Do you remember your middle and high school English classes? Did you diagram sentences? Fill in endless worksheets with “S” for sentence or “F” for fragment in middle school only to graduate to similar annotations from your teacher on your own high school papers? Is your child experiencing the same thing? Sounds like you need some Laid-Back Language Arts!
We don’t spend much time discussing curriculum on this site because that is not our mission. But reading well is related to writing well: they both depend on the skillful use of language. Language usage and study doesn’t have to be painful or tedious, and it certainly shouldn’t dampen our appreciation for the power of the written word.
Laid-Back Language Arts: Is there such a thing?
In honor of the school year getting underway, I thought I’d introduce you to Laid-Back Language Arts. No less robust than its more tedious counterpart, these products offer a more humane approach to the study of our complicated, marvelous English language. Both of these resources come from Christian authors, so perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us. After all, God chose to communicate with his people through WORDS. Our use of language should reflect his own use of language. Laid-Back Language Arts doesn’t mean a flippant approach; rather it is one that puts the goals of communication in the forefront, letting the details serve the whole.
Wordsmith by J. B. Cheaney
I’ve waxed eloquent about Wordsmith before, but any homeschooler can tell you how many times he or she jumps ship on a curriculum after a season. Not so with Wordsmith. For my family, it’s been a perfect fit, and I continue to endorse it gladly. Our very own Janie is the author of this program, and her subtle humor comes through in the book. There are grammar exercises, but the vast majority of them are designed to promote student expression and creativity, not a slavish filling in of blanks. This echoes the creativity in God himself, and Wordsmith encourages children to use their creativity on every page. The emphasis on specificity, more concrete nouns/active verbs, and learning how to use metaphor reflect the need to handle language to the best of our ability: we want to communicate exactly what we mean whether it’s a funny story or directions to a made up land.
The book proposes a one-year schedule; my family uses two years in order to have more flexibility in applying the concepts and to use materials like Grammar for Writers (see below). My children love to share what they come up with for their Wordsmith exercises, all want to hear each other’s descriptions and poetry, and soon, I hope, they’ll be able to truly help each other peer edit. My favorite of the 3-book series is the main Wordsmith book for grades 6-9. This is an ideal series to enrich existing grammar/writing curricula for the creative writer types enrolled in other programs, but it also serves well as a stand alone for seventh and eighth graders.
You can read the much longer review that goes into more detail if you need more convincing!
Grammar for Writers by Jonathan Rogers
Redeemed Reader is a big fan of Jonathan Rogers’s work: we’ve reviewed *The Charlatan’s Boy and the *Wilderking Trilogy, and we’ve had Jonathan do some interviews/guest posts for us, too! When he launched his Grammar for Writers course last year, I jumped. And it did not disappoint.
Like the title implies, Grammar for Writers is a grammar course (nouns, verbs, participles, the works). The primary goal, though, is to equip writers to love their readers. Sounds a lot like “love your neighbor” to me. That is precisely Jonathan’s goal in this course. The better we can handle language, understanding its ins and outs, the better we can love our readers by communicating clearly and engagingly. Humorous examples, review quizzes, and a step-by-step progression make this course accessible to middle school students even though the target audience is closer to high school (and adults!).
In my own family, we use this alternately with Wordsmith since they cover similar concepts from different angles. Grammar for Writers is the grammar portion, and Wordsmith provides ways for my kids to apply that new grasp of grammar in their actual writing assignments. We’ll cover nouns and verbs with both programs before moving on, for instance. We all enjoy the video delivery with Grammar for Writers, and many giggles ensued early on from a certain sentence example about a raccoon.
Like Wordsmith, Grammar for Writers works admirably as an enrichment to an existing language arts curriculum. Pick a module that students are struggling with for review or, better yet, start with Grammar for Writers as an intro, going deeper with your existing curriculum as needed. Grammar for Writers will be far more interesting to your students than the average grammar textbook!
Sounds Great! Where Can I Get These?
Note: the Amazon and Compass Classroom links are affiliate links; anything you purchase through those links will earn Redeemed Reader a small commission at no cost to you.
Wordsmith can be obtained through Common Sense Press. It is also available through Amazon. I recommend the teacher’s guide, too, because it is a helpful scheduling aid and full of insight into when to let students struggle and when to step in and help them edit.
Compass Classroom is the place to get Grammar for Writers if you’re teaching middle or high school students because you can get DVDs through them AND a printable guide to the quizzes and notes. Don’t want to mess with DVDs? You can also stream the course. (Compass Classroom has 4 free lessons you can download to preview.) Grammar for Writers is part of Compass Classroom’s streaming subscription, so if you already participate in that, you’re good! (If you’re interested in their main streaming subscription, they’re running a great deal right now; this version also includes Grammar of Poetry, which my family uses, too!).
Related Reading (from both Janie and Jonathan)
- Don’t miss Janie’s post about Laid-Back Homeschooling — such a good reminder for those in the homeschooling trenches this time of year!
- More from Janie: read more about her grammar philosophy in Laid-Back Grammar
- Got older teens? Check out our interview with Jonathan: Flannery O’Connor, Violence, and Mercy
- More from Jonathan: Reading and Writing, Boys and Dads (this article was also linked above)