Learning Language Arts

What Works!

Once again I want to share what works when you use Charlotte Mason’s principles. In the more than 14 years of homeschooling until graduation my children have learnt the nuts and bolts of English grammar and language with copywork and dictations.

Dictations and copywork  = effective Language Arts lessons

Ruth Beechick’s “A Strong Start in Language” is perhaps the best book on how to teach language!

She explains the powerful and natural method of how to use reading and writing to teach a child language and grammar.

I highly recommend her book because she gives loads of basic examples, lays out all the suggested grade levels and makes simple and easy-to-apply suggestions.  With this book in hand, you can create all your children’s language arts lessons!

In essence, you will use these skills to teach writing, from forming a child’s name to writing an essay ~

copy, dictate, compare and repeat

Children are tutored through a natural writing process to learn language in the same way that Benjamin Franklin’s taught himself.  Instead of using textbooks and exercises with isolated parts of language and innumerable technical aspects, copywork and dictation leads from the whole-to-the-part.

What is the whole?

It is any meaningful piece of language or passage of writing. 

Writing in its natural setting.

From the passage, language is learnt in context.  They learn to identify the grammar basics and learn the mechanics just by reading and copying the extract.

Even if your child just copies a sentence or paragraph, and spends some time examining and identifying its nuts and bolts such as punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, they will naturally learn language arts.

What is more fascinating is that they will naturally find these same mechanics during their read alouds.  As I read aloud my young kids call out, “There’s a compound word!” or “That’s a simile!”  Almost every week my kids would eagerly wait for “their” dictation paragraph to be read aloud in our chapter readings.

And may I share a secret?

I haven’t even done the “proper” Charlotte Mason dictations … the ones where the child writes the passage from memory, without copying.  Nope. Not once.  Not even my high schoolers.  We have tried it, but somehow we never arrived at that level.  Instead of feeling defeated, I simply carried on with what we found worked and we all coped with, and it was enough!

Also, even as an English teacher, I worked with a year plan, but never “did it all“.  Homeschool moms, you will have gaps.  Just breathe and let it go.  You will not cover everything.  Not even if you use textbooks and brilliant bells-and-whistles programs.  Use the grade levels as a guide line and trust that you cover most of the aspects as you go along.

But daily dictation lessons on their own will give your child a strong foundation to language arts and creative writing!

Here’s an example  of dictation lessons for a third grade child up ~

  1. Select a passage from a “real/ living” book, a verse from the Bible, a well-known nursery rhyme.
  2. Let your child copy it carefully.  Very young kids start by tracing over the neat, large print.
  3. Next lesson, ask your child to print it out as you read or spell the words for him.
  4. Lastly, he should print the passage without looking at the selection.

For Language Arts ask questions from the same dictation passage ~

  • ask your child to find the full stops
  • find the capital letters, why are they there?
  • which word rhymes with …?
  • circle all the quotation marks
  • tick all the commas
  • why are the exclamation mark used?
  • who is the first sentence about? (this is called the subject)
  • underline the action words or verbs (what the subject is doing is called the predicate)
  • can you find a compound word (a word made up of 2 words)
  • draw a squiggly line under the shortest/ longest sentence
  • draw slashes through the word with 4 syllables (sound parts a word can be broken into)
  • draw a box around all the question words and draw an arrow from this word to the question mark at the end of the sentence

So, here’s an example from an easy Bible verse:

I love the Lord. (Psalm 116:1)

A young child can first trace, then copy, then write out this verse.  Each day he writes the same verse, finally writing it out on his own from slow, assisted dictation.  At the end of the week, ask the child to study it and write it from memory. Encourage him to compare and correct his own work  This will help him learn from any mistakes.   For Language Arts, simply reinforce the grammar rule: Every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.  Can you find another capital letter?  This is a name.  All names are written with a capital letter and we call these words “proper nouns“.  And there you have it ~ 10 minute Dictation and Language Art lessons ~ short, simple and effective!

Let’s look at a nursery rhyme:

Lucy Locket 

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,

Kitty Fisher found it;

Nothing in it, nothing in it,

But the binding round it.

(from Mother Goose)

I look for the obvious grammar lessons in this rhyme, for example:

  • Circle all the capital letters.
  • Tick those capital letters that are people’s names.  These are proper nouns. A simple lesson.
  • Which 2 words rhyme in the first sentence?
  • Draw a box around a word that ends 3 sentences.  Can you find the 4th one?
  • Can you find all the commas?  There is a special comma with a dot above it.  Circle this punctuation mark.  It is called a semi-colon.  Why do you think it is used?  Look for examples in other nursery rhymes and try deduce the reason for a semi-colon.  Suggest that the child looks for this punctuation mark in the week’s readings.

Our weekly Dictation and Language Arts Lessons:

  • Monday = copy passage (10 minutes max)
  • Tuesday = copy passage & do language arts questions (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Wednesday = copy passage as assisted dictation (10 minutes)
  • Thursday = write out memorized dictation and do language arts questions (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Friday = free day (we normally only do our spelling test, but if needs be, we add the dictation)

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Often I use the copywork lesson to teach and practice handwriting.  Because the child must write slowly and clearly, this is the one lesson where I emphasize and encourage neat handwriting.

My young kids do their copywork with their laminated handwriting chart propped up in front of them.

I sneak mistakes that I notice in my children’s narrations into my language arts lessons.  This way they learn the mechanics from an “expert” author and apply it to their own written work.  I almost NEVER mention grammar when I mark my children’s narrations, because I want to encourage them to capture their thoughts and ideas.  But, here, analysing someone else’s work, we can tear it apart and pull it back together in a very objective way.

Finally, let me emphasize – keep it short & sweet!  Do language arts as fun and discovery!  My kids called our LA lessons “squiggles and circles” because I asked them to underline with a wiggly line and draw circles.  This kept the lessons short. Most the LA lesson is oral; with simple discussions.  There is very little writing and no tedious exercises.  Note, discuss and move on.

Here are some other copywork & dictation posts:

Once again, I encourage moms to share and ask their questions in the comments below as we discuss “What Works!”

Edited notes: In the years where I used Sonlight, I have bought Sonlight’s Language Arts programs which accompany their reading programs in which Ruth Beechick’s approach and principles are very effectively used.

Blessings,

Ruth Beechick’s books:

  • An Easy Start In Reading  ISBN 0-940319-00-4
  • An Easy Start In Language  ISBN 0-940319-02-0
  • An Easy Start In Arithmetic  ISBN 0-940319-01-2
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12 thoughts on “Learning Language Arts

  1. Thanks for this awesome post. I especially love the point about keeping it short and sweet – and over the years, we have also found it more helpful to let student narration have flow and then use other literature to dissect and learn from- or as you say, to objectively “tear it apart and pull it back together” – lastly, a friend was just asking about copy work and so this post and the links at the end will be resources I pass on. Many Thanks Nadene – and blessings to you and your family. ~Yvette

    • @Yvette, thanks for your kind words … and for sharing … It is a privilege to share what works and, because it is so simple, I want to encourage others to try CM’s approach to teaching language and writing. Blessings!

  2. Thank you for this. We are Afrikaans and I was really looking at how we can ‘spice’ up our language lessons. Those workbooks are just so long winding with loads and loads of fill in here and there just aint working. We have moved away from workbooks earlier this year and focussed on literature books, but still need to add something extra. Wil use your suggestions – thank you again.
    I am greatful for everything you share and are always waiting for the next post :)

    • @Maryna, thank you so much. I made all my own LA and dictation pages from our Footprints literature books, so you can apply this any book you are reading to your kids. Blessings!

  3. Hi Nadine. Thanks again for this post. This is exactly what I am trying to do, and every time I do it, I feel I am not being a purist, nota real CM homeschooler. Now I realise -how silly of me: this is a perfect combination of RB and CM methods. I must admit that I am still a little confused as I find that different people have different definitions for various methods. It gets so confusing, just when I’ve figured it out, I discover I am “supposed” to be doing it ….that way !
    Trying to decide if me, the fuzzy HS Mom can wing it by myself as you have; or if I should try English for the Thoughful Child. I have just found any curriculum we try squashes us.

  4. Pingback: Taking Time for Tangents | Practical Pages

  5. I have been homeschooling for many years. I have not always kept up in their language skills. I am looking
    forward to using the lap-book ideas and the copy work. Thank you for all your time and effort that your took to make these
    pages available.
    Amy K : Edmonton, Alberta

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