This week the 4 Mom of Many are talking about teaching writing specifically teaching grammar.
4 Moms Teach Writing Part 2: Composition
In our family we’ve taken a laid back, whole language approach to teaching grammar.
Our plan goes like something like this.
- Read aloud to child
- Have the child narrate
- Teach the child to read
- Teach the child proper letter formation
- Introduce copy work
- Introduce dictation
- Introduce written narration
- Teach formal grammar (diagramming, nomenclature, etc.)
Each child progresses to the next step, not at a certain age, but when they demonstrate proficiency in the previous step and a readiness to move forward.
Read aloud to children
For most homeschoolers this goes without saying, but from the time our children are very young we model proper grammar in our speech and by reading aloud to our children. Consistently hearing proper patterns of speech helps train our children to recognize and use correct grammar.
I still read aloud (usually more than an hour a day) to our 12, 13 and 15 year old.
Narration is simply having the child tell a story, give a description or relate an event in their own words. This comes very naturally throughout our day. We have different children tell us what they learned during our science and history read aloud times. We have children tell daddy about the story in our literature reading. Children tell me about their adventure in the woods or how they learned a new trick on the trampoline.
Our goal is for each child to narrate something each day.
Sometimes children may require a bit of guidance. I recall when Matthew was 6, he had just finished reading Misty of Chincoteague and I asked him to tell me about the story. He launched into what would have been a several hour long narration, when I asked him to try to just tell me the main points of the story rather than including all the detailed descriptions of the island, characters, horses, etc. For other children, I’ve asked them to include more description and detail. There is a place for both detailed descriptions as well as for condensed story lines and it will be useful if your children become adept at both.
Regular narration continues through all the subsequent steps. This teaches our children to organizing their thoughts into sentences and paragraphs which, for most children, is the difficult part of written composition.
We do this when they seem interested and ready. Once our children are able to read they read through the Bible at least once a year and have one hour of free reading time each day in addition to regularly assigned ‘school’ reading.
You may be interested in my teaching reading post.
Teach letter formation
We begin to teach letter formation or handwriting when our children begin to ‘write’ notes of their own accord. You may be interested in my teaching handwriting post.
Introduce copy work (generally by age 5-8)
After our children are fluently reading and have learned the basics of letter formation, we begin copy work. Our children are given a few words, a sentence or a paragraph, depending upon their ability, that they copy. They pay special attention to spelling, handwriting and punctuation.
In the beginning, I sit beside the child as they copy and immediately correct if they begin to make an error, giving them the rule as to why what they were about to write is incorrect. (i.e. There must always be an end mark at the end of a sentence.) As they understand what is expected of them, they simply bring me their assignment when they are finished. If something in the copy work is incorrect, they re-copy the entire assignment.
For years we simply pulled portions from our read aloud books for our children to copy, but a couple years ago we purchased Spelling Wisdom to use for copy work and dictation. They certainly aren’t necessary and we don’t always use them, but I enjoy the ease of nice, inspiring and increasingly challenging copy or dictation passages right at my fingertips.
Introduce dictation (generally by age 9-12)
Once a child can consistently copy their assignment quickly, easily and accurately, we move on to dictation. Instead of having the child look at the passage they are writing, I read it aloud to them. Now they are having to spell and punctuate from their knowledge of the English language.
If they make a mistake in either spelling or punctuation, we go over the rule that they violated and/or explain why what they’ve written is wrong and how it should be corrected.
If a child has difficulty adjusting to dictation, we don’t hesitate to move back to copy work. Our goal is mastery of the language, not that he/she be dictating by a certain age/stage.
Depending upon the child, a misspelled word or a common grammatical error may be put onto a spelling list or a grammar rule list for them to formally review (only one of our children has needed this type of help).
Introduce written narration (often not before 10-13)
When a child can reliably write any passage from dictation with only occasional errors, we move on to written narration.
Written narration is as simple as it sounds. Simply tell your child, “Today instead of telling me what differentiates Mars from the other planets, you will do your narration on paper.” Next thing you know, your child will have written their first paper.
They have practiced composing and organizing their thoughts through years of oral narration. They have learned the mechanics of writing and the rules of spelling and grammar through copy work and dictation and now they simply put what they already know together. (Next month we’ll talk more about teaching composition.)
I moved one of our children into written narration while they were still being challenged by their regular dictation exercises. In this case, I simply worked with that child on their composition during written narration assignments and, for the most part, ignored grammar and spelling errors. Then we continued to work on spelling and grammar with daily dictation practice.
Teach formal grammar
We’ve always wanted to teach formal grammar to our children. We just never saw the point of spending 8-10 years to teach them 8 parts of speech. It seemed to us that a child, who is ready to learn, could master the 8 parts of speech and their diverse functions and roles in a year or less.
So as our children got older we looked for a rigorous grammar program that would allow us to teach our children all the formal grammar that we wished for them to know, without spending lots of time on busy work, repetition and drill. For us that program has been Analytical Grammar (and it takes just one year to complete).
I know that other home school parents have simply chosen to purchase a 7th or 8th grade level of other grammar programs and have their child go through that one level. There is so much review written into every program that I’ve seen that even children who’ve had no ‘formal’ grammar instruction have no problem moving through an upper level grammar course. (We seriously considered doing this with Shurley English.)
I say it over and over, but it’s true, some of the beauty of homeschooling is in the diversity of ways that parents effectively teach and train their children in the skills they will need for life.
How is grammar taught in your home?
For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.