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Learning Language Arts Through Literature Review by Heather Jackowitz

Common Sense Press
8786 Highway 21
Melrose, FL 32666
(352) 475-5757

Learning Language Arts Through Literature uses an integrated approach to language arts. As students read fine literature and work with excellent models of writing, they learn grammar, vocabulary, writing, reading, spelling, penmanship, and thinking skills in context. I reviewed two books, the Purple Book for grade five and the Green Book for grades seven or eight. Each level includes a teacher book and a student activity book. The student book is optional, but without it, you would need to hand copy the student’s material because the answers are in the margins of the teacher’s book. In addition, the student activity books contain optional enrichment activities that are not found in the teacher books. These activities include puzzles and other thinking and reasoning activities that are both fun and stimulating. Regular assessments and review exercises are included in both books to help you monitor your child’s progress. In addition to the teacher book, student book, and reading books, you will need paper (writing and drawing), pencils (regular and colored), a notebook, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and access to encyclopedias and other reference materials.

The Purple Book is for the average fifth grader. It is broken down into thirty-six weeklong lessons, plus four book studies. Each weekly lesson contains material for five school days. Each day’s work is clearly presented and requires little to no preparation. Allowing a week for each book study adds up to a total of forty weeks of lessons—a rather full school year. You may decide to spread the book studies over several weeks while continuing the weekly lessons.

The bulk of the book is made up of weeklong units called Everyday Words. Each of these units begins with a passage to copy or take from dictation. Using that passage, students work on related grammar, spelling, and composition skills. The passages used in the Purple Book come from the following sources:

  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
  • The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  • David Livingstone, Foe of Darkness by Jeanette Eaton
  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
  • Color the Classics by Carmen Ziarkowski.

None of these books is required reading for the course, except The Trumpet of the Swan, which is also included as a book study.

Each of the four book studies follows a similar format. First, a little “spark” helps interest children in the book. For example, before reading The Trumpet of the Swan, ask your child how he would communicate if he were unable to speak.

Next, a summary of the entire book is provided so that parents don’t have to read the book to be able to discuss it with their children. Then, students define five vocabulary words and either use them in a sentence of their own or fill in the blanks of the five sentences that are provided. Now it is time for the child to read the book. Discussion questions are provided to help you discuss the book with your child as he reads. Finally, three of the book studies provide follow-up activities, such as sequencing a series of events or making a family tree. The books are presented in this order:

  • Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Trumpet of the Swan by E.B.White
  • Meet Addy by Connie Porter
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

In addition to Everyday Words units and the book studies, three other units are included in the Purple Book: oral presentations, a poetry unit, and a speech-making unit. The six-week oral presentations unit is broken into two sub-units focusing on tall tales (four weeks) and folk tales (two weeks). Students will give several oral presentations, including a choral reading presentation, and will write a tall tale, a summary report, and a character sketch. During the two-week poetry unit, students will read, analyze, and create poetry. Students spend two weeks during the speech-making unit studying different kinds of speeches and then writing and presenting their own.

The Tan Book is for sixth grade. This book is similar in format to the previous Purple Book. The book studies in this edition are:

  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Latham
  • The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The dictations passages used in the Tan Book come from the following sources:

  • Bambi by Felix Salten
  • “The Eagle” poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
  • King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  • The Wheel on the School by Meindert Delong
  • “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” poetry by Eugene Field
  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel DeFoe
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
  • “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  • The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  • Psalm 136:1-5
  • The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • Aesop’s Fables
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs
  • Matthew 5:13-16

Beyond the benefits of dictation, these passages are used in the further study of grammar concepts, reading and comprehension skills, vocabulary, spelling, creative writing, activates, and games. “How to Conduct Personal Research” and “The Research Essay” are both covered at this level as well as similes and metaphors, root words and suffix studies.

The Green Book is for seventh or eighth grade. This book comprises thirty-six lessons, each conveniently broken down into five daily assignments that require little to no preparation. Thirteen lessons are Everyday Words units. These units are scattered throughout the book for variety. Twelve of the Everyday Words units are dictation lessons that review all the parts of speech and teach diagramming, which shows how those parts fit together. The final Everyday Words lesson is a review of previous material. The passages used in the Everyday Words lessons come from the following books:

  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  • Devil in Print by Mary Drewery
  • Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
  • Psalm 1

None of these books is required reading for the course, although your student may enjoy reading them just for pleasure, especially after having been exposed to them through the lessons.

A poetry unit lasts six weeks. Students memorize, recite, analyze, and write their own poems. A three-week short story unit helps students to identify the elements of a good story and then to write one of their own. A four-week research unit breaks report writing down into manageable steps: choosing a topic, taking notes, outlining, first draft, revising, final draft, and bibliography.

Finally, three book studies provide ten additional weeks of work. Students will read and discuss the following books:

  • Star of Light by Patricia St. John (three weeks)
  • Adam and His Kin by Ruth Beechick (four weeks)
  • Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare (three weeks)

Students will complete many interesting writing assignments and other activities as they complete each book study. While studying Star of Light, students write character sketches, compare and contrast religions, practice mapmaking, and work on narration. During Adam and His Kin, students will conduct research, write a report, and draw graphs. Finally, students will practice written narration while they learn to understand and enjoy Shakespeare as they read Much Ado About Nothing.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature is a breath of fresh air after years of pulling together unrelated materials for reading, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and composition. This year, I have three children doing three different levels of Learning Language Arts Through Literature. My children are writing more than they ever have before, and they seem to enjoy the variety of assignments. The books are easy to follow for both student and teacher. My only complaint regarding layout is that the student book is difficult to write in. The pages are not perforated for easy removal, and the book is thick and difficult to handle. Also, my children often need more room to write than is provided, so I encourage them to write on binder paper when necessary.

Two difficulties I have encountered using LLATL have involved teaching spelling and juggling several different levels. Spelling is taught in a natural way, using words from the student’s own writing and dictation assignments, with some minor attention given to the more useful spelling rules and word families. My natural speller is doing fine with the LLATL approach to spelling, but my struggling spellers need more direct spelling attention than LLATL offers. Of course, that is the beauty of homeschooling—I can tailor my approach to each child.

The other difficulty I have encountered involves juggling multiple levels of LLATL. If you are feeling overwhelmed in your homeschooling, you might consider combining children who are one to two years apart in age or grade level to simplify your life. Samples and placement tests are available online to help you decide where to begin:

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with Learning Language Arts Through Literature. It has breathed new life into our tired old routine and inspired me to put into practice the excellent recommendations of my favorite homeschool author, Ruth Beechick. In fact, the greatest benefit of the program may be to you, the homeschooling parent, as you learn to break away from traditional language textbooks to follow a more natural course of study using good literature and meaningful writing projects.

Product review by Heather Jackowitz, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2008