Continue with modelling and self correction of longer pieces of writing and/or begin work on original compositions as suggested by your English coursebook.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE English Explained 2 (grammar and composition); Schonell spellings; own poetry work
LITERATURE Use selected texts for simple character and textual analysis
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 9- 11
It’s not until about age 9 or 10 that I ‘officially’ introduce more complex grammar, including naming parts of speech, subject and predicate and so on, though most of it will have been mentioned in earlier lessons. I know many courses (such as Jolly Grammar) do this much earlier, but I have found that, at least for children who ‘get’ writing later rather than earlier, it is much more helpful to have them focus on punctuation and spelling rather than naming parts of speech. Obviously, a child could identify nouns and verbs much earlier than this but I haven’t noticed that it actually makes him write any better. On the other hand, explaining clearly what makes a sentence a sentence rather than just a phrase (and showing how to punctuate the sentence so that it can be clearly understood to the reader) is practically useful to him and he will (hopefully) use it to improve his writing. It’s interesting that the well known educator Charlotte Mason did not teach formal grammar until her pupils reached the age of ten. I was a bit shocked when I first read that but I came to see that there is a lot of wisdom to it. If you think about it, for a child who is not yet writing by choice but only when lessons demand it, knowing the finer points of grammar such as names of parts of speech is a bit meaningless. This site, English bananas, has plenty of free worksheets/ebooks which you can download for grammar practice.
Ages 10/11 – 13
From 10/11 -13 I use a standard grammar textbook (sadly one which is out of print and difficult to source so I am presently looking for a readily-available substitute). One option is the O.U.P series aimed at ages 11-14. Grammar to 14 is sound enough if a little uninspiring.
Comprehension 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.
Middle and Secondary level
For older children, comprehensions can serve more of a purpose inasmuch as they can introduce a child to the more subtle aspects of writing. Good comprehensions will stretch a child to look beyond the obvious to find implicit themes, hidden meanings and oblique references. Likewise, they will have a strong emphasis on language analysis (why does the writer use this word? What other words might he have used? Why is this phrase so striking and memorable?), and this is an area which does need a good deal of practice as it possesses a vocabulary and type of questioning all of its own (see the language analysis page for more ideas). Understanding what a writer is saying is only the first level of reading comprehension: trying to explain how the writer uses language and structure to achieve his effects is far more challenging. These are the kinds of skills you’ll need to focus more on as you approach GCSE level (they are also essential if your child intends to sit an English Literature exam). Most secondary English texts will have some work on comprehension, but if you want a book specifically on this subject, this one is not too bad: Comprehension to 14 by Geoff Barton. The older edition is much cheaper and, as one Amazon reviewer writes, has some advantages over the newest offering: “This older edition provides an excellent selection of texts, in my opinion. They are very classical, and may not appeal to everyone, but provide food for thought for gifted or interested children. Unfortunately the new edition of the book panders to mediocrity.” I can’t quite agree on describing the chosen texts as ‘classical’: the section on drama, for example, includes a TV sketch from French and Saunders and a rather boring excerpt from an Inspector Morse episode, and many of the offerings in the drama and non-fiction sections are contemporary. Still, if you are selective there are some very useful exercises here, included some quite thought provoking extension exercises, mainly in the prose and poetry sections. Another suggestion for ages 11+ is Developing Comprehension Skills by David Kitchen. I haven’t used this yet but hope to review it soon. The book which precedes this – Developing Basic Comprehension Skills – might be more suited to either a younger child or a child who had no experience of written comprehension.
This is a topic which comes much more to the fore in English Literature than in English Language, but there is an important place for it here too, since to read a text appreciatively it helps to have some understanding of how the writer is achieving his effects – in other words, of why the writing ‘works’. Obviously, the more aware a child is made of these literary devices and how they are employed, the more likely he is to begin to use them more effectively in his own writing. Again, though, as with comprehension, I would tend to say that formal language analysis is best kept for the middle and secondary levels. It’s true that you could teach a seven or nine year old what alliteration or personification are: he might understand, and perhaps be able to identify examples or even create examples of his own when required to, but, as with the formal terms of grammar one has to ask, “Is it really going to help him write well and appreciate stories more if he knows the names for these literary devices?” It is a constant complaint of GSCE examiners that pupils frequently identify/ name literary devices but show absolutely no understanding of the effects those devices are intended to produce. Rather, the examiners advise, offer a decent piece of analysis that perhaps doesn’t even use the correct technical term – you’ll get more credit for it! If you read with your child and discuss writing in any detail you can draw out his appreciation of language long before you need to give him the technical names with which to articulate his understanding. If we ‘get technical’ too soon, there’s a danger that we produce a ten year old who bandies around words like alliteration but is hard pressed to explain to anyone exactly what purpose the alliteration he has identified serves. There is a certain level of maturity needed for proper, technical literary analysis. So, where do you start? Secondary level comprehension exercises are one area in which basic literary analysis will begin to be studied (see the Comprehension page for more on that). Standard English textbooks for the 11-14 age range should contain at least some exercises in analysis. Letts/Lonsdale offer three separate books for the three years covering this age group in their ‘Essentials’ range. You can see the book aimed at 11-12 year old here: Year 7 English Coursebook. Having said that, a good amount of the technical language of literary analysis will be easy to introduce if you have been studying poems with your child. By the end of primary you might already have encountered alliteration, personification, metaphor, simile, imagery, perhaps even oxymorons, juxtaposition and onomatopoeia. Teaching the names for these devices and how they are used to create effects will be much easier if your child is already familiar with seeing them used in poems and understanding what they do. For the study of poetry in particular, the book Developing Poetry Skills by Geoff Barton is aimed at the 11-14 age range (though once your child has been taught these poetry analysis skills, there isn’t much to add to take him up to 14+/ GCSE level so this might be the only book you need).
Composition Age 9-13
Somewhere in this age group, you can start to expect better quality writing as the child begins to apply what he has learnt in handwriting skills, basic grammar rules, spelling accuracy and so on and pull it all together as he begins to form his own written compositions. If you’ve been very clear and methodical about the basic rules, and your child has been exposed to (and has been modelling) good literature, he should at this point start to see good results. You’re not expecting full-blown essays, but by about 12 you can expect properly punctuated sentences, correctly spelled words, effective use of vocabulary and short paragraphs which stick to the point and say what the writer wants to say – all in an attractive, legible hand. If you achieve that, your child already has an advantage over many adults! As Ruth Beechick points out in The Three Rs, this is the time to branch out into a wider variety of writing – not just standard prose passages but dialogues, letters, news reports, for example. At this point, you can continue with the modelling, but you can encourage the child to do this for himself, rather than have you dictate. To do this, he would find a piece of writing in a style he would like to imitate, study the piece for grammar, spelling, vocabulary etc, making simple notes to help him remember. After a gap of a few days he might then try to re-write the passage (using his notes to help). Finally, he would compare his version to the original. In this way he becomes used to really looking closely at what he is reading and having an eye for what makes good writing work. As ever, discussion with you about why the writing works well is very important. At this point, you will find that your child naturally begins to write more of his own compositions modelled on those he likes. Help him to edit and improve/correct where necessary. This provides a bridge between modelling and independent, original work, but your child has a distinct advantage over one who has simply been asked from day one to ‘write creatively’, with little guidance. Towards the upper end of this age group, say 12, you can start to focus more formally on how to construct the sort of paragraphs which will be needed later for essay writing. Click here for some ideas on paragraphing. However, if you are happy with how your child is progressing, you can leave the more formal study until 13+ and treat it as a pre-amble to essay writing.
Moving on in literature, ages 9-11
When your child is happy with writing and it isn’t a chore introduce the habit of choosing at least one of the books he is reading and getting him to make notes on various aspects of the text. This isn’t the kind of ‘book report’ you find in American syllabi, it’s a very simple record which children used to be encouraged to keep of the books they had read. On a piece of paper (which could be used as a bookmark), he would write the title and author of the book and the date he began to read it. As he progresses, he could note the setting (time and place of the story) and the main characters (spelled correctly and perhaps with a brief character sketch of each). Whilst reading he could note down any words or phrases which are unknown, or which particularly strike him. Finally, when he has finished the book he could write a short summary. If he keeps all these notes in a folder, he could look back over what he has read in the year. At around 10 or 11, you can introduce the idea of simple textual analysis. This would consist simply of taking a particularly striking or memorable passage and actually trying to work out what it is that the author has done to make it so effective. Here you would begin to look at vocabulary use, syntax etc. (are there any unusual words? Are the words in an odd order? How do the characters speak? Does the length of sentences vary in a particular pattern?). At the same time, if you’ve been working on poetry composition in your English Language lessons, then your child will probably be interested in doing some closer study of well known poems. Children of ten are quite capable of studying a poem to identify techniques such as verse-form, rhythm and rhyme, structure etc. If they are keen, help them identify similes and metaphors, alliteration and so on. If they are trying to write their own poems, knowing these terms might help. And, of course, you are laying an excellent foundation for later work in the teenage years.
The Famous Five problem… What if your child doesn’t want to read ‘good’ books? What if he’s more keen on ploughing through the whole Famous Five series, or Beast Quest or Artemis Fowl…or any other popular series he’ll find in the local library? Unless you’re going to put your foot down and say no, you’ll have to work the more ‘classic’ books in side by side. If you read a lot, and your children are used to having good books read to them, they won’t baulk at your suggestions; and, as long as the books you suggested are really good books, there shouldn’t be too many complaints! Classic books really should be great to read, not something we have to trudge through just because a book list tells us it’s a worthy thing to do. Children of this age don’t usually have much time for that sort of thing – and, so long as they are prepared to put in the effort reading, they should be free to dislike a book even if it’s highly recommended (my own husband is very well read yet can’t abide Dickens or Austen, with the result that no-one around here except me reads these authors much…).
Fairy stories, myths and epic tales 9-10 The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliffe Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. If your child likes fairy tales, you’ll want to invest in a few of these. There are several, all named after a colour: here is the Blue Fairy Book. These are not about the sweet sorts of fairies with wings – they are often of the dark and mysterious ‘faerie’ tale genre. Beowulf. There are various editions for children:
Beowulf: Dragonslayer, by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Typically reliable, well-written with simple but effective black and white illustrations Beowulf the Warrior, by Ian Serraillier. A well- regarded verse version from the 1950s, with simple b&w illustrations Beowulf, ill. by John Howe. If your child really gets into this tale in a big way (as ours have: we have eight or so versions of it), you can’t beat this one for superb colour illustrations. Beowulf by Penelope Hicks (Kingfisher epics). This one has very modern eye-catching illustrations and appeals visually, but I think the text is a bit too plain to be very inspiring. 10-11 Lord of the Rings. A must read saga, at whatever age you choose to read it, in whatever edition! Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green. A more complex and satisfying retelling than the Osborne one. Robin Hood by Charles Vivian. An excellent re-telling, wonderful to read aloud, and the illustrations are very appealing (they comprise a series of the most famous illustrations of this tale from various ages)
YEAR 6 (2)
READING AND WRITING
Continue Wide Range Readers publisher Oliver and Boyd) and associated workbooks.
Grammar and comprehension work, Junior English 4.
Composition work, creative writing and early opinion writing eg My favourite book, film etc.
Continue dictionary and thesaurus work.
Spelling test every week, Schonell.
Effective Comprehension book 4.
Springboard English workbook 4.
Topic work eg Anglo Saxon history, map reading in geography, bones of the body in science.