Let’s not make teaching Language Arts more complicated than it needs to be. The natural approach simplifies how you teach it, but that does not mean it is ineffective. In reality, teaching Language Arts naturally is powerful and even fun.
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Resources to Help you Teach Language Arts Naturally
1. Language and Thinking for Young Children: Oral Language Manual for Parents and Teacher of Kindergarten and Primary Children by Dr. Ruth Beechick and Jeannie Nelson. This book is a great resource for teaching language skills from pre-school up to first grade, or for 2nd or 3rd graders whose parents have chosen to delay formal reading instruction.
2. The Three Rs by Dr. Ruth Beechick. This short but thorough book is designed as a guide to help you teach language skills, reading, and math from kindergarten through 3rd grade. Highly recommended whether you want to design your own curriculum or to feel more confident in your ability to teach.
3. You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Dr. Ruth Beechick. This book is a “teacher’s manual” for grades 4-8 covering how to teach reading, writing, math, history & social studies, science & health, music & art, and the Bible. This is another resource by Dr. Beechick perfect for creating your own curriculum or as your personal “teacher education”.
4. Brave Writer. More than just about teaching students to write, Brave Writer helps you to create a language rich environment (see below) and a lifestyle of learning. Brave Writer was, and still is, my go-to resource when it comes to teaching Language Arts. And it even ignited a love of writing in me.
5. The Writer’s Jungle teaches parents how to teach writing. This provided the foundation for teaching writing in our homeschool. And the principles can help you adapt any writing assignment.
6. Help for High School teaches students academic writing forms. Both of my sons are in college now, so I can say from experience—yes it prepares students for college or whatever writing they will encounter.
Ways to Create a Language Rich Environment
7. Place book baskets around your home. You can choose books to put in it around a theme, a time period you are learning about, or a specific age (like picture books for your youngest learners). Or simply put a variety of different genres and age-level books in each. Place them where your kids spend time.
8. Go to the library on a regular basis (perfect for finding books for your baskets). And while you are there, be sure to check out a variety of genres. Fiction and non-fiction, drawing books, books filled with science experiments, biographies and anything else your children are interested in.
9. Hang out at book stores for fun. Find a quiet place to sip on a drink and read or write.
10. Make the reading and writing environments special. Comfy chairs, pillows, and blankets are a must. Light a fire during the winter, create a special writing nook stocked with all the supplies a writer needs. Nurture an environment that invites kids to linger over reading and writing.
11. Model the value of reading and writing to your children. Fill your home with bookshelves, read to and alongside your children, tell them about what you are reading, and find ways to incorporate writing into your own life. Modeling is one of your most powerful educational tools. (And you might just enjoy it, too!)
12. Create a safe environment for kids to learn to read and write. Be patient with your new readers, wait till the child is ready, don’t pick apart every piece of writing, give them a voice, curb your inner editor.
13. Invest in good writing tools. Why does this matter? Because you want writing to be an enjoyable experience for children and teens—something they look forward to and associate with good memories. Of course, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, but try to find the best fit for your family while making it special. My boys both didn’t like using pens because it was harder to correct mistakes, but recently I’ve discovered FriXion pens and love them!
15. Give them something to listen to. When my kids gave up their naps, we still had an afternoon quiet time in their rooms. Audio books and CDs are perfect “quiet” activities. My oldest also enjoyed listening to stories as he fell asleep at night Jim Wiess CDs (he’s a great storyteller!) and Adventures in Odyssey were popular with both of my boys.
16. Talk. A lot. Maybe that seems obvious, but as kids get older we don’t always make time for good conversations.
Learning & Loving Reading
17. Remember learning to read starts long before children are ready to sound out words. From birth you can read to your child. So read to them often and make sure your child associates reading with warmth, and relationship, and snuggles on the couch.
18. Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Blue Book covers phonics and other language skills. It can be used as a complete Language Arts curriculum for a kindergarten or 1st grade student.
19. For teaching reading specifically, many people prefer to use a pre-made curriculum. We used Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling and Reading Pathways: Simple Exercises to Improve Reading Fluency by Dolores Hiskes.
20. Use easy readers as soon as your children are ready. We didn’t have to drill sight-words, because they figured them out from the context of what they were reading. We began with Bob Books and progressed to books like the Step Into Reading series.
21. Use free online resources to teach or reinforce reading skills such as Starfall, Reading Bear, or Teach Your Monster to Read. But let me encourage you, if you use online resources be sure to sit down with read-and-point-to-words, feel-the-pages, smell-’em kind of old fashioned books too!
22. Be patient when you don’t think your child will ever enjoy reading. In How to Encourage a Love of Reading in Your Kids, I shared how my youngest began to love reading. Don’t give up hope, mama!
23. Be resourceful. Cindy shares 11 Tips for Raising Readers.
24. Consider the fact that reading is an everyday part of our lives. Books aren’t the only place it happens as Ashley shares in Think Outside the Book: 10 Other Ways to Get Your Child Reading.
25. Read and discuss. Don’t just read books, talk about them. Discussing books will build relationships, help with comprehension, and lead your children to a deeper understanding of the world around them.
26. Learn why Reading Aloud Matters from A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief.
27. Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie is a go-to-resource for all things reading aloud.
28. Remember to read a variety of genres. We tend to think of reading fiction. But don’t stop there! Poetry, non-fiction, plays—try to do a little bit of all of them.
29. Get more bang for your buck by having some compilations of stories on hand. Some of our favorites included A Treasury of Children’s Literature, 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury (out of print but you can find them used!), and The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book.
Use your read-aloud as the basis for teaching language arts naturally with our Language Lessons for Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. One of our family’s favorite books!
Finding Great Read Alouds
30. Look at book lists from curriculum publishers. When I noticed a book that kept coming up in multiple lists, it went on mine.
31. Get a list of award winning books such as the Newbery and Caldecott winners. The John Newbery Medal is awarded for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” You can find a list of both the medal winners and honor books. Of course, you will want to check it out yourself first as some of the winning books (usually more recent) may not be suitable for your family.
The Ralph Caldecott Medal is “awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States during the preceding year.” Like the Newbery Medal, you can find a list of both honor books and the winners.
32. Ask for recommendations. Most homeschool moms are more than willing to share their favorites 🙂
33. Buy or borrow a guide you can take to the library with you. Here are some of my favorites:
The Read-Aloud Handbook: 7th Edition by Jim Trelease
Books Children Love (Revised Edition): A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah MacKenzie
The Write Stuff
34. Choose a handwriting curriculum. We enjoyed Handwriting Without Tears because the approach is based on developmental levels of children. Some people don’t really like the style (you won’t find the familiar slanted cursive letters), but students are encouraged to find their own style. HWT focuses on correct letter formation.
35. Use copywork intentionally. When it comes to handwriting practice, keep it short and focus on neat handwriting when you look at it together. Maybe your student needs to work specifically on writing “e”—then choose a passage with several of them.
36. Make it fun. Let kids practice handwriting by copying jokes (and then they can practice their new material during supper with the rest of the family). Or have them write out a great sentence from a favorite book and then illustrate it.
37. Choose copywork passages with the most common misspelled words to reinforce the correct spelling.
38. Dictate a passage from a book your student is reading. Make a spelling list from any words that are misspelled and then have your student study those words. Dictate the same passage after they study the words to see if they have learned it.
39. Make a Personalized Spelling Notebook. This takes the personal spelling list from above one step further. You can make specific pages for mistakes—such as the “igh” spelling or the “ei/ie” words. This helps students to notice specific spelling patterns they miss. The ABC’s and All Their Tricks is a great resource for students and teachers, in making a Personalized Spelling Notebook.
40. Let your child be hands-on when it comes to spelling. Tina shares some ideas in 21 Hands-on Ideas for Homeschool Spelling From a Seasoned Mom.
42. Make your own crossword puzzles with Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker. Whether it is science vocabulary, words from the books they are reading, even math terms, puzzles are a fun way to learn and reinforce what they already know.
43. Get to the root of the matter: the Greek and Latin ones. When students know the meaning of various roots, prefixes, and suffixes, they will be able to figure out the definition of many words they encounter. English From the Roots Up is what we used, as well as Write Source 2000 (a reference with a lot more than just vocabulary!)
44. Focus on a word of the day for the whole family. Then have everyone try to sneak it in conversation during the day and make a game out of using it.
45. Encourage your kids to look it up. When they come to a word they don’t know while reading, ask them to try figure out the meaning based on context first, then look up ones they don’t know If they don’t want to stop then to do it, tell them to make a note of the word and page number to find after they finish reading.
46. Have your children create word banks. When studying a specific time period, have students write down words particular to that time and culture. Then use the word bank when writing about that time.
47. Draw definitions. The connection between memory and drawing is just what some of your visual learners need!
48. Make a game. You can model it after one you already know such as Concentration. Write vocabulary words on index cards and the definitions on others. Then place the cards face down and have students turn two cards over at a time until they match each word to it’s definition.
49. Use technology. When you look up a word on a kindle from your reading, it puts the word on a flash card that can be reviewed later. You can also find apps for vocabulary building and review.
50. Play Fictionary. If you want to teach dictionary skills and build vocabulary, this game requires people to look through a Dictionary. They will never know what hit them 😉
51. Provide daily time for reading. The best way for people to build a good vocabulary is to read.
52. Learn through copywork and dictation. Students naturally absorb the rules of grammar through speaking and writing. Consider copywork and dictation a tool to use to introduce, teach, or reinforce specific grammar concepts.
53. Use grammar references. Our favorite was More Nitty Gritty Grammar (I still use it myself). When students make mistakes in their writing, use it as an opportunity to look up how to do it and let them correct their mistakes. Teach them that it is fine to look up anything they have questions about when they are in the process of writing. Remember, as a teacher you want to teach your kids how to learn, not just what to learn.
54. Look it up online. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) includes information on grammar, mechanics, and more.
55. Make it fun. Cindy from Our Journey Westward shares a great list of picture books you can use in teaching grammar: Picture Books to Teach Grammar.
56. Make a game out of it. If you are learning about nouns, ask your younger students to find specific objects around the house and bring them to you. Then write the names of each thing on a white board or piece of paper and explain that these words are all nouns. Or make a list of action verbs and have your children act out each of them. Help them understand terms such as nouns, adjectives, and verbs are simply the vocabulary we use to speak about writing.
Reading and Analyzing Literature
57. Don’t let the term “literature” intimidate you or your children. Check out Tina’s How to Transition a Child From Reading to Literature and 3 Beginner’s Tips: Homeschool High School Literature at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus.
58. Teach your child a system for analyzing literature instead of relying solely on guides. Rita’s resource Annotating Literary Elements teaches a system to annotate literature that can be used over-and-over again with any book. Again, you can consider this a way to teach the how, not just the what.
59. Know your personal why when it comes to teaching literature. Remember, there is a lot of freedom in homeschooling and YOU are the teacher. What do you want your children to learn through their readings? What are your goals when it comes to teaching it?
60. Read a variety, even if it doesn’t match someone else’s “must read” list. For my youngest son’s co-op group, we chose five books to read, discuss, and use as the basis of our writing assignments for the year. Over the years we read classics such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Scarlet Letter, and Pride and Prejudice. But we also read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and the modern classic The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Learning Literary Devices
61. When reading aloud, call attention to how authors use literary elements and devices to craft their stories. Of course you don’t want to stop constantly (that would ruin the joy of a good book!), but if you notice a particularly good description, use of imagery, simile, or metaphor, go ahead and point it out. When you discuss the story, talk about what made that literary element especially powerful.
62. Have your students draw the literal meaning of a simile or metaphor. Not only is it fun, but once again your visual learners will connect with the idea of what makes a good comparison.
63. Encourage your students to come up with their own imagery, similes, metaphors, alliteration, etc. when writing. If you want to learn more about literary devices yourself, check out Literary Devices.
64. Choose copywork or dictation from passages exemplifying a literary element. Growing up I learned about concepts such as literary elements and grammar, but I didn’t really connect the exercises we did in a textbook to real reading and writing. Help your students to connect the dots.
65. Have your students read books that exemplify specific literary devices well. For example, they will notice the use of tone and mood in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the power of the narrator in The Book Thief.
66. Don’t let poetry intimidate you, either. Tina shares tips and resources in The Ultimate Guide to Poetry with Multiple Ages.
67. Start a regular Poetry Teatime. Yes, even my two sons loved it! We started with Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, but moved on to various poems from Read Aloud Poems for Young People, books from the Poetry for Young People series, and so many other treasures over the years.
68. Have students use a little inspiration to make up their own poems. A favorite story, a photograph, a drawing, nature, even colors at a paint store—have them draw upon those things in their world to write about what they experience and see. Poetry is a great place to experiment with literary elements and devices.
“Speaking” of Language
69. Incorporate narration (which is simply a “telling”) as a daily part of your homeschool routine. But don’t feel like you can’t be a little sneaky. You can simply say, “Tell Dad about the story we read today” and off your little ones will go. Or have them draw a picture about a story as you read. Ask them to tell you or someone else about what they drew.
70. After finishing a unit of study, have your children do a presentation to share what they have learned. This is a great way to reinforce and review what they have been studying, as well as give them a change to practice speaking in front of others.
71. Combine writing and speaking. Did they write a persuasive paper? Let them argue their point to you. Did they write a poem? Have them recite it for the family.
72. Have them read aloud with expression. Teach them how to read aloud in a way that is animated and holds the interest of those who are listening. Encourage them to have fun, make different voices for characters, and try speeding up or slowing down their pace as it fits with the story. If they are reading about a quiet point, have them lower their voice; if they are talking about something exciting have them read a bit louder.
73. Incorporate writing in other subjects such as science, history, and even math.
For science, students can keep a nature journal. Nature journaling teaches a foundational skill for all good science study: observation. My favorite book is Keeping A Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Leslie and Charles Roth. Beautiful and inspirational.
And Erin from The Usual Mayhem put together this great resource: The Ultimate Guide to Nature Journaling.
In history, let your students be a little creative. Have them write letters as if they lived in the time period being studied. For example, have your children pretend they live in colonial America right before the beginning of the American Revolution. They can write a cousin or friend still in England. To extend the activity even further, have them write back from the point of view of the one living in Britain.
Use writing to help solidify math concepts. Have students write several sentences describing how to do a problem. You could also have them write their own story problems (and then see if another family member can figure out the answer.)
74. Have your children create a notebook to record what they are learning. The Notebooking Fairy provides the “how-to” and resources you need.
76. Encourage your children to keep a writer’s notebook. They can make any sections they want and personalize it. This is the place where they can keep their ideas, take notes about writing, and fill with things that inspire them.
77. Add freewriting as a regular part of your children’s writing routine. You can find great prompts for Friday Freewrites from Brave Writer.
78. If you want to incorporate creative writing into your curriculum, but your kids struggle to come up with ideas on how to start, consider investing in story starters.
And Then, Story Starters by M.H. Clark
And Then, Story Starters, Volume II by M.H. Clark
79. Have them write for real. They can start a blog, submit letters to the editor, enter essay contest, or work to get their writing published.
A Few Writing Projects
80. Writing Lesson with The Three Little Pigs —I wrote this lesson when I taught in our local co-op and still have the collection of stories our kids wrote. Have fun with this project and explore the effect of point-of-view and setting on a story.
81. What if Elizabeth Bennet Had a Blog? —Teaching literary analysis doesn’t have to be boring. Students can learn about characterization by writing a blog through the perspective of the characters of Pride and Prejudice or any novel they choose.
82. A Writing Assignment Your Children Will Love from Our Journey Westward
83. Creating Written Imagery with Family Photos from Writing Allowed: Creating a Culture of Writers at Home
84. Have teens read books on writing by real authors such as Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, and Peter Elbow’s Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. (These books may occasionally have language your family doesn’t approve of. If you are concerned, please read any books before giving them to your teen.)
85. Build a writer’s resource library. Include the classic, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinger. Include grammar references and anything that inspire or facilitates writing.
86. Make it fun even for older students. Check out Using Picture Books to Teach Writing Styles from Our Journey Westward.
And from Writing Allowed: Creating a Culture of Writers at Home—
Games for a Language Rich Environment
93. Story Cubes
94. Superfight (A great game for teens!) Put their persuasive skills to the test.
Reading, Writing, and Faith
97. Have them copy their favorite verses in a journal. Or shorten verses for your young learners to use as copywork.
98. Give them a pre-written Bible study and have them record their answers in it or a journal. Check out She Reads Truth (and He Reads Truth).
99. Have children write memory verses on notebook cards. They can place them around the house and memorize and review throughout the week. Everyone can share the verses they have learned.
100. After reading a story from the Bible, have your children narrate it back to you. Or give specific directions such as, “Tell about how David beat the Giant,” if they aren’t ready to narrate the whole story.
Enjoy the Journey
Reading, writing, and speaking are skills and will develop over time. Don’t rush it! Create a language rich environment, provide encouragement and support, and nurture a lifestyle of learning in your home. Enjoy the journey, and your children, as you teach Language Arts the natural way.