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Common Sense Press Review by Heather Jackowitz

Learning Language Arts through Literature
The Orange Book - 4th grade skills

"For the first time in my six years of homeschooling, I am excited about language arts, and so is my daughter." -- Heather Jackowitz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

Calling all Ruth Beechick fans! The renowned educator and author says about the Learning Language Arts through Literature series, "What an improvement over the standard methods of language learning! In this series, students learn from excellent literature how to be better writers and thinkers. I highly recommend it." I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Beechick. After several years of pulling together various highly touted grammar, spelling, and writing curricula, I was discouraged by my children's lack of enthusiasm and retention. When I saw The Orange Book, I knew I had found the language arts program for us.

The Orange Book contains four book studies, each taking about a week to complete. Each one begins with a thorough summary for the parent and a "spark" to get your child interested. Then there are vocabulary lessons and reading comprehension questions (and answers!). Discussion questions are much more than just factual recall; they involve making judgments, inferences, and narration. Other exercises involve sequencing, story parts, compare and contrast, following directions, fact and opinion, character sketch, and cause and effect.

Three of the book studies precede an Everyday Words unit that uses passages from the book to teach grammar, spelling, and writing. Students copy passages, write from dictation, and complete activities and games. Review activities are provided after each Everyday Words lesson, and you can pick and choose as needed. An additional Everyday Words unit for The Tale of Anabelle Hedgehog is included, although there is no book study for this story. Everyday Words units should take about three weeks to complete, with an assessment following each unit to help parents discern which areas, if any, need more attention.

A newspaper unit follows the book study of Benjamin Franklin. This unit should take about four weeks to complete and covers encyclopedia and dictionary skills, parts of a newspaper, vocabulary, and discernment between fact and opinion. Students learn about how newspapers began, who were the key figures in its development, and how the First Amendment affects newspapers. Writing assignments include writing a headline, a want ad, a letter to the editor, an advertisement, and, finally, a newsletter or short newspaper.

A three-week journal writing unit includes creative writing, letter writing, writing directions, map reading, and interviewing. The final project of this unit is a family journal complete with photographs. As with all the other units, grammar skills are taught in the context of writing.

The research unit uses a study of your state as the basis for teaching research skills, such as alphabetical order, dictionary and other reference book use, maps, and a simple bibliography. Plan to spend time at the library during these weeks. If your child has already studied his state, as mine has, then use the guidelines to research something else. This is a great way to tie together language arts and science or history.

A five-week poetry unit will help you and your student gain a better understanding of and appreciation for poetry in all its varied forms. You will need a book of poetry; Favorite Poems Old and New is recommended. Students will read, recite and memorize many poems while learning about grammar, punctuation, rhythm, and rhyme. They will also write poetry, including couplets, cinquain, limerick, and haiku. The final project is a book of poetry, original creations as well as those from other authors.

The last unit in The Orange Book covers story writing and book making. You can use these alone or incorporate them into other units. The story writing lesson covers the elements of a story: setting, characters, plot, and conclusion. Simple tips are giving for writing each part. The book-making unit can be used throughout the year as your student completes his family journal, poetry book, or research project. My children have been inspired to write more stories and bind them nicely to give as gifts now that they know how to make "real" books. Instructions are not complicated, and the final project is so much nicer than just construction paper books stapled together!

An optional student activity book is also available. While not necessary to complete the program, it sure is helpful! Student editing models, spelling and grammar rules, games, activities, and more are all contained in one neat volume. Enrichment activities, such as word puzzles, analogies, and logic exercises, are only found in the student volume. (Answers are in the teacher guide.) Many of these activities remind me of the type of exercises found in the Building Thinking Skills books from Critical Thinking Press. While you can do without the student book, it will not work the other way around. The teacher guide is essential to the program. I highly recommend the student activity book if time is at a premium in your home, as it allows for greater student independence.

For the first time in my six years of homeschooling, I am excited about language arts, and so is my daughter. Visit to see sample pages, scope and sequence charts, and more wonderful products for your homeschool!

-- Product Review by: Heather Jackowitz, Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine