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Total Language Plus Review by Kate Kessler

Barbara Blakey
Contact: Kris Cordell
8383 Aurelius Way
Orangevale, CA 95662

It took walking by the Total Language Plus (TLP) booth several times before I just decided just to stop and see what the various colorful covers were all about. Total Language Plus is " integrated, literature-based program." This means that everything you study, all the language arts skills, all the activities, all the projects, artwork, and all the writing, are based upon the book your child is studying. This may seem over-simplified, but it is a quality, thorough program.

I will begin at the beginning - the books. All of the books used in the TLP program are award-winning literature choices. While the curriculum is a Christian-based program, the books are not necessarily going to be "Christian" in nature. Their website states: "Some of the books are not written by Christian authors and contain controversial elements. Regardless of the author's viewpoint, every novel study takes a Christian perspective. We believe that all the books offered are valuable for Christian study, but realize that there are differing opinions and recommend that if you are in doubt about any book, read it yourself first."

The list of available book studies is impressive and interesting:

      (Grades 3-4)
    • Charlotte's Web
  • The Courage of Sarah Noble
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • The Whipping Boy
      (Grades 5-6)
    • Amos Fortune Free Man
  • My Side of the Mountain
  • Caddie Woodlawn
  • The Wheel on the School
  • The Cricket in Times Square
      (Grades 6-8)
    • Adam of the Road
  • The Light in the Forest
  • Carry On, Mr Bowditch
  • The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe
  • The Hobbit Rifles for Watie
  • The Incredible Journey
  • The Twenty-One Balloons
  • Julie of the Wolves
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • King of the Wind
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
      (Grades 7-9)
    • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • The Bronze Bow
  • Treasure Island
  • The Call of the Wild
  • Words by Heart
  • The Giver
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Johnny Tremain
      (Grades 8-10)
    • The Hiding Place
  • The Trumpeter of Krakow
  • The High King
  • The Yearling
      (Grades 9-11)
    • Around the World in Eighty Days
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird
      (Advanced Grades 11-12)
    • Jane Eyre
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Oliver Twist

TLP offers a comprehensive novel study. Your child's grade-level week will include: spelling, grammar and punctuation, vocabulary, analytical and critical thinking study, comprehension, writing, listening via dictation, field trips, projects, word puzzles, and artwork. All vocabulary and spelling words are taken from the text and are the same for each lesson. So while your child studies "contemptuously" and "accumulate" in her spelling section, she will also be learning these words in the vocabulary section. The words are thoroughly studied and truly comprehended by the end of the week's lesson.

Each week your child will have projects and writing assignments to complete that correspond with the lesson's reading. This is how a sample day in the study week would work:

For the book Caddie Woodlawn, week 2:

Your child and you will decide what "Projects" and "Personally Thinking" selections she will be accomplishing. There are several projects to choose from such as "Walk outdoors with a camera; 'shoot' the creatures you see." or "Save a silver dollar." The "Personally Thinking" options are: "Why was Caddie upset that Uncle Edmund tried to bribe her? What does bribery mean? Do you think it is a bad thing? Has anyone tried to bribe you? What happened?" It is not intended that you complete each and every project or item for thought. Some chapters will have many things to choose from and some will have one or two as the example above offers. Some projects are family adventures where we all can learn like "Visit a museum with articles from this time period."

After you decide what your child will be writing/thinking about, your child will read chapter four and then answer the comprehension questions for that chapter. After the questions are finished, she will jump to the vocabulary section. This week she will use the context clues from the chapter to help her define the vocabulary words. The words are the same words used for spelling and she will write out the list of words in flashcard format and follow a procedure for mastering the words via flashcard, saying the word, spelling it out loud, etc. Your child will then do a grammar worksheet with dictation. Once the dictation is completed, you will correct it with your child.

There are various degrees of grammar learning within the different levels of TLP. For the earlier grades your child will encounter more instruction whereas the older grades it is expected that your child already understands the basics of grammar instruction. I used The Courage of Sarah Noble with my youngest son. He has not had a great deal of formal grammar study and what they offered was sufficient for his level. They also reinforced it for many lessons. It was good to see that he really understood it. I cannot say that I would use it as my only source of grammar or writing instruction, but these kinds of texts or workbooks are easily added along the way. I plan on rotating formal grammar and writing instruction in between and along with the TLP units. They are too good to pass up and I really like the literature-based instruction TLP offers. It makes the lessons come alive.

What I detailed above may sound like a lot of work for one day, and I thought it would be at first, but it really does not work out to be that much. I was also pleasantly surprised that my children enjoyed this way of studying spelling, vocabulary, writing, and literature to anything we have tried yet. They have asked to continue to study this way. I also found the thorough manner in which the vocabulary/spelling words were studied to have real lasting power. I also appreciated the kinds of thoughtful questions the author asked of the children during the study. These were not blas� questions, but really made the children think. Ms. Blakey also did not over-think the books or exhaust every thought or sentence. There was much to be learned from the books we chose to use, and they were thoughtfully done.

My overall impression of Total Language Plus is very positive. If you are looking for a truly comprehensive and interesting study that will engage your children along the way then I cannot suggest TLP more. This is a quality program with extensive and appealing subjects. It is full of projects and activities that will enliven your home learning environment. I think it is the best kept homeschool secret out there!

-Product review by Kate Kessler, Product Reviews Manager, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2008