Jazzing up the language arts curriculum

tiredofsameoldYesterday afternoon at the pool I casually asked the lifeguard when the pool hours drop to evening-only. “They don’t,” he said. “As of next week, we’re open only on weekends.”

The end of the pool, to me, signifies the end of summer. It means all the lifeguards are back in school. It means the water starts getting just a little chilly. It means that instead of our days being organized around what time we can walk to the pool, they must be organized around something else… and that something else is schoolwork.

Since we homeschool, our start date is fluid, but we usually begin around the time that the pool closes. And that time, I now realize, is this coming Monday.

Panic hour.

Long before the kids actually sit at the table in a homeschool classroom — or at their desks in “real” school — the teacher/parent/instructor spends a ton of time on behind-the-scenes prep and curriculum selection. So what I have for you here is a glimpse of our language arts curriculum to maybe make that selection a little easier for you, whether you teach in a classroom, at your dining room table, or under the old oak tree outside.


The curriculum products below apply to upper-elementary students and some to early middle school students. I’ll be using these for my fourth- and fifth-graders.

steppingoutDaily writing: Stepping Out Writing Journal

The kids need to write daily, and I need to have something already printed and placed in their binders that they can just grab and complete on their own. This journal, which will last six weeks if you do it every single day, contains prompts and activities on the major forms of writing (creative, descriptive, expository, narrative, and persuasive), plus skill builders like finding antonyms for vocabulary words, using literary devices, and revising sentences.

PS: For a limited time you can download a free sample of this journal!


Project writing: Easy Essays

Ah, essays. Do your students recoil when you mention “essay”? In our culture the phrase “It’s time to write an essay” carries the same fear as “It’s time to get a shot!” when, in reality, neither are nearly as bad as they sound. This six-workshop series walks students and instructors through the process of creating an entire essay with worksheets, games, and activities to build writing skills. It’s easy to follow (there’s a 16-page instructor guide) and also to grade with five pages of rubrics and evaluation materials. It’s totally DIY; even if you, as the instructor, have no clue how to write an essay, you can teach this.

Later in the year we’ll be taking this same model for an essay and using it to write a research paper on an animal. So keep an eye on the website for a new essay course!

Grammar: Language Arts Daily Work ladailywork2

Calling this simply a grammar activity is like calling the Sistine Chapel “nice.” It’s so much more than grammar! It’s 25 pages each with multiple activities on parts-of-speech, vocabulary, Greek and Latin roots, idioms, metaphors, similes, capitalization, punctuation, dialogue, homophones, synonyms/antonyms, brainstorming, spelling, verb tense, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, contractions, and writing all rolled into one. Whew!

The teacher key is included as well.

What I love about this is that every day it’s a quick grammar lesson that covers several topics. After the kids complete it we sit down to go over it, and I make notes on what gives them trouble. That directs lessons for the next week.

Reading: Novel Conversations doorinthewall

It is my great joy to report that both older kids are voracious readers. I made a list of books for them to read the first quarter… and they read them over the summer. However, this will be the first year that we analyze the books beyond talking about the characters, the setting, and the basic conflict.

Novel Conversations provide a way for parents and teachers to discuss classic and modern novels in a conversational manner with their students. With discussion questions as well as written reflection questions for each chapter, Novel Conversations supply the basis for beginning literary analysis. In addition, these guides supply background information such as setting, themes, characters, and biographical information about the author.

Reading: Short Storiesemporernewclothescover

Besides novels, we’ll also be reading a lot of short stories this year, and using Literature Lessons to analyze them. These lessons include the text of a classic story, author biography, and basic comprehension questions, but there’s MUCH MORE. Each lesson challenges your students to use their critical thinking skills and creativity to complete fun activities like a vocabulary crossword puzzle, brainstorming exclamatory words, and creative writing prompts.




This is my personal favorite! One of the biggest surprises to me as a parent is just how quickly children can memorize things, including poetry. But beyond memorization, we use these poetry analysis guides as an introduction to rhyme scheme, literary devices, poetic forms, and poetic interpretation.

Other stuff!

But there’s more! On the Wordplay Workshop site we have tons of cool materials, like free grammar worksheets, creative writing materials, reports and organizers, games, and activities. We use them all from time to time in our homeschool. Each one is student-approved!

Happy writing! (and reading, and spelling, and learning!)



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