Beginning to study literature, ages 7-9
The study of literature begins very early on, when you read to your children and talk about what has been read. This isn’t anything formal: it’s a very natural process and is simply a development of what you did with your toddler when you looked at a picture book together and asked him about the story. Reading aloud to your children even after they can read for themselves has countless advantages: not only can you expose your child to books which may be technically difficult for him to read for himself (thus expanding his horizons and vocabulary), enjoying a great story together is simply a wonderful shared experience. Your child also sees that you love to read and derive great pleasure from it, and this makes it much more likely that he will want to be an avid reader too.
You can introduce the idea of ‘literature study’ quite gently with simple oral narrations for a young child. Ask the child about the story: Can he tell you briefly what happens? Which characters did he particularly like or dislike? Which passages really jumped out at him? Why? Did the author paint any very striking word-pictures (images) which stuck in his memory? Would he like to write a story about a similar theme? Does he know when this book was written – is it very old or very recent? How can he tell? Does he know anything about the author? Would he like to find out more and perhaps read some other books by the same person? Really, the list is endless. As long as the child remains interested – and doesn’t feel as if he’s being interrogated! – this can be a very enjoyable and fruitful exercise. Obviously, if you have read the book aloud to him, then this will be very much a two way process and the questions you ask will be more pertinent. As I said, this isn’t a formal exercise at this point, it’s more a conversation and should be treated as such.
Recommended books for this age group.
Fairy stories, myths and epic tales 7-8
50 Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin. This is a nice collection of some famous and not too famous folk tales. English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs. These are very old fashioned, sometimes grim, often odd and quirky. You’ll either love them or hate them (and you might be surprised at the ones your children end up liking – they do hold a strange appeal for children. You may want to read them first.) Jack the Giant Killer by Richard Doyle. A gruesome, compelling version of this old folk tale – read ahead if you have sensitive children! Boys tend to like it. Medieval tales by Mary Pope Osborne. My children have enjoyed these well told tales, and the illustrations are excellent too. Contains nine of the best English and Irish tales. Tales from King Arthur by Andrew Lang. Nicely written introduction to these great tales (originally written 1902).
The Golden Treasury of Poetry, ed Louis Untermeyer is a gem of a book and available for pennies. It will last for several years and /or several children! Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves is a lovely book, especially if you can get the edition illustrated by the incomparable Edward Ardizzone A Puffin Quartet of Poets (Farjeon, Reeves, Rieu, Serraillier) is also worth picking up. Very ‘traditionally English’. Also worth looking for are books by or including: Jack Prelutsky for intelligent humour, Charles Causley for something more serious, and Pie Corbett for something more modern. We also love various poems by Walter de la Mere.
At around age 6-7 you can follow a basic handwriting programme to teach a simple print, then move onto cursive if you want to from 7/8 onwards. We use Christopher Jarman’s ‘The Development of Handwriting Skills’ text (see Preparatory Level,. A cheap, consumable workbook such as Lett’s Hilarious Handwriting is much less thorough but might provide some light relief (though it’s not hilarious I’m afraid…). It makes sense to stick to one style, as otherwise the child can become confused (Lett’s for example, puts a loop on the ‘k’ which most other styles do not). I think legibility should be the main aim, which is why I like Jarman – it provides a simple yet elegant style. Some of the American styles we used at first were far too fancy and complicated. Your child can always branch off into copperplate or calligraphy later on!
If you’ve taught your child reading with a phonic method you’ll find that he already has a head start when it comes to spelling because he already knows most of the common letter combinations. From about 7 (well, I’d say only if he’s reading reasonably well and writing a bit, otherwise it won’t mean much), you can start reinforcing and practising the GPCs he already knows from reading (* GPCs as they’re known in school jargon – meaning, for example that the written symbol, or grapheme, ‘ai’ makes the sound, or phoneme, ‘long a’). For the first stage, I tend to keep things simple and just give list of words with the same letter combination. So, I’ll give my seven year old lists of ‘ee’ spelled words, then ‘oa’ spelled words etc. The next level is to give him mixed graphemes for the same sound. So, this time he’ll get all the spellings for the ‘ee’ sound in the same list (such as ‘ea’, ‘ee’, e-e) or all the spellings for the long ‘a’ sound (such as ai, ay, a-e). Once you’ve gone through these, you’ll have covered an awful lot of common words. Along the way you can add in all those common but ‘tricky’ words which don’t follow the rules. When the children are pretty secure in these letter combinations I just move onto a regular spelling book such as Schonell’s Essential Spelling List. After all the grapheme practice, you’ll find your child whizzes through the first few levels (in fact I tend to find mine are about a year ahead of their age-appropriate list). With older children, when you’ve finished working through a standard text like Schonell’s, it’s a good idea to keep a list (or rather encourage them to keep a list) of words which are misspelled in any subject, and practice them until they are learned correctly.
Grammar and punctuation
Ages 7- 11
Many workbooks/textbooks/courses aimed at teaching grammar etc. to ages 6+ require a considerable amount of writing on a daily basis. If you have a reluctant writer, this obviously causes problems. My own answer to this problem has been to use, at about age 7, a series of exercises aimed at teaching sentences, use of capitals, punctuation and so on via simple games which provide pre-made written cards. In this way, the child can focus on the grammar facts rather than have to spend his mental energy focusing on writing correctly (see Composition below for more on this). Once the basics have been covered with the games, you can consolidate the teaching with further exercises in each subject area. Again, I try to get the teaching across without a very heavy demand for writing, though obviously more here than at the basic level:
Once the basics have been covered with the games, you can consolidate the teaching with further exercises in each subject area. Again, I try to get the teaching across without a very heavy demand for writing, though obviously more here than at the basic level.
Primary Level I remember doing a great number of comprehensions at school, in a variety of subjects, and finding them almost always boring and largely meaningless. Obviously, they do serve a purpose in that they can help test whether or not the pupil has reached the next level of reading proficiency: to read closely and understand clearly what is written on the page in front of him. But if you have been in the habit of discussing reading material with your child from an early age, you’ve already been doing ‘comprehensions’ of a sort: you have asked him questions to check his understanding of the text – you have simply done this orally rather than in written form. Comprehension questions are widely used in schools in a variety of subjects from quite an early age. I suppose this is because they are an easy vehicle for writing practice, and because it is impossible for a teacher to know that 30 children have understood a text: she cannot go around and ask each one individually! You, as a parent, can do this and so written comprehensions need not play such a large part in your curriculum, at least at primary level. This saves you having to invest in workbooks which test the most basic comprehension skills (who said this? what colour was the book? How many cars were there in the street? and so on), and helps you avoid giving your children work which is not only often boring but is unlikely to advance their English skills much at all.
As you can see from the Preparatory Level, the only work I tend to do in terms of composition at this age is to help a child distinguish between sentences and non-sentences, and try to construct very simple sentences of his own. But this is a work in progress. Even after you have explained the four essential elements of simple sentence, you will find that for a long while your child, if asked to write an original composition, will still produce groups of words which are not sentences. In some ways, it’s quite an abstract and even arbitrary set of rules you are imposing, and it’s going to take him a while to assimilate them (many adults still struggle in this area). You may also encounter, especially with boys, a reluctance to write which may have more to it than a simple disinclination: some perfectly bright and articulate children do actually find writing difficult and if this happens, you’ll need to find ways to work with that. Below I’ve outlined some of my own experiences with this problem and a suggested solution. These can be applied also to children who are perfectly happy to write original compositions but who get frustrated because they cannot yet express adequately in writing what it is they wish to say.
Potential problems with writing
Writing (meaning original composition as opposed to copy-work and dictation), can appear a complex business to a young child. Some just grab a pen and get on with it, producing reams of stories with apparently little effort. For others the whole process seems daunting. My second son, when he was about eight, said that what he found so difficult was having to think of what he wanted to say, then having to think of how to form the letters and words, and then having to think about how to spell and punctuate it – and all at the same time! When a reluctant writer is made to write at length, the quality of his writing (not to mention his mood!) will deteriorate, despite his best efforts. It may that he simply can’t manage it. It’s up to you as the parent-teacher to work out when your child is being idle and when he genuinely is trying but can’t complete a task for whatever reason. In the case of writing, it could well be that in a boy of six his fine motor control is simply not yet adequate. Working on improving his fine motor skills would be more helpful than just demanding longer and longer pieces of writing from him. But even if his fine motor skills are very good he still may find writing peculiarly frustrating (one of my boys was doing very intricate colouring before he was four but still writes little, by choice, at nine). The usual response is, ‘Well, the more he writes, the easier it will get, so just make him write’, and there is some truth in that. Whenever we write we are training that essential correspondence between brain and fingers which we eventually need to become automatic. It’s a bit like reading – the more the early reader reads, the easier the process becomes until one day he can just ‘read’: suddenly he no longer has to laboriously work out each individual word – he just ‘sees it.’ However, getting to that point with as little frustration as possible will be of benefit to all concerned!
A practical solution
One solution to this problem is to separate the processes involved. Breaking up the processes my young son identified (expressing original thought, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and correct letter formation) can really help reluctant writers to express their thoughts eloquently without being limited by their ability to formulate the written text. Here are a few suggestions to help you do this:
– do not require original written compositions (stories etc.) in the writing lesson
– encourage them by all means but do not treat them as part of ‘lessons’: in other words, don’t require a piece of creative writing from your seven year old and then analyse, criticise and generally tear it to bits because it’s chock full of glaring errors (which it probably will be) and it’s your job to teach him to write correctly. The most likely outcome is that he will either give up writing stories altogether or write them but never show them to you.
– focus instead on studying existing writing (modelling, as it’s sometimes known). How does this work? Well, it’s very simple: just as your child learned to write his letters by copying, here you simply move this to the next level. Have him copy some simple but well chosen sentences. Even a reluctant writer should be OK with that. When he’s fine with this, have him write the same sentences from dictation and see how well he remembers them (go straight to the dictation if you like but let him study the piece first). Let him mark them himself against the original then discuss with you where he went wrong (if he never gets anything wrong, make the sentences more complex, or try him with some sentences he is unfamiliar with). When this becomes too easy, move onto short paragraphs using the same method (copy, mark, write a studied paragraph from dictation, then write an unfamiliar paragraph from dictation). You do not need any textbook or course to show you what to do: you are free to choose just about anything for modelling which you feel is appropriate, and which, just as importantly, your child finds interesting . This might be a passage from the book you are reading aloud to him; a passage from a non-fiction book he is enjoying – history, science, football, space travel, cars…anything, so long as it is very well composed. (One way to judge the quality, by the way, is to read it aloud: well-written work always reads aloud well.)
– use the method of oral composition or narration. In this method, the child expresses to you what he wishes to write and you write it down for him. You will find that he will express himself much more freely, accurately and eloquently than he would if he were having not only to compose his thoughts but also to figure out how to set them down neatly and grammatically correctly (again, you are helping to break down the writing process). If you like, you can use these narrations as material for his handwriting practice/copy work, and/or use them for dictation and/or discuss with him the sentence formation, use of punctuation etc. as he watches you write up his own thoughts. This isn’t ‘cheating’! It’s a slower process but it pays off in the end and there will be fewer tears, I guarantee.
Again, it is interesting that the educator Charlotte Mason did not require written compositions until her pupils reached the age of ten. Perhaps even more telling is Miss Mason’s insistence that none of her pupils be taught ‘composition’ as a formal subject until the age of 14.
So, what about creative writing?
Some argue that this approach quells creativity, but in truth I have found that few children can express their thoughts to their own satisfaction in writing at this age. In fact, as Ruth Beechick argues in her book ‘The 3 R’s’, after a while spent modelling well-constructed writing a child can begin his own creative writing a little later but at a much higher level. Demanding creative writing from a young child and then subjecting what he has produced to a critical analysis in terms of spelling, letter formation, grammar usage etc. (which is likely to be harsh since he has not yet the knowledge to write correctly what he wants to say) is almost guaranteed to be a discouraging experience for both child and parent. One of my young sons had a wonderful vocabulary at this age, expressed himself in complex constructions and had a vivid imagination. “He’ll write amazing stories!”, I said to myself. I was woefully disappointed (and he was almost embarrassed) when his literary efforts fell depressingly far below his oral expression. I had not realised that he simply did not as yet have the skills and the confidence to transfer his wonderfully rich thoughts onto paper. (The happy ending to this is that at 16 the same son scored an A* in his English Language IGSCE. Phew, that’s alright then!)
ENGLISH COMPOSITION OVERVIEW
In this section we’re obviously talking about written compositions: if you look at the Composition ages 7-9 section you’ll see that the emphasis at that age is not on original writing but on modelling and oral narration (similar to the pattern followed by Charlotte Mason). There are three basic stages to writing compositions, one skill flowing from and building upon the preceding one. If a child has not mastered the first, he will stumble over the second; if he cannot master the second, he will struggle with the third. These three stages correspond roughly to the following ages/levels: Mastering sentences: 6/7 -10/11 Mastering paragraphs: 10/11- 12/13 Mastering essays: 13+ Sentences
A common reaction to this schedule is to say ‘How on earth can it take four years to learn how to write a sentence?’ The answer to this is that mastering the basic properties of a sentence is not as easy as it looks (just take a glance at any newspaper or modern novel to find endless examples of constructions which are not actually grammatically correct sentences). For example, at the most basic level you might teach a child that a sentence has four characteristics: It must start with a capital letter It must end with a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark It must contain a doing or being word (a verb) It must express a complete thought/make sense. This is enough when you are looking at simple sentences such as: A bumblebee stung Peter. Here you simply have a subject, a verb and an object together with the requisite punctuation. However, by the age of ten you will be dealing with more complex sentences such as: A bumblebee flew into Peter’s open mouth, stinging the poor boy’s tongue, which swelled up as big and as blue as an aubergine. Here you have a main clause, a subordinate clause with a present participle, several descriptive adjectives and an adjectival phrase. If your child does not know, for example, that a sentence needs to have at least one main clause which contains a subject and a verb, he might easily fall into the common error of writing something like this: A bumblebee flew into Peter’s mouth. Stinging the poor boy’s tongue, which swelled up as big and as blue as an aubergine. The first of these is a sentence but the second is obviously not since it lacks a main clause. This is why the teaching of sentence construction is not finished when your seven year old successfully write a grammatically correct simple sentence. Even at the level of sentence construction, your child will be needing to deal with the more complex grammatical niceties of main clauses, subordinate clauses and phrases (adjectival and adverbial) as well as more complex punctuation (such as colons and semi colons) if he is going to be able to construct grammatically correct compound and complex sentences and this is a lot easier to explain to a nine or ten year old than it is to a six or seven year old! Paragraphs
Since a paragraph consists of several sentences on the same topic arranged in a logical order, sentence construction needs to be thoroughly mastered before a child can move on to writing paragraphs. In fact, if your child has got to the age of 12 or 13 and is writing paragraphs which frequently contain non-grammatical sentences, it is worth stopping and going back the basics of sentence construction until you identify what has not been learned. To master paragraph construction, the main skill needed is to think logically, in order to organise one’s thoughts and/or arguments coherently. This is true whether you are writing about your pet dog or about the economic situation in Europe. Material for paragraphing practice is limitless: you can use any subject, broken down into any number of topics. If your child is a reluctant writer (or just finds his textbook boring) substitute the given topics for others which suit him better. It’s not the subject which matters, it’s the skill of organising one’s thoughts and expressing them coherently and correctly. Most guides will tell you tell you that in outline, paragraph construction consists of – an introductory or topic sentence which introduces the topic in an interesting and eye-catching way – three or four supporting sentences which expand on the topic in a coherent and logical manner – a concluding sentence which sums up the main points of the paragraph in a concise way. It’s not just a random collection of sentences about the same topic! Essays
Once the paragraph is mastered, the essay should not seem at all as daunting as it often does, since an essay is essentially a series of paragraphs on one subject. However, the essay does clearly represent the next level of complexity in composition: just as the paragraph is not a random selection of sentences strung together, so the essay is not just a random selection of paragraphs strung together! Not only must the writer decide on what information to put into each paragraph (and decide how to structure each, following some pattern such as that outlines above), he must also smoothly connect multiple paragraphs together, and frame the whole with a suitable introductory paragraph and a conclusion. Clearly, if a child is struggling to construct grammatically correct sentences and/or effective paragraphs, he is going to find writing a good essay almost impossible, since the internal structure of the essay depends almost entirely on the effectiveness of the paragraphs from which it is constructed. Likewise, the effectiveness of a paragraph depends on the effectiveness of the sentences from which it is itself, in turn, constructed. I hope this explains why teaching sentence structure (and teaching composition generally in a methodical way) is not something you want to rush!
Composition: poetry word games 1
ENGLISH LITERATURE Selective narration and poetry study
READING AND WRITING (A)
Continue Wide Range Readers (publisher Oliver and Boyd) and skills workbooks.
Begin grammar work and early comprehension, tense work. Use Junior English book 1 (publisher Ginn and Company).
Continue with Early Spellings Books publisher Schofield and Sims.
Spelling test every week. Schonell Essential Spelling List (publisher W H Smith). Composition every week either using pictures to stimulate story or ideas eg a magic carpet ride. Discuss ideas and words that could be used. Use dictionary you made in year 1 to add new words to vocabulary.
Continue practising handwriting in exercise book, once a week., using Nelson book (publisher Thomas Nelson and sons).
Effective Comprehension book 1 (publisher Schofield and Sims).
Springboard English workbook 1 (publisher Schofield and Sims).
OUTLINE PLAN FOR ENGLISH SKILLS AGES 6-8
– handwriting book (Getty and Dubay Handwriting from Ichthus resources), 3 to 4 lines- 4 days a week
– Copy work and dictation from child’s prayers, poems and reading books
– grammar from book, First Language Lessons, by Jessie Wise.
To ensure the children are reading well and are developing their reading skills by listening to them read aloud to me each day and to provide books for them to read that will challenge them.
Regular library visits.
Poetry- read aloud once a week, memorise and copy work
Read aloud from book lists, use narration techniques.
Further English Sources How To Teach Your Children Shakespeare Ken Ludwig
Use unit studies to incorporate and integrate subjects regularly. It is ok to take a break from the set courses to enjoy immersion in a topic that we find interesting. Unit studies should incorporate independent research, outings to relevant museums or activities, discussion, sharing of ideas, critical thinking and logic, passing on new found knowledge to others in varying formats (retelling, plays, art work, project books, lap books, computer designed newsletters)
Ideas for unit studies:
A local famous person