I received such an overwhelming response after I mentioned our whiteboard grammar lessons during Circle Time that I decided to write a post instead of going through each comment individually. Obviously, this is something you want to talk about! And I don’t blame you. When I first heard about doing it this way, it seemed so mysterious that I didn’t try it until years later.
As a little background, I will mention that I didn’t learn much grammar in school. I mean, I can tell a noun from a verb, but when we get to things that sound mysterious, like prepositional phrases, I start to doubt myself. I can write because I picked sentence structure up intuitively. But I am not confident about the proper names for all the parts of speech, especially if the sentence in question is complex. Take the title graphic up above. I almost didn’t do it, because I wasn’t sure I did it right (well, level one style right, anyhow). Instead of giving it up, I asked my pretend life coach for help, and it turns out I really needed the help, if you get my drift.
All of this is to say that grammar lessons are as much for me as they are for the children. This is really the best kept secret about homeschooling: all those parent out there teaching their children are happily filling in the gaps in their own educations. Homeschooling provides a more educated citizenry not just because of the individual attention given to each child, but because the parents enter into a state of almost two decades (minimum!) of constant learning. It’s quite remarkable, when you think about it.
I love, love, love doing grammar during Circle Time. Grammar is such a little thing, but it’s important. However, comma, I kept dropping it. Trying to teach different levels of grammar was worse than anything — even teaching multiple levels of math, which is kind of torturous for most of us, amIright?
Once I put grammar into Circle Time, it became so easy! We discuss a sentence or two a day. That’s it. My supplies consist of a little handheld whiteboard and some dry erase markers. I use an old T-shirt as an eraser. Oh. I guess I should mention that we also have a grammar text. This year, I’m using Practice Island from Michael Clay Thompson. I love it. All I bought was the teacher’s manual. It gives me all the answers. You are now well aware that I actually need them.
If I knew grammar well, we could just choose a sentence from one of the morning’s readings — I wouldn’t need it spelled out for me in a teacher’s manual with answers and explanations. So, if you are good at grammar, this is a possible approach for you.
Last year, we used KISS Grammar. (I am not entirely sure that it matters which grammar text you use, as long as you use one that is sentence-based.) Because of this, I went ahead and bought the first level of MCT (which is what I linked above). I don’t know that I will finish the whole book before buying the next level. All I know is that I wanted to start at the beginning since the approach was a bit different, and I had a new student starting grammar anyhow, plus O-Age-Eight wants to sit in on it. (In fact, Mr. Smarty Pants has already gotten a handle on subject and verb.)
The question arises as to how to handle multiple ages. What I do is always start with identifying either the subject or the verb. On the first day of grammar — or even the first week — I just ask for volunteers. “Who can tell me what the subject or verb is in this sentence?” After that, when I think they are ready to try, I call on people, starting with the youngest of the students who are in fourth grade or higher. I mention this because I know a lot of us have multiple youngsters at the table. I think it’s perfectly fine for them to be there, of course. But I never call on a little one — I don’t officially start grammar until fourth grade. (This is a Charlotte Mason thing, you know.) I allow little ones to volunteer, of course. But I see calling on them as different.
When I start calling on people, I start with the youngest on most days. For the first year of grammar, I want them to become masters of identifying the two basic parts of the sentence. So, if the youngest identifies the subject, I call on the next oldest child to identify the verb — or vice versa, if it works out that way. At that point, we’re left with all the other stuff. I might ask, “Can you tell me anything about any of the other words in this sentence?” If they decline, we just start working through the sentence, one word at a time. It’s all done orally. It’s informal and takes very little time.
When we’re done with the first sentence, we work through the second sentence in the same way.
This picture shows what a finished board looked like last week. My Michael Clay Thompson teacher manual does not tell us to draw arrows, but that is something I like to add. I don’t remember why I started doing that — I must have picked it up from either KISS or Latin class. Either way, I find it helpful to use arrows so that we are all clear which word is being described, and which word is doing the describing.
The underlining? It’s also not in MCT — at least, not in the level one book I’m using. No matter — this is how our Latin teacher treats subjects and verbs, so it seemed important to be to be consistent.
At this point, you are probably wondering what exactly is in the teacher’s manual. It’s basically a labeled breakdown of the sentence and a short explanation of how it works, which has been helpful when there has been something I don’t understand.
Yes, there was something I didn’t understand immediately in level one — even after all these years of using grammar curricula! Sigh.
I try and use a minimum of three colors because it helps me keep things straight — much better than if it was all in the same color. There is nothing significant about the specific colors — these just happen to be the dry erase markers I have out at the moment.
Here are a few more thoughts, based on questions you all asked on Friday:
- MCT teaches that all articles are adjectives. I didn’t know that before! It’s not in the book (maybe that would be for a higher level?), but I’m still using definite article and indefinite article when we talk. We spent some time last week talking about the difference between definite and indefinite, actually, because someone asked about it.
- MCT has three levels. In my opinion, grammar is like math — it doesn’t matter what grade people say it is; it matters what level the children can handle. On this page, you can click to see samples. I think that is the best way to make the decision as to what level your children are ready for.
- I originally got this idea from Cindy Rollins, but as far as I know, her original blog posts are no long available. Wah.
I think that’s all. But perhaps I forgot something about this process? Or there is something helpful you might add? Please use the comments!
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