I remember!

Years ago when I was in junior high school, Frau Cooley, my German teacher, spent two years of her life teaching us to speak German.  This task obviously included tons of memorization!  It was such fun!  How did she do this?  With patience and a grin.  I can still see her at the front of the classroom with her tiny frame, long brown pony tail, and a twinkle in her eye, encouraging us to go through the vocabulary yet again!  We also memorized short quotes or excerpts in German.  These were the first things I remember memorizing without music as a help-and I did it!  Now when I want to memorize something (or help others to do so) I think of Frau Cooley, and do it her way.  Start at the end and finish at the beginning.

It makes perfect sense.  Generally when you memorize something you are strongest where you started.  If you start at the beginning, you become more uncertain as you go.  If you learn the final few lines or sentences first, your confidence increases as you continue reciting.  Let’s use Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice, as an example:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.     


While I haven’t retained most of the German vocabulary I drilled in that classroom decades back, I am regularly grateful for the skills I learned.  They have been used in my own life, and taught to others as I teach.  Frau Cooley, thank you!









Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary

When prepping a room that needs to be painted, you clear the walls, patch the holes, sand if needed, and then you can apply the primer and paint.  If you skip any preliminary steps, you will have an inferior job at the end.  There is no way around that.  Learning to read, write, and speak well requires certain steps be followed too.

First thing to tackle with your child is phonics.  There are 70 basic phonograms in the English language.  You can purchase a set of phonogram flashcards online for under $20, or you can make one.  Simply search the internet for phonogram rules. Look for a complete list of the phonograms, the sounds they make, and the rules to know which sound it will have.  Example: “G” is generally soft when followed by e, i, and y. If you and your children memorize the rules and sounds, reading becomes much easier, spelling is less mysterious, and frustration levels drop.  (Words which we have borrowed from other languages have their own rules.)


When phonics are solid and reading is becoming smoother, spelling can be introduced with less stress.  Why we ask a child who isn’t comfortable putting words together to begin taking them apart, I will never understand.  If you need to put the speller away until second grade or so, that’s okay.  Once the foundation is intact, your child may just surprise you with how quickly they learn their spelling words.  Which brings me to another quandary.  Why assign lists of words your children already know?  I found my children were much less resistant when I tested the list orally first.  If they knew them, I tested the next list the next day.  If there were only a few which were unfamiliar, they wrote them out on paper for penmanship, and we tested just those words the following day.  If a majority of the words were misspelled orally then we used that as the assigned list for study.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to accelerate or slow down as needed.  If your child needs to split the lesson into smaller chunks, go for it.  If it takes more than one week to learn the words, take the time needed.  In the end, they will be learned.  No pressure.  No failure.


As my children entered their “tweens,” I moved them from spelling lists to vocabulary pages.  At this point I became a bit of a ogre about their assignments.  Each list of ten words was to be completed by the end of the week neatly typed in the proper format.  The following were required:

  • Each word numbered 1-10
  • The correct spelling of each word
  • Part of speech labeled
  • Definition of the word
  • Following the numbered portion of the assignment on the lower part of the page, they were required to use each word correctly in a sentence.  If they could group some of the words into fewer than ten sentences, that was fine so long as there were no run-on sentences and everything made sense.  (I think the current record is three sentences for all ten words.)

You could assign fewer words if that suits your situation better, but I found that a list of more than ten became cumbersome for everyone involved.

Which words to assign?  That’s up to you.  You can continue using a text such as McGuffey’s Speller, or you can begin to extract words from the course of study you are using.  Unfamiliar words from their literature studies, science unit, or history assignments create a pertinent and user-friendly list.   If you notice words which are consistently misspelled in their writing, they are great candidates as well.  Mom can even participate in the vocabulary exercises with them!

Language development is such an important part of preparing our children for adulthood.  Take the time needed on each step so that the foundation you build is without cracks.  Then the sky is the limit!


Handcart list- language arts box

We live in pioneer country; this list is a result of a question posed to me by a friend.  “What books would you load into a handcart and push to Missouri if need be?”  While the list is a bit long for that actual event, it does represent the items without which I would feel lost as I teach.  This list contains my thoughts on why each item is on the list, and how I use them.  Remember each resource is a favorite because it lends itself to being used in different ways for different learners. This list focuses on language arts and various ways to expand your studies.  (If you are unfamiliar with the learning levels, please refer to my blogs dated 2/26-28/2013.)

Discovery level-

  • McGuffey’s Readers (Revised Edition, set of seven books)- the Primer begins with the alphabet and very basic beginning reading.  The books progress through to the Sixth Reader, which is a great text for teaching vocabulary, comprehension, elocution, and vocal reading on a high school level.  I have used the books as readers,  a dictation source,  presentation pieces, and a resource for excerpts to incorporate into our history study.
  • McGuffey’s Speller- The companion to the McGuffey Readers, this book covers spelling lists beginning with basic reading/spelling words through vocabulary for high school learners.  I don’t have my students study every word on every list.  Some are archaic, and unnecessary; others are already known by the students, and can be skipped.  The lists in the back of the book contains foreign words and words that are not used every day.  These lists are some of my favorites.  Look them up in a dictionary, and you can have a vocabulary list for Mom for that week!
  • Phonics rule flash cards- the English language is much more phonetic than most people think.  Over 90% of the words we use follow phonics rules, and if your children are taught  the sounds of each letter and the rules that govern that letter, reading and writing will be so much simpler.  Phonogram cards should have both the sounds for the individual letters and the rules for them, as well as the sounds and rules for the most common blends i.e. “ea”, “th”, “ough”, etc.
  • Reading phone- two elbows, and one straight 3 inch piece of PVC makes one of the handiest reading/elocution tools ever!  Put them together so they look like a phone receiver and talk into it.  If your young one is struggling to move from decoding to fluency, or your teen needs help cleaning up the “um”, “like”, and “you know” from there public speaking pieces, have them speak into it as they talk.  They will be able to hear themselves clearly; it will make smoothing things out much easier.  My daughter even discovered that having her son use it on the days when he can’t seem to “quiet down” works wonders.  He can hear how loud he actually is and is able to correct it.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.  Use these with older discovery learners.
  • Mad-Libs- I love these priceless, silly gems in tablet form.  You can find them at book stores, second-hand, or on the web.  Help your children learn the proper terms for the various parts of speech as you giggle your way through these fill-in stories.  I am still giving them as gifts to my adult children.  They are just fun.
  • Lots of paper (lined and unlined), pencils, erasers, crayons- having the tools for writing, creating, and experimenting with letters and words encourages growth;  not having them can prove to be frustrating to Moms and budding authors.  Doesn’t look good?  No problem.  Toss it, and start over.
  • Quality picture books- look for well-constructed phrases, clear pictures, and text that is fun to read.  Illustrations can be watercolor, photographs, pencil drawings, or any other media.  Be aware of harsh, creepy, or distasteful pictures, or texts that are mindless, dark, or introduce unsavory topics.

Analysis level-

  • 1828 Webster’s Dictionary- the ORIGINAL American Dictionary.  Definitions change with time and usage.  In order to understand what was meant in centuries’ old documents, you need a dictionary that defines words the way they were defined when used.  Make use of it when studying early European or American documents/speeches, or even your scriptures.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.
  • Solid literature- There is so much great literature out there.  From board books to the classic books for adult reading, there is no way to read it all.  Don’t even try.  Not everyone will fall in love with the same book, or author, or genre; that is as it should be.  Dabble a bit, and find the ones that you love, just make sure that it is good reading, not twaddle.   Does it connect with you on an emotional level?  Does it teach you something?  Does it have real words, complex sentences, and require thought?  Then enjoy!  Leave the dumbed-down, dark, and junky books alone.  Don’t waste your time.  Great reads are out there!
  • Lit. cube- I have two.  One for discovery learners.  One for older learners.  Using them can encourage discussion about the books you are reading, and can take the fear out of writing about them.  (See post dated 4/12/2013 on Lit. Cubes for full instruction.)

Application level-

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White- This small book will help keep your writing clean, clear, and readable.  It covers the fundamentals of writing better than anything else I have found.
  • Shurley Grammar Kits- learning to parse and diagram the English language is the most effective way to lay a foundation for writing and reading.
  • Classic literature- See solid literature above.