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This is the time of year when many of you are beginning to think about youre going to do next year. Some of you are reevaluating what youve done this year and are looking for a different approach . Others of you feel youre on the right track; youve found an approach that works, but youd like a few fresh ideas to liven things up a bit. Here are a few suggestions and resources that might be useful.
First, know what you want to accomplish. Evaluate each students writing to see what skills should be taught next year. Are you following a school curriculum, or intending to put a child into school at some time? If so, you need to know what that school will expect your child to know when you enroll him. Otherwise, you are free to choose your own methods and materials and to wait until you think your child is ready before you launch into a formal study of grammar.
When youve written down your goals, the next step is to plan how to best reach them. Keep your own teaching style and abilities in mind as you plan. Can you make your own curriculum, or would you feel more secure with a text or workbook? Perhaps all you need is a little direction. Teachers of primary students should read Ruth Beechicks The Three Rs ($10.80-D) for inspiration. Teachers of junior and junior high students should read Beechicks You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, Grades 4-8 (12.60-D). Some time spent reading these books can save a lot of money on textbooks you might not need.
If you determine that you need to use a textbook, check out the big companies who go to all the conventions. I havent used them since I quit teaching English in schools. If youre ready to plan your own course of study, perhaps I can help.
During my years as an English teacher and homeschool mom, and now as a vendor, I have used, seen, and evaluated many different books in the language arts area. Ive also gotten input from other teachers. It wont surprise you to learn that no one approach works for everyone.
It might surprise you to know, however, that not everybody agrees that you need to start a formal study of grammar in the elementary years. If a student will not go to a school where hes expected to know something about parts of speech, you might be able to teach grammar to all of your children together when your oldest child starts high school. Unless things have changed in the past five years, the standardized tests require a student to know good usage: spelling, rules of punctuation and capitalization, what constitutes a complete sentence, agreement of subjects and predicates, and other patterns of speech and writing that are best taught by modeling standard English usage, reading aloud, and writing. It has been my experience that most text books start with parts of speech, and that the year seems to be over before they get around to teaching writing. This ought not to be. The goal is learning to speak and write effectively.
I would heartily recommend that every home schooling parent get certain items that I consider basic. Comprehensive Composition by Kathryn Stout (14.00*), contains everything you need to know about teaching composition at every grade level. Write Source 2000 (17.95 softcover) is absolutely the best English handbook you can buy, and will do nicely for grades 4-8. Writers INC (19.95 softcover) is the best handbook you can buy if your children are junior high or older. These books are so attractive they beg to be used. It is easy for students and teachers alike to look up information on writing, grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, study skills, and even public speaking. The almanac contains maps, historical documents, and even math and science facts and tables. Why should anybody spend $15 or more every year to buy a textbook that repeats a lot of what was in last years, with a bit of new material added? Why not get it all at once and teach it when you need to? Write Source now has texts, teachers manuals, and workbooks for every level, but they never used to. It just isnt necessary, in my opinion.
So, Comprehensive Composition and a good handbook will give you the basic facts to be taught and good teaching methods for composition at each grade level. But perhaps youd like some workbooks or enrichment books to help you over some rough spots. One rather inexpensive one, good for all subjects, ages, and grade levels, is Quick Flip Questions for Critical Thinking, only 3.99, based on Blooms Taxonomy and developed by Linda Barton. This little 14-page flip chart contains key words and questions for all six levels of thinking in the cognitive domain. It will help you design assignments, lead discussions, and prepare tests relating to any subject.
In the primary years I think languages skills are best taught by reading aloud and reading aloud some more, with lots of discussion. I prefer unit studies, and my absolute favorite of these is Five in a Row. Jane Lambert has selected a number of outstanding picture books and written three volumes of lessons around them. The basic idea is that you pick a book, read it aloud for five days in a row, and each day you pick an activity from a different subject area. An example: for The Story About Ping you will find social studies activities about discernment in relationships, the physical features of China and the culture of China. You pick the one that best suits your students. There are three literature activities, five art activities, and so on. If you want to use Ruth Beechicks approach, you can also use these books to teach and reinforce basic primary English skills through discussion and dictation. Jane has four volumes at this time. Book 1, 19.95, is for the fall semester. Book two, 24.95, for spring, contains more lessons. Book 3, 19.95, is for the summer. A Christian Bible Study Supplement, 17.95, brings out the moral and character issues in the stories from all three volumes and ties them into Bible passages. This last book is useful for anyone who reads picture books with children. (These books are no longer able to be sold by anyone but Five in a Row. They no longer sell to resellers. My stock is limited to what I have left.)
I see Ill run out of room if I describe everything good for the younger ages, but I feel I must mention some books you may not hear about anywhere else. Ruth Heller has a series of brightly colored picture books about parts of speech that are a true feast for the eyes. No family with elementary children should miss these at only 7.95 apiece. Titles are Up, Up and Away: A Book About Adverbs; Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs; Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives; Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns; and A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns. Believe me, the illustrations alone are worth the price of these books.
If you want books with actual writing assignments and lessons, I would most recommend Wordsmith Apprentice for grades 4-6 (16.00), Wordsmith, for junior high (14.00) and Wordsmith Craftsman for high school (14.00). I like these books because when they teach parts of speech, they immediately incorporate them into writing applications instead of isolating them. In Wordsmith Apprentice, Jane Cheaney uses a newspaper as the basis of all writing. Your student joins the "staff" of an unnamed newspaper. Through a series of practical and imaginative assignments, he or she learns about nouns, verbs, and basic sentence structure; modifiers and more complex sentences; and organizing and reporting. Wordsmith gets into more parts of speech, building strong sentences, and writing narratives, dialogue, and even a story. Wordsmith Craftsman is a self-directed program that lets students take charge of building, integrating, and polishing their own writing skills. as they approach the college years.
If youd like an innovative way to review English spelling, vocabulary and usage, try The Great Editing Adventure Series. Students learn and review by searching for errors in exciting stories you can write on the board or a piece of paper. Volume I (15.00) contains three separate stories divided into a total of 90 lessons. Volume II (15.00) has three new stories, also containing 90 lessons. Student workbooks are available for each volume at 10.00 each. These contain the grammar activities (so you dont have to write them out) and space for the student to write the corrected version.
I wish I had room to list more, but I do carry most of the books youve seen reviewed elsewhere. Just call for availability and prices. Ill go more into spelling and vocabulary next issue. Hang in there. Help is coming.
This is a reprint from Books, Pens, and People,
A publication of Barb's People Builders
© Barbara Radisavljevic, 1997
How Do I Teach English, Part II
Vocabulary / Spelling / Grammar and Usage
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