Saturday, November 22, 2008

A routine for teaching English (at last)

From all the subjects I’m teaching my teens, the single most important academic subject, I believe, is English. It’s not because I’m a Shakespeare fan. Nor do I expect my kids to grow up to be authors. No, I consider English so crucial because it’s a basic skill that my kids will use in any career. Engineers, teachers, doctors, policemen – all have to write reports, requests, summaries, invoices, proposals… something. Others often judge a person’s level of ability and intelligence by their writing skills.

Thus, I am stressing English. And I don’t mean just reading literary classics like they do in our local public high school; I’m talking about reading literature and doing drills in vocabulary, grammar, and writing. Beating those skills into them through practice, practice, practice.

However, until this past week, I still didn’t have a method to my madness. I’d assign daily literature reading plus vocabulary exercises, and then sporadically I’d give them a grammar lesson from a workbook. Or a creative writing assignment. I had no strategy, no schedule; I wanted to throw all the information at the kids, but I wasn’t doing it systematically. When I recently noticed that the grammar workbooks were several hundred pages long, I panicked! I’d never get through it all, and time was slipping away. My oldest is a junior, so I have very little time left to teach him!

I assign the literary works as long-term reading assignments, and the essays based on the reading as long-term writing assignments. I expect the kids to work on them every day. This has been our standard. Read a book; write an essay. And on top of that, I assigned a vocabulary exercise every single day. But that left no time for grammar. And when would be do those clever creative writing assignments I’d dreamed up?

Then it hit me. I can’t believe that I didn’t think of it sooner:

Monday – vocabulary
Tuesday – grammar
Wednesday – vocabulary
Thursday – grammar
Friday – creative writing

It’s so simple. Why did it take me since last January, when I first started homeschooling, to think of it?

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)