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Hands-On English with Linking Blocks Review by Heidi Miller-Ford

John Menken
Linking Blocks Partners, LLC
3904 South Walnut St.
Bloomington, IN 47401

Hands-On English with Linking Blocks appealed to me from the moment I read about it. My son has always had difficulties with English because it is always presented in a workbook format and usually accompanied by lots of writing. Hands-On English with Linking Blocks is definitely hands-on, but it involves many of the other areas of learning as well. The idea of the program is to use 50 wooden colored blocks, representing the different parts of speech, to build simple and eventually complex sentences. Students will actually be able to see a sentence and all its individual parts, making it much more concrete and easier to understand.

I received the following items to review:

Hands-On English with Linking Blocks Set ($174)

Linking Blocks Kit: 50 colored wooden blocks and foam links
Flash Cards Teacher's Manual--spiral-bound
Program Handbook--spiral-bound
Words, Function, and Part of Speech Cards
Parts of Speech CD
Parts of Speech Poster

Student Workbook--spiral-bound ($39)
Student Workbook Answer Key--spiral-bound ($10)
Prescriptions for Good Grammar--spiral-bound ($27)

This program is geared towards general literacy, remedial, and English as a second language populations. Depending on the level of your child, you could use this at many different grade levels. It would definitely work best in a homeschool or tutor setting, but it could be used in a classroom setting as well if you had a way to store all of the materials needed for each student. The course covers the most common structures in conversational and written English. Other programs can then be used to teach more advanced concepts. It can be used by itself or in conjunction with other programs. There is a specific order in which skills are presented, and the manual suggests using it in that order.

Each lesson is broken down into the following seven different parts. (The first two are to model for the student, and the other five are for the student to apply the new concept.)

Part 1--Block Review
Part 2--New Block Introduction and Demonstration
Part 3--Block Manipulation (three activities)

Mix and Match
Arrange the Blocks
Mongo Sentence Challenge

Part 4--Sentence Analysis (two activities) Tap the Blocks Color-code Sentences
Part 5--Visualization Part 6--Sentence Dictation Part 7--Creative Writing

The Student Workbook includes review material, exercises for underlining the correct parts of speech, writing exercises, and tests. Everything is in black and white except for the parts of speech. They are color-coded to match the program. The pages are not visually overwhelming, and the sentences have a nice amount of space between them so that underlining is easy. The answer key is in a separate book and is color-coded, making it very easy to glance at the answers and make sure they are correct. An older student could even correct them himself. The Linking Blocks company does make a student book that contains both the workbook and answer key in one if you wanted to cut down on the number of books to keep track of. I think I would have actually preferred that since there are such a large number of materials used with this program.

The Prescriptions for Good Grammar book can be used with the Linking Blocks as well as with other grammar programs. It's a reference book that will help diagnose and fix common grammar problems. For each part of speech, a definition is given and examples in sentence form. The most common problem for that particular part of speech is explained, followed by the prescription to fix it. A test is given at the end of each lesson, with answers provided in the appendix at the back of the book.

This multisensory program would really be useful for dyslexic or at-risk students, but I can see it benefiting all students. Every learning style is covered. The underlining in the sentences with colored pencils reinforces the visual aspect of the different parts of speech as well as the visualization exercises. The songs for each part of speech really hit home for the auditory learner. Physically building the sentences with the blocks is perfect for the tactile learner. The fact that there is not a lot of writing involved to complete most of the activities was a plus for us. Students who struggle with or are turned off by a lot of writing tend to get left behind in English programs.

When I first opened the box, the amount of materials in there was quite overwhelming. There were so many manuals and books! It took a little time for me to sit down and go through everything to figure out how the program works. If I had anything negative to say about the program, it would be that there didn't seem to be enough of the Word, Function, and Parts of Speech cards for some of the sentences and activities. I found myself scrambling to make extra ones. There was even one card missing, but that was easily remedied by my making my own. Also, I think the cards would last longer if they were laminated, which I decided to do. There were a few times when we were short on a specific color of blocks when building sentences, but it would be hard to predict how many specific blocks a child is going to need. We just substituted other blocks and hoped it wouldn't be confusing. The price does seem high and possibly not affordable for a lot of homeschool families when this only covers one subject. However, I can say the quality of the materials does make it likely that the program would last for many years and multiple students, which may make it more appealing in the long run.

Despite the few cons I've mentioned, there are far more pros to this program, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. This program was a huge success in my house. My son has really improved his grammar in the short time we have been using it. I spent a year and a half trying to get him to remember what a noun and verb were, and now he can identify them, build his own sentence with compound subjects and predicates using conjunctions, and even connect compound sentences. Most importantly, grammar has become one of his favorite subjects. This hands-on approach will definitely keep him involved, working on level, and even feeling confident about what he is learning. It's such a good program that I plan to use it with two more children in the future.

Product review by Heidi Miller-Ford, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2010