Marvelous Monday – English & Grammar

     There are a couple of things I want to mention right up front.  It is important that our children learn to express themselves well.  It is vital that they are able to communicate their ideas verbally.  It is equally important that they are able to convey their thoughts in written form.  Our children need these skills to function in life, but our ultimate goal should be that they are able to share their faith in verbal and written form.  However, I don’t believe that everyone will attain the same levels of verbal and/or written communication.  Some of us speak eloquently, whether we are speaking to one or two friends or an audience of hundreds.  Some of us are able to put pen to paper and convey our thoughts perfectly with very little effort.  Not all of our children will be able to do much in the way of public speaking, nor will all of them be able to create a written masterpiece.  Please keep individual bents, strengths and weaknesses in mind as you pursue teaching English/Grammar to your children. 
     The fact of the matter is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we’re not all at the same spot on the mountain, and we all have a different path toward the summit.  Our goal should be to prepare our children with the skills they’ll need to reach others for Christ wherever God puts them on that mountain.  Some of our children will take a path alongside a Harvard scholar and having a grand vocabulary and striking ability to speak or write may be well useful as they share their faith with those intellectuals.  Some of our children will be on a path alongside those with little or no education and their ability to speak or write God’s plain truth in a simple manner might be the vehicle God uses to reach one of His own.  Seek God’s wisdom as you consider each of your children and the skills they are developing in these areas.

     In the early elementary years, I take a very minimalistic approach to English/Grammar instruction.  As soon as they are able to read independently, I put good books in my children’s hands and they read them.  As they read, my children are being exposed to sentence and paragraph structure, capitalization rules and punctuation marks.  Once a day or so, sit down with each of your young children and have them read a paragraph or two aloud to you.  When they are done, simply review what they have just read, pointing out words that have been capitalized, punctuation marks, etc.  In the beginning, you’ll want to explain the rules and marks to them.  “The first letter of the first word of every sentence is capitalized.”  “Houston is capitalized because it’s the name of a city, and we always capitalize the names of places.”  “That funny looking symbol is called a question mark.  That symbol tells us that this sentence asks a question.”  Soon you’ll be able to ask instead of tell.  “What is this mark called?”  “Why does this sentence end with a “!”?”  “Why is the word “Spain” capitalized?”
     I also like using copywork for these exercises, but I usually choose a well written passage from a book that my children are not currently reading from.  I’ll read the passage to my child as he looks on, and then he will copy it exactly as it appears on the page.   (We are not big on dictation work here, but I do like the idea of copy work.)  You’ll want to keep passages short at the beginning and for your younger children.  After they’ve copied the passage, we’ll review it in much the same way as I outlined above.  Your explanations and their understanding will increase as longer and more involved passages are used. 

     Remembering to find passages to use for copywork in advance was a difficult thing for me.  However, I found some great copywork resources from Queen Homeschool that we really enjoyed.  Sandi Queen has done all of the work for us in developing her great line of copywork books.  There are themed copywork books for various ages and interests, as well as different books for boys and girls.  I loved these!!!  They saved me oodles of time searching out copywork for my boys.

     While we do take a relaxed approach to formal English study in the early years, I do like to begin introducing more formal teaching around 3rd or 4th grade.  However, I really don’t want a time consuming, mind-numbing curriculum at that level, either.  I like Daily Grams for this.  The books are graded, one book per year 3rd grade through 7th, with a final book covering junior and senior high.  Each daily lesson takes just a few minutes.  I like to sit down with my boys as they do these so that I can answer any questions as they occur, rather than having to correct later. 
     The daily lessons cover capitalization, punctuation, parts of speech and sentence combining.  A brief bit of instruction is given before each exercise, and each day builds on concepts already learned.    For example, in a punctuation exercise teaching the use of an apostrophe, the exercise will also require the child to include the proper punctuation at the end of the sentence because that concept has already been taught.  Thus, each day builds on the days before and review is built in.  Click the following links for a sample page from grade three and a sample page from grade six.
     The Daily Grams books are meant to be used as a supplement to the Easy Grammar curriculum.  I love Easy Grammar, too; and I’ll tell you about that next.
  However, for the first year or two of formal grammar study, I would rather spend just a few minutes each day with my child in Daily Grams.  We learn sentence structure, capitalization and punctuation rules, and parts of speech and all this without tears.  We continue using these excellent Daily Grams books until we have worked our way through the entire series.  No teacher’s book is necessary as all of the answers can be found in the back of the student book. 

     Easy Grammar is my go to choice for formal English/Grammar study.  Easy Grammar uses a unique approach.  Your student starts each level memorizing a list of prepositions, a short list for 3rd grade that grows with each successive grade level.  Why?  Good question!  Some of my children have had a hard time picking out the subject, verb, verb phrase, etc. from lengthy sentences.  Easy Grammar teaches the student to identify and mark the prepositional phrase first, thus making the identification of the remaining sentence elements much easier.  I wish I had been taught this approach in school!
     Easy Grammar has one book per grade level for 3rd – 6th, and a combined jr./sr. high level book called Easy Grammar Plus.  Though the Easy Grammar program does not include a creative writing element, it is otherwise quite complete and includes everything you’ll need in a well rounded English/Grammar program.   Wanda Phillips has included plenty of review, cumulative review and testing into each book, too. 
     Each Easy Grammar student book contains only the blank student pages.  I do find the Teacher’s Books to be very helpful, and I recommend that you purchase these.  However, if you have only one student, the teacher’s book contains all of the blank student pages.  It would be a simple matter to cover the teacher’s page, which faces the student page, and allow your child to fill in the blank student page in the teacher’s book.  We continue using the Daily Grams books right along with the Easy Grammar book, until we’ve exhausted the series. 
Sample pages for each of the Easy Grammar books can be accessed by clicking a specific grade level book 
     One further note, Wanda Phillips is just launching a brand new series specifically for high school called The Easy Grammar Ultimate Series.  To date, there are only books for grades 9 and 11.  We have loved Easy Grammar, so I will definitely purchase the 11th grade book for Aaron in the fall. 

     For those of you who prefer a text book approach for teaching English, my family has used the Building Christian English series published by Rod and Staff.  Texts are available for grades 2 through 10, and sample lessons are available HERE.  This is a traditional text book grammar program, and a couple of my children really enjoyed using this.  Rod and Staff is a Mennonite school publisher, so be aware that their customs (modest dress, head coverings on the women) will be apparent throughout.  This is really a nice text book series if that’s your cup of tea.
      Our children need to be able to put all of that grammar study into practice.  I prefer that my children write something original each and every day.  As they get older, I do expect reports and papers from time to time; but there’s nothing like a short time of required writing every day to keep them in practice.  I like to give my boys simple composition books, set a timer for ten minutes or so, and then announce a topic and let them write.  We’ve had a lot of fun using the topics found in Giant Write Every Day, published by Evan-Moor.  (Hat tip to Dana for introducing me to the great line of Evan-Moor products.)  The book is divided into months, with Quick-Write, Story Starter and other writing ideas given specific to that month, along with several less month specific ideas.  For example, some of the April topics are:  “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs”, “Things I Think About at Night”, “If I Were President”, along with ideas for Arbor Day, Earth Day, Easter, April Fool’s Day, etc.  If you need some ideas, especially for the elementary age crowd, this is a great resource.  Available as a printed book or as an enhanced E-book.   (Please note:  Evan-Moor is secular, public school publisher so there may be some ideas that would not be appropriate in all homes.)

     As an out spoken proponent of living books, I often here, “Yeah, but you can’t use living books for English and Math.”  Guess what?  We have living books on our shelves for both of those subjects!  I love using Ruth Heller’s wonderful collection of World of Language books as read alouds for my children from the time they are very small.  Once they are independent readers, I have them read these books through on their own.  These are beautifully illustrated, brightly colored books written in rhyming text.  Each book tackles a particular part of speech, with explanations that are appropriate for all ages.  I’ve learned a great deal from reading these books myself!  That’s one of the marks of a great living book, you know, that it is just as appropriate at 100 as it is at 2. 
     Here’s an example of why I LOVE these books, from Up, Up and Away – A Book About Adverbs.  A two page spread, depicts a beautiful Persian cat, and the text reads, “Some ADVERBS tell to what extent…..This cat is RATHER corpulent, and VERY soft and purry.  She seems EXTREMELY confident and MORE than SOMEWHAT furry.  She’s TOO well fed, this SO well-bred, ornamental quadruped.  I REALLY wish she would not shed.  My eyes become QUITE blurry.”
     The explanations are quite thorough, and the vocabulary advanced enough for even your older students.  The engaging rhyming text makes the books appropriate as a read aloud to a toddler who will giggle at the absurdity of the long words.  Read these aloud to your little ones, and you just might be surprised at how much they learn!  Put them in the hands of your older students who need a boost in understanding certain parts of speech, and watch as they grasp the concept easily (while enjoying the pleasure of a well written picture book)! 
     Kendra and I do not compare notes on these posts in advance, but I happen to know that she uses these books extensively in her home.  Elizabeth Foss has some great ideas for using these books, too.  In my home, my children read and enjoy them as part of their school reading before we start formal grammar study, and then we bring them out again to assist us with various parts of speech as we begin our more formal program.  There are quite a few books in this series, and you can find all of the titles at Amazon by running Ruth Heller World of Language in the search bar.  Buying tip:  These books are still in print and relatively inexpensive.  However, be sure to check for used copies.  I’ve been able to pick up gently used hard cover editions, with intact dust jackets, for less than a new paper back copy. 

     We have another, similar, series that we use and enjoy in the same manner.  These books are now out of print, but are still available used.  These are more simply written, and the illustrations are definitely for a younger audience; but the simplicity of the text makes learning the concept a snap.   Confused about the differences between Antonyms, Homonyms and Synonyms?  Check out Antonyms: Hot and Cold and Other Words That Are Different As Night and DayHomonyms; Hair and Hare and Other Words That Sound the Same but Look As Different As Bear and Bare, and More Synonyms Shout and Yell and Other Words That Mean the Same Thing But Look and Sound as Different as Loud and Noisy.  Other titles include topics such as Similes, Possessives and Sound Words.  Again, these are a fun read aloud for the younger set, but when the older ones come to me and say, “What’s a homonym?”, I put one of these books in their hands.  Buying tip:  Though these are out of print, they are still widely available used.  Library bindings range from one cent to about a dollar for good copies in library bindings.  If you’re looking to buy more than one copy, check e-bay.  I bought my twelve titles in one auction for less than $5.00. 

     There is one more resource that I highly recommend.  Writers Inc.: A Guide to Writing Thinking & Learning is an outstanding handbook for everyone.  My copy will not leave the house with my children, they will have to buy their own!  The book covers all uses of the English language with guide lines for writing poems, short stories, news stories, letters and more.  Speech skills are given their own chapter.  Study skills, including improving reading, note taking and test taking are covered. Research skills are explained. 
     My favorite use of the book, though, is as a guide for writing.  Writers Inc. will take you, or your child, through the entire writing process, from research all the way through the final draft.  Punctuation errors, common spelling and usage errors, even how and when to use gender identifiers, it’s all in this little handbook!
     There is much, much more in this book, but it would require an entire post to explain.  This book should be on everyone’s shelf!  Buying tip:  The book is reprinted frequently to reflect the most currently accepted styles and forms of research papers, etc..  If you have an older child who will soon attend college, I would recommend that you purchase the most current edition.  For everyone else, an older version would be fine and is available used for as little as a penny.

     Be sure to check out Kendra’s Marvelous Monday English/Grammar post to see what she recommends and why!

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27

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11 comments to Marvelous Monday – English & Grammar

  • Thanks for another great post.  I go through and open all the links and book mark them for future reference.  My “homeschool” folder is quickly filling up!  :)   

  • The Ruth Heller books are ones I will add to my box….I am keeping a list of curriculum I want to add on an index card in my box. Are there specific ones to start with? Also Writer’s Inc….I could use that for myself!

    I am loving Marvelous Mondays!!!

  • simply . . . YES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thanks for sharing Cheryl! After 10 years of homeschooling I am really struggling as I look to next year for what to use in this area. I did just pick up some of Sandi Queen’s copywork books at a conference I attended. I am so excited to use them. I am going to check out some of the other resources you mentioned. I am loving this series of posts!

  • @tjsNana – I LOVE the Ruth Heller books.  Start with the books on nouns and verbs and then branch out from there.  Have fun with them.

  • Cheryl,

    Thank you for sharing the Ruth Heller books. I am looking forward to using these with my little one.

    Love, Heather

  • Just wanted to point out that Easy Grammar begins in 2nd grade.  My son is using it this year, and we love it.  I am enjoying these Marvelous Monday posts.  Thank you very much.

  • That Writer’s Inc book look fabulous.  I teach college students, and even they could they use a little help with their writing!  We all can!  I’ll have to pick one up and read it.

  • I have to tell ya, this is about as good as it gets!  Excellent post.  I am undecided as to homeschool or not my 2 year old.  I found this post most helpful.  A few more post like this and I may have to allert the school system now as to him not attending.  lol

    Excellent job.  Thank you very much.

    Will you be linking these post up as a series in your sidebar?  I may be needing them in the future.

  • @Shelli –  Good idea!  I’ll work up something for the side bar as I find the time.  Thanks!

  • What an incredibly helpful post!!!!  I”ve been struggling along with my boy who is not keen on writing.  Having homeschooled 2 girls who loved to write…this is a new experience.  I am SO buying “Copywork for Boys”.  I thought it was only for the very young….what a resource!  I’m going to get my hands on those Ruth Heller books too!!  THANK YOU!!!

    Have you seen the “Jump In” writing curriculum?  It’s put out by Apologia Science of all people.  I’ve used it this year for my 7th grade boy…who detests writing with some degree of success.