Frequently Asked Questions


Essentials in Writing is growing and expanding. We are in the process of moving our PDF version to an online digital version, so the transition has begun. Also, with the addition of our new line, Essentials in Literature, we were unable to offer the PDF version for that line. To remain consistent across the curriculum, Essentials in Writing student textbook/workbooks will be offered in print form only.

You may purchase an additional student textbook/workbooks for each additional child.

A: Unless a child has a learning disability (struggles to understand content being taught), I recommend students begin at grade level. I use four methods when teaching composition that allows for such

1. Know the Process (Step by Step)
2. Organize
3. Small Chunks
4. Model

For all compositions we complete each year, each is broken down into small portions following a step by step process. Additionally, I model each and every step of the process and each and every part of the composition. This allows students to receive a small amount of instruction and an example (my model) and apply what they learn immediately. I repeat this process over time in order to build autonomy.

I also teach and model the value of organizing thoughts before writing. Organizing each part of the composition before drafting allows students to focus primarily on content (what they want to say). If a composition is planned in detail before the writing begins, students are allowed to focus on the structure of the composition when drafting rather than the content of the composition. In my opinion, this is one of the most important steps when writing and one that is often missed.

Because I use this approach, most students can “jump in” at grade level and succeed. If you are still unsure, you are welcome to contact Customer Service for a specific recommendation.

A: First, let me say that there is a host of excellent writing curricula on the market. We are always open to recommend other writing programs that fit well with families; nonetheless, I believe there are a few things that set us apart from other writing curricula in the homeschool market.

1. Student Centered

Because I teach directly to the student in each lesson, students can learn and complete the assignments while parents facilitate and monitor. With a student centered program students have control of their learning and are often more energized and empowered to learn.

2. Not Parent Intensive (Low Prep Time)

Because I teach directly to the student in each lesson, parents do not have to be trained to use this program. Additionally, parents do not have to prepare writing lessons ahead of time.

3. “Doable”

Essentials in Writing focuses primarily on teaching and modeling portions of a composition over several days resulting in shorter lesson times over several days versus longer lecture periods and assignments.

4. A Complete Language Arts Program

Essentials in Writing is considered a complete language arts program as it includes both grammar and composition instruction.

5. Affordable

Essentials in Writing is a video-based writing program that is affordable.

6. Grading is a Breeze

Parents and students are provided with a checklist for each composition (plus grading rubrics beginning in level 7) and sample compositions for comparison.

7. Certified Instruction

Matthew Stephens earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Missouri State University and holds a teaching certificate from Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with emphasis in Middle and High School English. Mr. Stephens is an energetic and skilled teacher.


Other Common Questions


A: Essentials in Writing is titled as levels, so that any child may be placed where needed and still feel successful. Curriculum levels are typical grade levels; therefore, if your child is learning (not writing) at a 5th grade level place them in Level 5.

A: Grading worksheets and lower grade writing assignments is fairly easy.  A key is provided.

Grading ‘papers’ (as teachers would say) can be a bit subjective.  A checklist is included to use with extensive writing assignments for grades 1-6.  Grades 7-8 include a checklist and/or rubric to use for grading.  High School Courses include a checklist and/or rubric to use for grading.  I also provide “samples” in the answer key for you to use as a comparison.

A: Yes, I offer free support.  Our Customer Service Department is available to answer any questions you may have.  Feel free to contact us.

A: A scoring service is available to purchase for students completing Levels 9-12. Click here to read more about our Scoring Service.

A: No.  With Essentials in Writing, I’ve prepared all of the lessons for you.  I teach each lesson and then your child will complete any assignment given during instruction or complete worksheets that correspond with the lessons.

The only thing you should do is pace your child so that he/she completes the writing curriculum for his/her grade before the end of your school year.

A: Because Essentials in Writing is a grammar and composition curriculum we recommend that students completing levels 1-6 complete all activities, including the grammar activities. We focus on teaching students how to use the parts of speech that are tools for effective communication rather than how to diagram sentences. With this approach students learn which parts of speech are tools that aid in effective communication in an isolated activity apart from composition. Then, in section two, students learn how to apply these tools during the drafting and revising steps of the writing process in the context of composition.

A: In my opinion, you don’t have to be “good” at writing to grade it.  Most of the grading on writing assignments actually happens during the writing process because students are required to complete specific tasks based on each lesson.  At the end of writing assignments, a “checklist” will be used to score or confirm each task presented in the writing assignment has been completed properly.  You will simply use the checklist provided with the writing assignment to make sure the student has followed the writing process and has completed each step properly.  Each assignment will also require specific revisions during the revision process which will need to be checked off as well.  This varies by assignment and by grade level.

Later, beginning in 7th grade, I add an additional form of evaluation called a rubric.  This provides you with greater control in assigning a score.

You will find a video under the support tab that helps explain the rubric in more detail.

A: In regard to writing assignments, (not grammar/mechanics worksheets) it is pretty cut and dry.  You can repeat any lesson if you feel that it’s needful, and have your child complete the assignment again with a different topic than the one before.

Multiple mechanic and grammar worksheets are provided for additional practice.

A: The answer to your question is:  Both.

I teach grammar in isolation and students complete the activities before moving on to other activities. Later in the year when I teach students composition such as paragraphs, etc., I constantly refer to grammar (and other important content covered earlier in the year) during the drafting and revision process.

Grammar activities in levels that have been updated to second edition are divided into “identify” and “apply” activities. The goal is to isolate the parts of speech and allow students to not only identify them in sentences but learn how to use the parts of speech as tools for effective communication. The “application” of such is revisited again during the drafting and revising stages of all compositions.

A: Yes, there is sufficient grammar covered within our courses, and there’s no need for any additional grammar curriculum.  However, if you want your child to know how to diagram sentences, you should consider adding a course that teaches diagramming skills.  The grammar portion of Essentials in Writing includes the basic parts of speech but focuses on teaching students how to use certain parts of speech as tools to communicate more effectively with the reader rather than how to diagram sentences.  If you would like more information regarding this topic, please feel free to contact our Customer Service Department.

A: Even though your first grade student is not writing sentences, he can begin with the first grade curriculum.  I actually begin with review letters and their sounds (in a basic way – not a complete phonetic teaching), and the progression that letters are used to make words and words are used to make sentences.

So, I start from “square one” in sentence construction.  The only “additional” help he’d need is in spelling.  I recommend All About Spelling for spelling.

A: Video clips and worksheet samples are now available on most course pages for each level.  A course syllabus is accessible as well.

A: Yes, the lessons are taught by Matthew Stephens and they are presented in DVD format.

A: Yes, you will be able to use it from year to year because you can “reprint” the worksheets/assignments the next year if you have purchased the DVD/PDF version.  Additiona/Replacement workbooks may also be ordered if you have purchased the DVD combo.

A: Grade 1:  Estimated 60-70 Class periods, 37 Video Lessons, 76 workbook pages

Grade 2:  Estimated 70-80 Class periods, 44 Video Lessons, 89 workbook pages

Grade 3:  Estimated 100-110 Class periods, 52 Video Lessons, 116 workbook pages

Grade 4:  Estimated 110-120 Class periods, 58 Video Lessons, 155 workbook pages

Grade 5:  Estimated 125-135 Class periods, 65 Video Lessons, 194 workbook pages

Grade 6:  Estimated 130-140 Class periods, 68 Video Lessons, 213 workbook pages

Grade 7:  Estimated 120-130 Class periods, 53 Video Lessons, 143 workbook pages

If grammar review is completed, add 15 additional lessons.

Grade 8:  Estimated 125-135 Class periods, 64 Video Lessons, 150 workbook pages

If grammar review is completed, add 15 additional lessons.

Grade 9:  Estimated 125-135 Class periods, 66 Video Lessons, 166 workbook pages

Grade 10:  Estimated 125-135 Class periods, 65 Video Lessons, 173 workbook pages

Grade 11:  Estimated 125-135 Class periods, 65 Video Lessons, 157 workbook pages

Grade 12 will be updated in the future.

Each lesson is anywhere from 3-7 minutes of viewing time depending on the lesson and the grade.  Watching the lesson and completing the work that goes with the lesson could take anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes.  For grammar lessons/worksheets, it will be on the lower end.  For composition, it could be on the upper end.

Also, below is an estimation of time needed to complete an entire lesson (ie. watch the lesson and complete the assignment sheet):

Grades 1-2 (average of 15 to 20 minutes)

Grades 3-5 (average of 20 to 30 minutes)

Grades 6-8 (average of 20 to 40 minutes)

Grades 9-12 (average of 20 to 40 minutes)

Again, this is an “average” as some lessons might be a bit shorter and some might be a bit longer.  Plus, it also varies from student to student. The lessons toward the beginning of the year will be on the lower end and the ones toward the end of the year (composition) will be on the higher end.


Some General Questions


A: Essentials in Writing was not written with Common Core in mind; therefore, many elements may not align with the philosophy behind Common Core.

A: The DVD portion of the curriculum is necessary for the student to understand what is expected and to learn methods properly: therefore, it is not recommended.

A: I am a Christian and while I wouldn’t call Essentials in Writing a “Christian Curriculum” I do mention Christian principles such as love, honor, respect from time to time.  Also, this is not theme based, so there is no reference to literature and no literature is required.

Disc Troubleshooting Guide

The steps described below resolve 99% of issues related to play problems. We have very low faulty disc issues (0.003).

1. Smudged or Scratched Disc (most common)

Remove the disc from the player and using a damp, soft cloth, clean the back of the disc. Make sure there are no smudges. In addition, look for any scratches. If there are scratches you will need to buff them out. Once the disc is clean try to play the disc again to see if that has corrected the problem.

Scratched disc: Contact Customer Service at 417-256-4191 to purchase a replacement disc.

2. DVD Player (common)

· If you are using laptop, try a DVD player. If the issue resolves, you may need to clean your laptop DVD player and/or update the media player software.
· External disc drive: Try plugging it into a different USB port and test the DVD again.
· If the disc still does not play correctly we recommend installing VideoLan media player software on your laptop. Ninety five percent of media player errors are corrected by using VideoLan. It is a free download and will work on Mac and Windows. The website is VideoLan.org.

3. Menu opens but I can’t get the DVD to play

Computer: Be sure the mouse is hovering to the left of the lesson title. Try clicking in that area. Some menus operate by clicking a “button” next to the lesson title while others require clicking the lesson title.

DVD player: If you are using a remote try using “arrows” and “>>” buttons. Press play after each time.

4. Blank Disc Error (rare)

Many times this can be corrected by installing Videolan media player (as noted above). If the disc still reads blank and doesn’t play, there may be an error with the disc. Contact Customer Service at 417-256-4191 or by chat on our website to obtain instructions for replacing a faulty disc.

Clean the DVD drive with forced air and clean the disc with a soft cloth.

When all else fails, restart your computer and try again. If the disc drive is not functioning correctly, it would cause the discs to not be read properly.

If you have tried each step and would like further assistance with troubleshooting, please call Customer Service at 417-256-4191. They will walk you through each step again. Disc troubleshooting cannot be conducted via chat or email.

A: Most definitely.  Call 417-256-4191 to place your order.

A: Credit Card, PayPal, Electronic Check, and Paper Check

A: Yes.  We ship worldwide.

A: Yes. We currently have customers in Canada and Great Britain. Please refer to our international retailers page for specific information on these fine organizations.

A: Yes. Prior to placing an order please contact us to set up an account.  You may then email purchase orders to info@essentialsinwriting.com.

A: Matthew is available to speak at conventions or private events.  Please contact us at 417-256-4191 to discuss this opportunity further.