Language Arts: Through Stories

Previously posted on July 15, 2015 @

Initially, Reading and Grammar, in our earlier years were taught separately. I had material for Reading and a separate material for Grammar. I even had another material for Spelling. Oh my!!!

I was then introduced to the Total Language Plus series, locally carried by Homeschool Global and sold by Learning Plus Bookshop.

The whole idea of using a reading material as a springboard for Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Spelling, Grammar, Handwriting and Creative Writing was really something I thought made a whole lot of sense.

However, we had some hits and misses in our choice of books from the Total Language Plus selection for the past many years. Though I tried to carefully select the books based on my students’ reading level and interest, there were really some stories that didn’t excite them and so learning became a bit of a drag. We had to abandon some books. However, some eventually lived up to its “awards” when we persevered.

So after doing Total Language Plus (TLP) for some time, I decided to just create my own workbook or worksheets for some other books we wanted to read. For some books, I was just 1-2 chapters ahead, so everything was done in the notebook fashion: questions, activities, answers and all. For some stories, I was able to create “computer worksheets”.

I am certain there are other literature-based language curricula out there. You can also try these programs. Check out Teacher Created Resources.

Before I proceed, I need to differentiate two types of reading experiences: Read-A-Loud and Readers. Read-A-Loud is when you read to your child/children a few pages or a chapter at a time. Children can also read a loud as well. Readers are the books that child can read on his/her own with minimal assistance from the teacher.  I try as much as possible to do both. I read aloud more when the children were younger but still try to read to the 2 younger kids in our family because I still believe it’s one of the best bonding moments ever.

Usually the books that have heavier subject matters and may need a whole lot of explaining, I read a loud. A few of our favorites are: Number the Stars, Gladys Aylward, Tales of Desperaux, Poppers Penguins, Robinhood and Dr. Doolittle.

Take for instance one of our favorite readers, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This can be read and studied by a level 1 or 2 reader.

As you begin a book, you’d like to picture the setting and study about it more. This works well if you have a story that is based on real places and locations. For this book, the story mainly takes place in a fictional setting called Wild Island.  Thanks to the illustrator, there are interesting maps that come along with the book.

You can allow your student to study the maps and just imagine what the story will be like. For another story like, “The Mixed Files up Mrs.  Basil E. Frankweiler“, set in New York City, you can google NYC and take time to check it out. We had a blast with that book because we recently took a trip to NYC and even went to the Metropolitan Museum (the main location of the story) and took home a souvenir map of the museum. So we consulted the map as the story unfolded. It was truly cool because we further stretched the experience as we read the life story of Michelangelo ( whose work was part of the “Mixed up Files.. “reader !)

You can orally ask questions about the setting. If the student is comfortable in writing 1-2 sentences, then you can write the questions in a notebook. You can give instructions like “Google New York City.” “Check google earth for New York City.” Or “What are the famous landmarks in New York City?” Apply the same line of questions or activities in whatever reader you choose. The goal is to stir your child’s interest and imagination as she begins to see the story unfold.

Going back to the The Father’s Dragon,  check the first 2 pages of this book.

As you read the story ahead, you will recognize words (vocabulary) that your student may not have encountered yet. Write these down. For instance in these pages, I could choose the following words: alley, oblige, furnace, apologize, cellar ( usually 3-5 words). There are limitless possibilities with these words. You can have the child learn  hard copy dictionary skills and find the definitions and copy them, or you can also have an older child, use online dictionaries. For familiar words, he can look for synonyms or antonyms. You can do these prior to reading the story. Or you can let him read first and have him identify the new words and have him try to figure out what it means contextually.

You can mix it up. Some days he reads first , on other days, he looks at the definition of the words first. Usually, you create some activities daily that will involve “spelling” these new words or using them in sentences. I learned a lot of activities from various spelling workbooks like Spelling Workout or Spellwell. Such examples are :

  • making your own crossword
  • word find/search
  • pick the correct spelling for example : write the words “success, sucess, succes” and make the student choose the right one
  • create a story with your spelling words
  • fill in the blanks with the correct spelling word
  • or the tired, yes tired ! and tested: “use the new word in a sentence” activity.

Usually, you can opt to create “word” activities for only misspelled words in a pre-test (usually done on Mondays).. Click on the link for Spellwell to see sample activities.

For instance , for the word, “success”, I may opt to write this down in my student’s notebook : 1. An accomplishment of a goal, aim or purpose -S _  C __S_  !  (Fill in the blanks to give the correct spelling of the word being described) .

For younger children, you can use other ways for “Spelling” exercises. You can use words they’ll be excited to spell.

Ideally, the new words in your reading material, along with new words from your other subjects will comprise your “Spelling words” for the week. You can then do a post-test after several days of activities with these new words.

Now depending on what you are taking up in Grammar, you can also use the text in your reader for exercises. You can assign certain pages and have your child identify the “verbs, adverbs, prepositions” or you can photocopy the pages of a specific chapter and have him underline the adjectives. There are so many options.

Now, you come to drafting your Reading Comprehension questions. Remember you are trying to assess what your child has understood, not merely what he remembers. So refrain from closed ended questions answerable by yes or no. Try not to also use factual questions heavily. Instead focus on “open-ended” questions. If the child cannot write well yet, you can just let him give his answer orally and you take down his answers.  A good comprehension question makes the child review the material, wonder, imagine and make sense of things as he tries to answer. For page 9-11 of the material I posted, a good question would be; “Why did Elmer’s mother disagree to give the cat a saucer of milk?” Now as you train your children to speak and /or write, always remind them to answer in a complete sentence (another Grammar Lesson) .

You can also expand the experience by asking the student, “What would you do if you were Elmer?” Again depending on the child’s level of confidence and readiness, you may opt to have him answer orally or in writing. What I love about constructing your own questions lies on the hidden beauty of being able to relate what they’re reading to their own lives or to current events in ones family/community/ society. Again the possibilities are limitless.

If you don’t feel comfortable making your own worksheets, you can google and check for words like: “Reading Worksheets for ______ (Title of Book) or Reading activities /exercises for _____“. For instance, there were times, I could not create our own so I googled for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” reading or activity worksheets.

Though I purchased several Total Language Plus workbooks, I would say the bulk of what we’ve done in terms of Language Arts/Reading were pretty much done in that “2-3 chapters ahead kind of preparation“. So, if you have only one student, then you can really do this. Imagine, at one point I was reading 4 readers??? What’s cool is that once you’ve read one, then it will be easier the next time around for the next child who will read the same material. That’s why it is also advisable to put your exercises/ questions per chapter in the computer so you can re-use these for the other children.

Here is an example of one of my “diligent” episodes where I created our own workbook:

So, if you’d like a more fun and maybe relaxed way to tackle Reading and Grammar, try this approach. TLP workbooks are expensive so why not, based on similar principles, make your own?

The Father’s Dragon was a very exciting adventure and as a project, my son created a “Book Report” in the shape of a back back from cardboard (since the plot revolved around items in his back pack and how Elmer got out of every predicament). I can’t seem to find the photos of that project. Our grade 1 student, Gino, created pockets where he put the basic elements of the story like: setting, characters, problem, new vocabulary words, etc.

The same principles may be applied in your Filipino or Mother Tongue read-a-loud or readers. You can create daily activities (notebook style) using Filipino readers or chapter books, readily available in bookstores. You can start with the books recommended here (Smart Parenting Article on 10 Children’s Books that Celebrate the Filipino Culture). Choose books that are appropriate for your student’s maturity and reading level.

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