Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mt. Hope Academy Curricula ~ Language Arts


If you are just now checking in or would like quick links to previous posts in my curricula series, this is what we have so far:

I’m going a little out of order here. I had planned on following mathematics with science because they are often closely related, but I’m rather enthusiastic and passionate about our language arts studies so I’m inspired to skip ahead. I’ll get back to science.

Words. They are what we use to know. To think. To communicate. “The fundamental skills of humanity itself” to quote Stratford Caldecott in Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education.


God introduces Himself as a predicated subject, I AM.

So it makes sense that we should understand language deeply.



We start with alphabet books. I focus more on the letter sound than the letter name (using short sounds for the vowels) as I’m reading the book to my babies/toddlers. For example, I’ll say “The B says /b/ /b/ /b/, baby.” It doesn’t really matter which alphabet books (we have several), but I like My First ABC (board book), Museum ABC, and I Spy: An Alphabet in Art (this one has both upper case and lower case letters, which I appreciate). (Lola loves the I Spy book right now.)

Then we move on to the LeapFrog: Letter Factory DVD. It seems counterintuitive to use a (somewhat annoying) DVD to teach reading skills, but it this one has been astonishingly effective for my kids. Letter Factory teaches kids the sounds of the letters. LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory teaches kids how to put letters together to make words. (Lola watches these and loves them.)

When my kids are ready, they start reading the Incremental phonics readers by Nora Gaydos. I used these extensively to teach Luke how to read, and Leif used them almost exclusively. The boys loved the colorful, funny illustrations. They loved the feeling of accomplishment (I can read a book!!) right off the bat. The pages were not overwhelming. I can’t recommend this series highly enough, and I can’t wait until Lola is ready to begin reading them! (For extra practice, we also have Bob Books, but my boys didn’t like them nearly as much.)

If Lola needs more hand-holding and instruction than Luke and Leif, I’ll use All About Reading.


All three boys have used Handwriting Without Tears with great success. This is a solid handwriting program that works particularly well for children who struggle with handwriting. The workbooks make HWT easy to implement. The program begins with pre-writing instruction (my boys loved the wooden shapes and chalkboard) and goes through cursive instruction in late elementary.

Levi and Luke both started cursive writing with Handwriting Without Tears, but we are transitioning to the Classical Conversations PreScripts workbooks to integrate handwriting with our CC memory work and art lessons.



I have a love-affair with All About Spelling.

I love how easy the teacher’s manual is to use. I love learning the phonograms. I love the multi-sensory approach. I love how systematic and complete it is. I love learning spelling rules with the key cards. I love that it is unscheduled and completely flexible. I love that the program includes dictation of phrases and complete sentences. I love that we can use the Handwriting Without Tears writing paper and that I can sit by Leif and make sure his letter formation is correct. I love the “Writing Station” exercises (students write their own sentences using a group of dictated spelling words). I love the built-in review and mastery-based system. Love it. (So much so that I signed up to be an affiliate.)

All About Spelling can be used as a student is first learning to read. It can be used to teach a child to read. A child doesn’t even have to be able to write—he can simply use the letter magnets. And the books can be used at any pace—slowly or quickly, depending on the child. I didn’t find AAS until Levi was half way through 3rd grade, so we went more quickly through the first two levels.

Leif is finishing up Level 1 (he could have gone more quickly, but I didn’t focus on it this year). Levi and Luke are on Level 4. Ideally, I’d like all my kids to finish Level 7 (which includes Latin and Greek roots as well as words borrowed from other languages) by the end of 6th grade. (I started Levi late, so I’m hoping to get him through Level 5.)



K-2nd grade:

I used First Language Lessons with Levi for 1st and 2nd grade. This worked well, but we now have other sources for the same types of lessons. We memorize grammar definitions and lists with Classical Conversations. We memorize some poetry (I use IEW’s Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization or I choose poetry that corresponds with other subjects such as history). The boys do copywork in their handwriting notebooks or I create custom copywork for them using the Handwriting Without Tears blank paper. They write sentences from dictation with All About Spelling (I like the fact that they can actually spell the words being dictated!). Writing With Ease (more about that when we get to writing) provides lessons in narration.

3rd grade:

Around 3rd grade we begin Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts program. I wrote extensively about the first level of the program a while back, so—rather than re-inventing the wheel—I’ll just repost my review here. Yes, it’s long, but I adore it and I want to tell you all about it.

Michael Clay Thompson’s Grammar Island: Michael Clay Thompson excels at revealing the exquisite, imaginative, endless possibilities of language while making rigorous language study not only accessible, but also an absolute joy for children. MCT materials are a magical symphony all on their own. The author’s awe of and appreciation for language is infectious. You can read an introduction to the series at this link.

MCT language arts program is a snuggle on the couch, read, and talk about language program. The Island level is geared toward 3rd graders, but Luke joined right in as a 1st grader. The books are story-based, imaginative, and visual. The font is large (perfect for reading together). There are a limited number of words per page (perfect for allowing the reader to really let each idea ‘settle’). The teacher’s manual has small boxes with questions and conversation topics for Socratic dialogue. There are no ‘lessons’ or schedules. We just read the book together for however long we wished. We learned about the parts of speech, the parts of the sentence, phrases, and clauses.

(It was nice to have both the student and instructor books for Grammar Island, but only the instructor book is absolutely necessary.)

Though the grammar concepts taught in Grammar Island are reinforced and practiced continuously in Practice Island and reinforced and expanded in Sentence Island, I desire a greater mastery of grammar definitions for the boys. Voila! Enter Classical Conversations. This year the boys memorized the 8 parts of speech, the four kinds of sentences, definition and usages of nouns, definition of pronouns and extensive lists by usage (subject, object, indefinite, interrogative, demonstrative, reflexive, possessive, possessive adjective) which have surprisingly been extremely helpful to refer to when analyzing sentences, and definitions of adverbs, conjunctions, interjections, gerunds, and appositives. Next year they will memorize verbs and tenses as well as sentence parts, structures, and patterns. The year after next they memorize the prepositions, helping verbs, and linking verbs. [We have now memorized all 3 cycles of grammar content!]


MCT Practice Island: As soon as we finished reading Grammar Island (which didn’t take long), we began practicing four-level analysis (which was introduced in Grammar Island) with Practice Island. This book gives us one hundred sentences to work through and really solidify the grammar concepts we have learned. On the first line we label the parts of speech. On the second line we label the parts of the sentence. On the third line we label the phrases, and on the fourth we label the clauses and type of sentence. I loved the additional comments in the teacher’s manual regarding additional concepts such as transitive and intransitive verbs, alliteration, and so much more. The comments add great value to the practice book. We try to analyze several sentences each week as our schedule allows.

(Again, it is nice to have both the student and instructor books for Practice Island, but only the instructor book is necessary for us because we do all the work together on a large white-board. If you want your child to do independent work, the student book is very convenient to use as a workbook.)

[No, MCT does not teach sentence diagramming. The sentence analysis gets us just a fraction away from the diagram, however. I simply teach myself how to diagram sentences using Grammar & Diagramming Sentences or this super helpful sentence diagramming website, and then show the boys how to diagram each sentence after we’ve analyzed it.]

MCT Sentence Island: We started reading Sentence Island as soon as we finished up Grammar Island and had a couple sentences of Practice Island under our belts. The boys would beg to read this one. They would each take a character and read the lines with personality. Again, the author was able to convey just how wonderful and imaginative language can be! This is the writing portion of the program. The main body of the book is a story book, just as with Grammar Island, but the teacher’s manual again included small boxes on the story pages with questions or discussion topics. For each chapter you also find core concepts, concept discussion, points to emphasize, writing activities, and additional four-level analysis sentences.

I will say that many of the writing activities were open-ended, creative, ambitious, and just beyond what we were able to do. I decided to enjoy the book together, learn the concepts, talk about language, and use a more concrete, incremental approach to our writing exercises.

A quote from the instructor’s portion of the book:

Recent trends in writing instruction have sometimes resorted to strategies for avoiding the academic essence of good, correct writing, perhaps under the unfortunate assumption that academics are not fun. Sentence Island is based on the opposite philosophy—that it is not learning enough that destroys student motivation, that high academics are exciting, and that the elements of writing can and should be presented in their glossy academic glory, and called by their right names, so that students will know they are learning something important.

There is also an emphasis on appreciation and aesthetics in Sentence Island because that is a part of the truth of writing, that sentences are beautiful. The balance of the idea, harmony of subject and verb, the clarity of a phrase that modifies what it is supposed to modify, the crystal clear arrangement that places a power word at the end of the sentence—these things are beautiful. Writing is an art, and the ability to enjoy the beauty of a sentence is similar to our appreciation of other arts, such as painting or music.

I loved the final chapter of Sentence Island which introduces children to the concept of adding poetic techniques to their writing. It was the perfect way to launch our next book:

MCT Music of the Hemispheres: The poetics book covers rhyme, alliteration, meter, stanza, and similes and metaphors. Using examples from Robert Burns, Shakespeare, Carl Sandburg, Percy Shelley, Emily Dickinson, and more, the author brings poetry to life. We have only begun to read this one, but already the boys love it. (As an aside, Luke loves finding connections. He was thrilled to see a poem by Emily Dickinson because we have recently read about her for our fine arts study, and he was excited to find out that Percy Shelley was married to the author of Frankenstein (one of the little discussion comments in the book) because he just read a retelling of Frankenstein for our literature study.)

MCT Building Language: The boys and I enjoyed this book as much as the others. We started it about the same time as Sentence Island. The book begins by telling children about Ancient Rome and the history of the arch. It tells them that much of our language comes from Latin and that a Latin stems is like the arch which becomes a building or an aqueduct. Building Language again focuses on the beautiful form of language. Children learn ten Latin stems, and are introduced to several more. Each Latin stem takes on a personality of its own in creative stories. Children are introduced to a handful of words using the stem, shown parallel words in Spanish (perfect!), and encouraged to look up words in a dictionary. Our favorite exercise was creating a simile from one of our new words and explaining it, such as ‘Supervision is like a rainbow.’ (Luke now shouts with excitement every time he finds one of the Latin stems in a word.)

4th-6th grades:

The Classical Conversations Essentials program begins in 4th grade. (Levi didn’t start until this past year in 5th, but Luke will start next year in 4th.) Using Essentials of the English Language, students learn how to analyze every word in a sentence and identify parts of speech in detail: number and type for nouns; case, person, number, gender, and type for pronouns; descriptive-degree or limiting for adjectives; type, tense, form, number, person, voice, and mood for verbs; simple-degree, flexional-degree, or affirmative/negative for adverbs; coordinating, subordinating, correlative, or conjunctive for conjunctions; adverbial or adjectival for prepositions; and gerund, participle, or infinitive for verbals…gasp!). Students identify parts of the sentence and label structure, purpose, and pattern. And then they diagram each sentence. Oh, and students also learn to rewrite sentences by purpose and structure as well as with modifiers.

We are continuing with the Michael Clay Thompson series, as well, because I think it is a phenomenal complement to Essentials. They both approach (rigorous) language arts from completely different angles/methods and somehow meet in the middle. It’s beautiful. We are currently in level 3, Voyage, and are using it more now that CC is over for the year (at only 24 weeks, CC Foundations and Essentials leave quite a bit of time to fill in with other great materials.)



1st-3rd grades:

Writing With Ease workbooks provide a simple, open-and-go, systematic approach to basic writing skills using narration, copywork, and dictation. I haven’t been as diligent this year with writing for Luke and Leif as we’ve adjusted to a new work load for Levi with his Essentials class, but we are getting into the swing of things again now that our schedule is lighter.

I will also be using some of the writing exercises and concepts from IEW’s Primary Arts of Language (PAL) with both Luke and Leif in the next few months (and years for Leif) to give them a head start on the skills they will learn with IEW in Essentials. I used some of the IEW level A themed writing book Fables, Myths, and Fairy Tales with Levi before he started Essentials, so I may use that (or All Things Fun and Fascinating) for Leif in 3rd grade.

4th-6th grades:

The Classical Conversations Essentials program uses IEW’s history-themed writing programs for all three years (Levi will only complete two of the books). Each year, students use theme-based material to learn key word outlines, writing from outlines, summarizing references, multiple source research, formal essays/reports, writing from pictures, narrative stories, critiques, and creative writing.

The Writing With Ease/Skill workbooks will fill in the spaces around the 24-week Essentials program.

During these years, the kids will also be participating in group literary analysis using Socratic dialogue tools from both Teaching the Classics and The Lost Tools of Writing to prepare them for their upper-level writing. (This is our Book Detectives club, and I am so excited to begin implementing some fantastic ideas from the Lost Tools of Writing workshop I just attended this past weekend! More about this soon.)

7th+ grade:

The Classical Conversations Challenge program begins in 7th grade. My kids should have a relatively firm grasp of the “essentials” of language arts before heading into this program where they will begin writing across their subjects using The Lost Tools of Writing. I’m thrilled with the change in programs (in the past CC has continued with IEW), especially after attending the workshop, and I will most definitely be sharing more about this in the coming weeks, months, and years. The Lost Tools of Writing is a truly rhetorical writing program and will also provide them with tools for their study and practice of debate within the Challenge program.

During Challenge, students also continue their study of grammar through Latin, using Henle. The boys are getting a head start with their CC Foundations memory work (conjugations, declensions, and a bit of vocabulary/translation) and 4+ years of Latin study…but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Next Up: Science? Latin? Fine Arts? I’ll surprise you.


Danielle said...

Thank you so much for the break down by grade, so helpful!

meadowmuffin said...

The letter factory DVD is amazing. I am not a fan of educational dvd's or TV shows, but all three of my kids learned their letter sounds via leap frog! I'm glad not to have to watch it, or listen to it again.

Erin said...

Your blog is always a must-read for me, but I don't think I've commented before. Regarding language arts- we do FLL and WWE, as well as CC Foundations. The MCT materials are so tempting to me, but they are pricey, and my oldest will just be starting grade 2 this summer. I definitely couldn't do teachers manuals and student books.....oh, decisions! :) do you use the Mud books, or any of the other literature?

Thanks for all the info; I absolutely love detailed curriculum posts! I do them a few times a year, and it's possible only my mother has the stamina to read to the end. :)


Heidi said...

Erin ~ You definitely only need the teacher's manuals. If your oldest is 2nd grade, you could just plan to take it slowly and enjoy the program. I have used some of his literature and the "Self-Evident Truth" series. They are fantastic, but definitely not for 2nd grade. :)

I do wonder who has the fortitude or interest to read through some of my long-winded posts, but I love reading other detailed curriculum posts so I figure maybe a few people will find mine interesting or helpful.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I have used AAS with my two girls, but this year I finally gave it up due to time constraints. How DO you manage to get it all in? I use many of the same materials as you, with the major exception being RightStart Math. I suspect this is why I just couldn't manage AAS, too, but I thought you might have some insight to offer. :-)

carrie said...

As always when I read your curriculum posts I end up 1-clicking on my Amazon account ;) New ABC I Spy book for my soon to be turning 3 and the Leap Start and Phonics Readers for my Kinders. Love all your Curriculum posts, thank you for taking the time to write them!

Heidi said...

Amy~ Adding Rightstart math to this would put me over the edge. ;) I loved the way RS teaches math, but I simply couldn't do the teacher-intensive l-on-1 lessons. At least for AAS I teach both Luke and Levi together and we do short lessons. We use TT math, which is completely independent--yes, probably why I'm able to put more time into spelling! There is a limit to what one teacher-mom can do. :)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Thanks, Heidi. I thought so. :)

Kim B. said...

I just wanted to let you know that I have loved every single post in this series and completely appreciate the long winded explanations! :-). These will definitely be a resource for me fo years to come.

Frannie said...

Hi Heidi. I've been following your blog for a while & love your long-winded detailed posts! I'm a big-picture girl which isn't necessarily a good thing for curriculum discovery...I get so overwhelmed with the details so having someone like you spell it all out is a God-send!

Also, I'm the new CC director in Astoria, OR this year & I appreciate all the work you put into explaining how you integrate CC into your home studies. I will definitely be using your blog as a reference in the future...& sending other families to it. Thanks for all your hard work!!!

Heidi said...

I'm so glad you introduced yourself, Frannie! Is the Astoria CC group new, or are you just stepping in as director? Where are you attending a practicum this summer?

Frannie said...

Hi Heidi.,
yes our group is NEW! we had myself and 2 other families (5 boys ages 3-12) last year with one boy/family leaving in Feb, due to Coast Guard transfer. I was introduced to CC by an info meeting here last May(2012) and signed on as a director in June:)! I "blame" God! It was my first year homeschooling with a 4 & 5 yr old so it was a bit crazy. I just saw the potential of this program and at the time didn't know anyone who home-schooled here. I was willing to do anything to get a group going...and in turn fellowship and support for my family:) Our year was enlightening (to say the least) and a blast. Next year we are hoping to grow & move into a church in Seaside. previously we met in our homes. This a unique area out with homeschooling philosophies & commitment to established programs, but I'm hoping and praying for a strong CC group to develop in the next few years.

I'lll be headed to Hillsboro for practicum in June.

I have to tell you that I found your blog on a fluke (googling classical edu) a few months ago. I was following it for a while when I saw your entry about the trip to Bend. Prior to that I didn't even realize you were in OR. On that trip I recognized pics of my old stomping grounds (I lived there in 2000-2004). Then i realized you were involved with CC...then speaking at a practicum..I was hooked by then. I'll be praying for you! What a great opportunity. Kind of wish I was going to Salem instead of Hillsboro! ha!

Anyway, I love your blog, your insight, your humor. I'm one of those crafty/ project type moms while I severely lack in the book/literature side of things. Needless to say, your blog has been a God-send to me. I feel like you've helped balance my homeschooling focus tremendously. Keep doing what your doing. It's making an impact!

Take care

Kim said...

Hi Heidi,

I would love your thoughts on Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts for a 6th grader.

She has great vocabulary and is reading to a 12th grade level. Reading is dear to her heart as is Jane Austen.

Anyhow, we've used First Language Lessons for two years and IEW for one year. She was in school for 4th and 5th grade, and both teachers have done a good job with language and writing with her. Further, we supplemented with Latin and Greek roots at home.

That said, she will be home this next year for middle school. I had been thinking I would use Writing Strands 6, Rod and Staff 6, Spelling Workout F,G,H and Latin for Children this coming year. However, after looking at MCT's material I'm not sure about the choices I'm leaning towards. That said, I have absolutely no clue where I'd begin with MCT's material. I've looked at several samples online as well as the WTM forum. Any thoughts you'd like to share would be great. No rush!

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