Do you ever feel overwhelmed when it comes to teaching Language Arts? You are not alone! So many of us feel inadequate in this area. But the truth is, you already have a lot of experience. You have been teaching this subject since the day your children were born.
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Consider how children learn to speak.
You don’t give babies board-book textbooks and worksheets. You simply talk to them. And even when you don’t speak directly to them, they absorb the language around them. They imitate sounds, and then utter their first words. Then their words grow to phrases, the phrases to sentences, and before you know it they are speaking like little adults.
Do they make mistakes along the way. Of course! But that is a part of the learning process. Their grammar is a bit messy at times—as well as the rest of them. They speak in fragments and run-ons, use words incorrectly, and mix up pronouns. But I loved when my oldest son would look up at me and say “Hold you” instead of “Hold me”. (Why do we find the mistakes charming when they are young and frustrating as they get older?)
Sometimes you intentionally focus on specific words like Mama instead of Dada (Just me???), you read Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, and look through picture books naming letters, colors, and objects. Then as they progress you might gently tell them the correct way to say something when they make a mistake. Or simply restate their word or phrase correctly.
See Dear Mom, you may not have ever realized it, but you are an excellent teacher. You’ve been doing things instinctually for years. Let me encourage you—don’t stop now.
What subjects are included in Language Arts?
I like to think of teaching Language Arts naturally as the common-sense approach. Language Arts are
the subjects (such as reading, spelling, literature, and composition) that aim at developing the student’s comprehension and capacity for use of written and oral language. —New Oxford American Dictionary
Obviously multiple components make up what we consider the study of Language Arts. And because of this, many approach teaching it as isolated areas of study. We get a phonics curriculum, a spelling workbook, writing curriculum, a vocabulary book, and grammar text. And in high school it continues. More grammar textbooks, literature analysis guides, curriculum for writing and vocabulary study. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
What was your high school experience in English class? I remember doing the exercises in my English textbook—whether about grammar concepts or literary elements. I knew how to write metaphors and similes, alliterate a sentence and tell you what each element of a story was. I identified nouns, verbs, adjectives, and clauses. I even enjoyed diagraming sentences.
And when it came to writing, I followed the 5-paragraph paper format completely. Introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs, concluding paragraph with all the transition sentences and words in between. We always wrote this kind of paper after reading a novel, and I began to dislike them both.
I did all of the assignments and earned goods grades. But I never really made the connection when it came to how those things actually worked together. And I’m guessing some of you had a similar experience.
What Teaching Language Arts Naturally is NOT
You don’t need multiple textbooks and workbooks. And you don’t need a teaching degree in English to teach it, or be an expert in writing. It is even OK if you hated diagramming when you were in school.
You won’t teach the different skills and subjects included in Language Arts such as spelling, vocabulary, handwriting, reading, and writing in isolation from one another. Sure, you may intentionally focus on specific areas at times, but it will always be in the larger context of communications skills as a whole.
Lists of unrelated practice sentences, spelling words your students aren’t using in some way, and vocabulary that has nothing to do with what they are studying won’t be an issue. Students won’t have to come up with topics for writing just to fulfill an assignment.
Do you own an effective writing curriculum or the perfect spelling program for your kids? You don’t have to get rid of them in order to teach naturally. And you do not have to write your own lessons (unless you want to 😉). Teaching naturally means when you use these types of things, you do it in a way that connects to other areas of LA study. It means you adapt when needed.
5. Age specific
Often people seem fine with the methods or tools used to teach Language Arts Naturally during the elementary years, but fewer continue through high school. But teaching naturally shouldn’t be confined to the elementary years.
What Teaching Language Arts Naturally IS
1. Simple, streamlined, and efficient
Using real books, or living-books, is the basis for teaching Language Arts naturally. Just as we learn to speak by speaking—we learn to read by reading; to write by reading and writing then writing and reading. You do not need multiple programs, textbooks, and curricula. And you don’t need to spend the majority of your day teaching just Language Arts.
One of the reasons you don’t need to spend the majority of your day teaching it: Language Arts skills can be taught and practiced in other subject areas such as history, science, and even math.
And the different areas such as reading, writing, spelling, and vocabulary intertwine and connect constantly, whether in written or verbal form. We never see them sitting in solitary confinement. Research proves that teaching grammar in isolation from writing does nothing to improve students ability to write well. Students need to see the connections. So when you teach areas such as spelling, vocabulary, or grammar, you do it in the context of what they are reading and writing.
Writing isn’t done to simply complete an assignment. The primary purpose of writing is communication. And when we communicate we do it for meaning—because we have something to say or share or teach. Therefore, meaning always come first and should dictate the form. Not the other way around. And writing that is meaningful connects to what is being read and studied.
Instead of relying on textbooks, students use references, learn from experts, and participate in groups. Teachers choose resources specific to the needs of their students. And they provide real books by real authors, building a library of tools for their students.
It doesn’t matter how old your children are for this to be an effective way of teaching Language Arts. Actually, as students become older it is even more important. The ability to see connections is the foundation for critical thinking skills. Older students can think more abstractly and connect information in new ways. They are thinking about the things they have been learning and forming their worldview. They are asking questions. And they want to know why do I have to learn this stuff anyway? When we teach naturally, we can show them: This is why.
The Natural Language Arts Toolbox
Narration is a retelling. Children simply tell the parent or other person, in their own words, something that has been read. As they mature they will also do written narrations.
You can prompt them by asking something specific, or after reading a certain number of pages you can have them narrate what you’ve read. One sneaky way is to say, “Why don’t you tell dad about the story we were reading today?”
In copywork students copy a letter, word, sentence, or passage from an example or book. Pretty simple. And because it is so simple we may think, “I’ll just skip it.” But though it may be simple in concept, even in execution, it is a powerful tool in teaching language skills.
Think of dictation as the close friend of copywork. In dictation, one person says or reads aloud and another writes down what is being said. Dictation is an advanced skill and shouldn’t be rushed. Even once a student has transitioned to dictation, it doesn’t mean copywork isn’t still valuable. Together they form the basis of learning grammar, spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure, and more.
Real books, also referred to as living-books, include fiction, non-fiction, even poetry. They are the opposite of textbooks. The authors of real books really know their subject, create stories, and write in a way that engages readers. And there are real books on every subject, even math.
Reading aloud is simply that—reading a book out loud to your children. We even did it when my children were in high school. Of course we enjoyed the stories, but we also read to learn about the craft of writing as well. And reading aloud included…
Discussion is simply talking about what you are reading or writing or hearing. It prepares students for writing about a topic. It helps them develop critical thinking skills. And discussion builds our relationships with our children—no matter what age they are.
Memorization means, “commit to memory; learn by heart.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) Students can memorize passages of literature, poems, quotes, and Bible verses. What we memorize we internalize. So we should always consider what we want to fill our children’s minds and their hearts with and choose wisely.
Presentations are opportunities for your students to share what they are learning. They can present passages they have memorized, projects they have completed, speeches, or demonstrations of a concept they have learned. But whatever form it takes, students are speaking in front of others.
Part of teaching naturally involves teaching your students how to learn themselves, including the ability to use reference material to find their answers. A few good references can replace multiple textbooks.
A Nurturing Environment
The key to successfully teaching Language Arts is providing a safe place for your students to explore, create, and make mistakes. Because of that a nurturing environment, one that is supportive and peaceful, needs to be created in the home.
You Can Teach Language Arts Naturally
When we teach naturally, we consider students’ individual learning styles, what we know from research about how they develop and learn, how language works, and the purpose of it all.
But remember Dear Mom, you are already teaching Language Arts naturally. You have since the day your children were born.
Need some help? Try Language Lessons from Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars!