Monday, January 9, 2017

Teaching Language Arts without a Curriculum

This week as part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair, we are exploring the theme of Playing with Words: the Language Arts.

Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum

Don't think the irony was lost on me.  I know that last week I talked about how we choose curriculum, and now I'm talking about how we cover an entire range of subjects without curriculum.  So here's the deal.  I do use curriculum, but only as one part of the whole.  I carefully choose programs that I believe will meet the needs of each child.  For language arts, I'm a huge fan of Logic of English Foundations and Five in a Row, in case you're wondering.  However, I am not a slave to the curriculum, and when we reach a point where we want/need a break, I am comfortable letting life be our writing and grammar curriculum for awhile.  Interesting article:  The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar.

So what kind of natural, purposeful and/or engaging activities can I offer my children that will help them develop their writing, grammar and spelling skills if it isn't derived from a workbook?  Some of these are activities we already do as part of our daily routine or lifestyle, but I've been brainstorming additional activities.

Practice Real Writing
  • Write Letters (and thank you cards!) - To family, friends, favorite authors, politicians, missionaries, or even companies or businesses to ask questions
  • Send Post Cards - Fun way to share with family/friends, but I'm also going to make it a point to have them write a postcard home so they can record the best parts of the trip while it is still fresh, and so they'll have fun mail waiting for them 
  • Journals - For kids who don't like traditional journal prompts or "can't think of anything to write," consider a field trip journal or nature journal, if you don't already.
  • Try a non-curriculum writing book - This book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, is specifically designed to be low-pressure and non-formulaic, and was a huge hit in my house.  In fact, I need to get it back out!
  • Write Lists - Grocery lists, to-do lists, vacation packing lists, or brainstorming ideas . . . lists help us boost memory, organize thoughts and prioritize.  One of my children is especially motivated by lists and crossing things off, so that's another benefit.
Researching and writing lists for family vacation

Incorporate Technology
  • Weekly email updates to grandma - Writing to grandma or grandpa will probably elicit more thoughtful (and grammatically accurate) letters than emailing or texting friends.
  • Start a family Newsletter - This requires computer skills as well, so it is a good option for the older elementary student or middle/high schooler student to practice typing, layout and design, etc.
  • Write a Blog - Obviously this will need to be done with more oversight for privacy reasons, but when writing within a niche, it also requires planning and research, which are valuable to the writing process 
  • Online Games - ABCYa has games for Pre-K through 5th grade and multiple subjects (choose grade, then Letters); and the Best Free Grammar Websites is a large collection of online resources for students of all ages.  I'm sure there's tons of others, especially if you do the subscription based services.  

Read It, Hear It, Speak It
  • Be an Example - First and foremost, be a good example!  Let your children see you reading, or keeping a journal for pleasure, as well as reading for research/knowledge.
  • Offer Good Books - Strew interesting (and well-written) books that will draw their attention and capture their imagination, and let them pursue them on their own without coaxing, reading it to you, or requiring any literary analysis.  Just let them read for the sake of reading.
  • Read Aloud - I don't think I need to explain the benefits of reading aloud, but if you need further convincing, Andrew Pudewa's talk, Nurturing Competent Communicators, is excellent.
  • Audio Books - The read-along CDs are great for young readers, but audio books in general are nice for quiet time, family time or traveling!  We listen to short stories over lunch and regular audio books when traveling distances.
  •  Memory Work - Memorizing poetry (or Shakespeare) helps internalize good writing. This does translate to their speech--I've seen it happen! If it's in their thoughts, it will make its way into their writing. We are still working through Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization {my review} and my boys enjoy the poetry selections.
  • Fun Grammar Books  I plan to start adding books that teach grammar to our library lists to liven up our grammar studies! 
  • Word Puzzles - Mad Libs, crosswords, word searches or even logic puzzles 
  • Narrate - a book, movie or play, it doesn't matter what. What you are aiming for, is the art of narration. Learning to organize your thoughts and express them coherently is an important step to develop before trying to them put those thoughts on paper. 
  • Word of the Day - Choose a word of the day program to build vocabulary skills through casual exposure. Even if you just practice using one word conversationally for the week, it's better than no effort at all. Here's another Word of the Day, especially for elementary students.
  • Reading Challenges - We are currently doing the Read Aloud Revival Challenge, but you can find tons of reading lists/challenges online, or set your own goals based on your child's ages, needs and motivation.  {My kids enjoy the Book-It program too.}
An {old} reading chart I made, inspired by a love of LEGO.

More Fun Activities
  • Write a script - I often find my oldest at the computer, typing up little skits for the kids to act out. Getting the grammar and spelling correct is helpful for making sure everyone understands their lines! 
  • Join a Drama Club - Okay, so this may be a bit of a stretch for some, but even if you just arrange to put on a program with your co-op, acting in plays is a great because they'll be reading scripts, memorizing work, internalizing what makes good writing, and it's just fun!
  • Write comics - For the child who loves comics and graphic novels, they may be especially motivated to develop characters and plots through a comic series, and there's a lot of thought that goes into word choice, how to use onomatopoeia effectively, and allowing the illustrations to help tell the story.   
  • Caption It!  Find an interesting picture and write a caption about it.  You can expand on this idea by having them do a five minute free-write on a picture. 
  • Board Games - Story Cubes, Scrabble, Bananagrams, Tapple, Boggle, Taboo, Scattergories, and so much more out there.  Just Google.  
  • Find Good Experiences - When they're little they'll enjoy story hours at the library.  as they get older, attend plays or Shakespeare in the park, and go to book readings.  Our co-op invited a comic book writer to come in and speak with the children, and that was a HUGE hit.  {They boys also met a local artist at a comic book store once when he was , and while that's more "art" than "writing," it's still related, and they have a sketch from him as a keepsake.}  Check with libraries, books stores, local colleges and the like to see what interesting experiences you can find!

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are writing about Playing with Words this week:

All posts will be live by Monday, January 9th at noon EST.

Delight Directed High School English by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Act Your Part Well- 2017 VCF by Lisa @ Golden Grasses
The Search For Language by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays
Our Top Picks for Language Arts by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool
Multiple Approaches to Language Arts in 2017 by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
How We Cover the Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Use Your Words by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
The Art of Perfecting Macarons by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life
Loving Languages Every Day by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind
Speech Therapy & Elementary Latin by Yvie @ Gypsy Road
The Readin' and Writin' Part of Homeschool by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed
Children Who Love Books by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home
Customizing High School Language Credits by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool
A Poetry Feast by Sarah @ Delivering Grace
Teaching Language Arts without Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart
I know your pain and it is worth it! by Kim @ Good Sweet Love
Language Arts: Our Style by Annette @ A Net in Time
Words! Words! Words! by Lisa M @McClanahan 7
10 Wonderful Word Games (+1) by Lori @ At Home: where life happens
Finding the Right Words by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break
What About Reading Comprehension? by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
Teaching Grammar and Writing Through Discussion by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Do you have any posts about your language arts curriculum or how you "do" language arts?  Please share!

Week 1: How We Choose Curriculum
Week 2: Teaching Language Arts without a Curriculum
Week 3: When You Don't Have a Math Plan
Week 4: Exploring the World with Living Books
Week 5: Seeking Beauty: The Arts, and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World

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  1. Thanks for some great ideas, Brittany! I love the letter writing idea. We don't write nearly enough letters and snail mail them anymore.

    1. No, we don't write enough either, but I'd like to get into the habit of doing it more often.

  2. Wow! Lots of good ideas! Love it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. wow! Great stuff here. Going to pin for future reference. :)

  4. These are all great ideas. I've gotten the biggest bang for my buck by doing read alouds, free reading, copywork, and narrations (both oral and written). And simply encouraging young children whenever they have the urge to write or read. Every time one of my kids makes a handmade birthday card or writes a birthday list for Grandma, they are reinforcing those language arts skills.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Ahh yes, I should probably put copywork on the list. Except my boys loathe copywork! I see the value in it, but they sure don't . . . yet!