4 Moms Teach Writing Part 1: Grammar

moms of many manageThis week the  4 Mom of Many  are talking about teaching writing specifically teaching grammar.

Part 2:
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.

  1. Read aloud to child
  2. Have the child narrate
  3. Teach the child to read
  4. Teach the child proper letter formation
  5. Introduce copy work
  6. Introduce dictation
  7. Introduce written narration
  8. 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.

Introduce narration

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.

Teach reading

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.

Part 2:
4 Moms Teach Writing Part 2: Composition

Take some time to visit the other moms of many to find out how they teach grammar in their homes:
Smockity Frocks
Life in a Shoe
The Common Room

How is grammar taught in your home?


For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.

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14 Responses to 4 Moms Teach Writing Part 1: Grammar
  1. Cari Wiebe
    January 5, 2012 | 9:22 am

    Grammar and spelling are some of the parts of homeschooling that are so hard for me. I struggle with these areas, I struggle with most areas of education. But praise God that I am learning along the way! And I feel that if I teach my children to LOVE learning then the rest will come. But I did look at Spelling Wisdom it looks like so much fun. Since Grammar is difficult I have been using Daily Grams, but I find it means nothing to my kids. Just another thing to get done.


  2. Jennie
    January 5, 2012 | 3:16 pm

    I’m so thankful you posted this! We are in our 6th year of educating at home and with more children added to our family, the more “relaxed” my homeschooling is becoming. I’ve recently read some challenging things stretching my mind to think outside of the traditional classroom. I’ve been encouraged by your post today of the ‘how to’ part of my grammar questions.
    Thank you,


  3. pat harris
    January 6, 2012 | 1:51 am

    Hi I love reading your blog. I was wondering what are you reading to your boys? Or have read to them?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Pat,

    I basically read the same things to my boys that I read to my girls. Most read aloud times all the children are listening. Here are some of my posts about books we read.

    Favorite books for beginning readers
    Favorite books for preschoolers
    Character book list
    We also read a lot of Sonlight books. We’ve loved the “Little House on the Prairie” series and lots lots more.

    Hope this helps some.


  4. Amanda Sikes
    January 6, 2012 | 3:24 pm

    I would like to ask a few questions about this post.

    So, through the children’s copy work you introduce things like possesive nouns and quotation marks, comas, and underlining rules?
    So you have the children copy properly written passages and through this they learn the proper ways to use the punctuation marks?

    I am so disheartened with our Lang book right now. It is sooo full of review, repetition, and busy work. But I don’t want my children to not be able to write correctly either. That is very important to me.

    Any further advice would be helpful. I am nervous to take the plunge and throw away the books.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Amanda,

    Yes, when the child comes to their first copy work assignment that contains quotation marks, we simply take a few minutes to talk about what quotation marks are and when and how they are used. I explain that the attribution can come at the beginning, middle or end of a quotation and that it is always set off by commas. I explain that quotations only go around the words that are actually being spoken, etc.

    Same with other circumstances.

    Commas are fun because there is a lot of flex in how and when they are used. So depending upon the author of the copy work a comma may or may not be used in the same type of situation.

    Also, our choice to use Analytical Grammar when our kids are older covers anything that we may have missed, in addition to introducing them to a lot of the formal nomenclature that I may not typically use when we’re talking about writing.


  5. Eve @ Inchworm Chronicles
    January 6, 2012 | 6:14 pm

    I really like how you organized your post here by age as the child builds the base of knowledge. We are at the copywork stage here, and it’s so neat to see we have been following much the same pattern as your family in our own homeschooling. It’s seemed such a natural progression as far as their ability has been–reading your post has also been fun for me to think about what we will be doing in the future as the kids age (written narration, etc.) Thank you for sharing this, it’s such a help to have an idea of what to expect, to some degree, on this homeschooling journey. It’s such a blessing to have other mothers like you to learn along with and from.


  6. Nikki
    January 6, 2012 | 8:55 pm

    I appreciated this post very much Kimberly. It is very encouraging and I thank you for taking the time to share your tried and true methods with us.

    I’m also wondering the same as Amanda Sikes about things like possessive nouns, quotation marks, etc. I’ve been struggling lately wondering how I missed certain rules and lessons with my second grade thinking for sure that my 4th grader knew these things already.

    But then I try to calmly remind myself of the blessings and merits of homeschooling and making learning just life in our home/family.

    Thanks for your example!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Nikki,

    Please see my reply to Amanda above.

    Also, have you ever had to look up a grammar or spelling rule? If so, no worries about having to go over something that you thought your 4th grader should have known. If you’ve never had to look up a rule, then I’m not talking with you anymore. 🙂

    We all forget things and we all have “holes in our education” (if we didn’t then we’d have a perfect knowledge of everything).

    And yes, focus on the blessings and benefits of homeschooling.

    Congratulations on #8. I hope you feel well and have a safe pregnancy and delivery.


  7. Kirsten
    January 13, 2012 | 7:10 pm

    Kimberly-Thank you for detailing how you teach this important subject! I have been encouraged and have learned so much from reading many of your homeschooling posts.

    I’m wondering how you handle interruptions during read aloud times? I have a 7 year old that has a LOT of questions, which inevitably lead to more questions. I understand that he is learning from having his questions answered, but it can sometimes disrupt the flow of the story and frustrate my 13 year old. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you:)


    Kirsten Reply:

    Just wanted to clarify my question…do you pause your read aloud to answer any and all questions that one or more of your children may have about the topic you are studying? Clear as mud?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:


    For some reason I thought that I had answered your question, but when I looked this morning, I couldn’t find where I answered it so I answered it in today’s Q and A post.

    Thanks for being patient with me. 😉


  8. tereza crump aka MyTreasuredCreations
    January 13, 2012 | 10:15 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so good to know what seasoned homeschooling Moms with lots of children do to teach the many different subjects.

    My oldest is 9 and we are relaxed homeschoolers. I don’t “worksheet” to death them. So I am pretty much doing dictation right now and improving on her cursive handwriting. My DS6 is working on letter formation and dictation also. We basically do about 1.5 hours of school work a day. We read, play and do lots of hands on activities throughout the day. The children don’t consider that “school”. School for them is the 30 minute Math they do, their phonics (if they are learning to read), copy work, dictation, any worksheet that I assign and devotions time. 🙂

    I read somewhere that if children read a lot that all the grammar repetition was not necessary before 12 years of age. I am so thankful for your post, because it just comes to confirm that. 🙂


  9. Julie
    February 7, 2014 | 9:00 pm

    Hello, we are doing a grammar program for 5th grade this year, but DD is going to really start digging into a writing program next year, and I believe it is going to be challenging for her, though not impossible. What do you think of taking a year off grammar for 6th grade and just focusing on the writing (Writing With Skill) this year?


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