will let me know, otherwise at this point he is independently learning.


As a mom, I felt confident that Mr. Stephens would be sufficiently teaching my son about writing.  And you know what, he has!  Now, my son still doesn’t like writing…but he will write.  Plus, he enjoys the videos.  He finds Mr. Stephens to be funny and enjoyable.  His teaching style is easy to follow and keeps The Boy engaged.

The worksheets are self-explanatory although a couple of the worksheets The Boy required my additional guidance.


We used the sentences section for review.  We covered Independent and Dependent Clauses, Run-on and Comma Splice Sentence Errors, Complex Sentences, Compound Complex Sentences and Using Appositives.  These were areas the Boy and I both felt he needed improvement or instruction.  I am pleased to say that his comma-splicing days appear to have ended. Yay!

We covered the first 2 paragraph lessons for review and lesson 10, creating a summary paragraph.  Our goal was to improve his ability and confidence in completing a written narration.  We will continue working on this.

We watched a couple of the Essay and Research Paper videos as well was review the worksheets.  At the time of this review, The Boy does not feel confident enough to start the Research Paper process and would like to complete the entire Paragraph section first.  Once that starts he will continue to the Essay, with the goal being a research paper about World History by the end of 2013.

How has this program helped?  Already I have seen a difference in the structure and quality of his paragraph writing in other subjects (science and history).   He has been studying for the PSAT and a few of the questions he was able to answer based upon the lessons we watched in the sentence section.

The beautiful part about this program is it can be paced over a year (we school year-round).  This gives the student ample time to REALLY master the material.  Since it’s a DVD, if a concept is not understood, the video can simply be watched again.   Although he includes a recommended schedule, it can be scheduled to fit your family’s current scheduling.

One thing as the mom/teacher that I appreciate is the Scoring Guides for the teacher.  Oh my goodness!  A rubric that I can understand, that helps me to grade his work!  And it’s in language that I can understand!  He also includes quality and non-quality examples to reference.

Oh, the best part?  Because the workbook is a PDF, I can re-use this program over again!  What a blessing for homeschool families, especially those with multiple ages!  Thank you Mr. Stephens for sharing your passion with the homeschooling community and keeping it affordable for families.

The only con is this is not a complete language arts program, especially if you are one who wishes to have your student diagram sentences.  It also does not include a literature component.  To supplement we are using separate grammar, SAT vocabulary and literature.

Overall, I am very impressed with this program and Mr. Stephens. I will be purchasing grades 5 and 6 for the girls who love the way he teaches also. For this concerned momma, I love that I can have someone who is passionate about writing teach my children, from the comfort of our home. AND, 3 STUDENTS will cost me half of one semester class for ONE student! As my 12 year-old says, “Mom, that’s a real deal!”

We HIGHLY recommend this program!

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Thank you to Essentials in Writing and Schoolhouse Review Crew for the review opportunity!


Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.