Language Arts Reading for Delight-Directed Learning

Welcome to the first week of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair!

This week's co-hosts are:

The Virtual Curriculum Fair (also known as the VCF) is a month-long blog Fair where every week, homeschool bloggers share their Homeschool Reality and the methods they use to teach their kids.

This year's schedule:

  1. January 5th---Playing with Words: the Language Arts---includes phonics, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, speech, literature, etc., etc., etc. Latin and foreign language studies could also go here.
  2. January 12th---Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science---includes anything to do with mathematics, mathematical thinking, numbers, arithmetic, symbolic logic, critical thinking, and math-y sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.).
  3. January 19th---Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science---includes history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.
  4. January 26th---Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

Language Arts Reading for Delight-Directed Learning

Are you intimidated by the idea of teaching Grammar and Composition to your children? Nouns and verbs aren’t very scary for most of us, but dangling participles and misplaced modifiers sound dangerous, and possibly contagious.

Would you like to inject some fun into studying the structure of the English language?

Here are some recommendations for books you can use to cause actual laughter, perhaps even curiosity, while learning about the intricacies and curiosities of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves
By Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Recommended for High School

Few things sound more coma-inducing than a BOOK about PUNCTUATION, but Lynne Truss wrote a runaway best-seller with Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The title is based on the following story:

“A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.
"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Each chapter offers humorous anecdotes and examples how-to and how-not-to use different punctuation marks, all in a very British tone of voice and liberally sprinkled with British culture and British vocabulary.

There is a brief foreword by Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt, and a Preface by the author, who did not expect such a book to be the huge success it has been.

Chapter titles are:

  • Introduction - The Seventh Sense
  • The Tractable Apostrophe
  • That’ll Do, Comma
  • Airs and Graces
  • Cutting a Dash
  • A Little Used Punctuation Mark
  • Merely Conventional Signs

Lest you still think punctuation is a dull subject, check out this excerpt about how crucial commas are to the interpretation of Luke 23:43 -

“Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
“Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma.

The first version is from Protestant interpretations, which teaches that the thief went to Paradise immediately after death. The Catholic version, which is the second example, allows for the presence of purgatory.

Who knew the power of such a small squiggle mark?

Since this book is written in a very conversational style, it makes for a great read aloud. When you are done reading this book, you will never take an apostrophe for granted again.

King Alfred’s English - A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do by Laurie J. White

Recommended for Middle Grade/High School

I reviewed this book a couple of years ago for the Schoolhouse Review Crew, and it’s still a favorite Language Arts resource. In a very conversational tone, Laurie White tells the story of our language from pre-English Britain to the official language of 58 countries and the preferred second language of millions.

It is an interesting, educational, and entertaining read.

The printing press had a seismic effect upon the whole culture of Europe. It was a central catalyst in both the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, two culture-shaping movement that mushroomed during the next century. The printing press, in fact, catapulted society into a whole new age, the Age of Print.

The author then goes on to describe the evolution of English spelling.

Before the advent of print, there was no fixed, standard way to spell English words. Everyone pretty much spelled words however they said them.

Hear that, kids? You aren’t the first to spell a word like it sounds!

Having read this book, our family had some background in the formative influences of English, and so when we saw a show called America’s Secret Slang, we recorded it and marathoned several episodes, some more than once.

If you wanted to make King Alfred's English an actual course, there is enough Teacher and Student material for a ½ credit in History or ¼ credit in History and ¼ credit in English. 

Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik

Recommended for High School

It seemed that the rules of composition had been etched in stone with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. For those who are often tempted to break a few writing rules, Spunk and Bite (a play on Strunk and White. . . get it?) gives you permission as well as the keys to the car.

But it also provides a road map. Some writers are offended at the idea that there are writing rules, as this supposedly stifles creativity. But writing has to be something a reader wants to read and is able understand - hence, writing rules.

Breaking rules takes a little finesse, and if you have a writer in our homeschool who likes to experiment, or a Captain Reluctant who thinks anything involving pen and paper is a snoozefest, then Spunk and Bite could serve as the spark to guide the way or light their creativity.

I’ve read writing advice for years that advised “If you see an adverb, kill it.” However, Mr. Plotnik gives us a reason to give adverbs CPR and a reason for living:

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White considered such intensifiers as very and pretty to be “The leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.” Avoid their use, they said. . .
I would say avoid unrelenting use, but do not throw out the pond water with the leeches. . . 
To some degree, an intensifier acts as a signal: it announces that the word following it is worn out, and that it should be understood as inadequate. For example, in the phrase an utterly beautiful night, the author is saying, “Look, I mean something beyond beautiful, even if I don’t have the precise word; try to imagine it.”

Spunk and Bite is another language arts book that I would recommend as a read aloud with your kids.

The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga

Recommended for Middle Grade/High School

Using a short badly written mystery to scrutinize the effects of grammatical mistakes and weak sentence structure, this book makes grammar and composition as fun as playing detective.

Excerpt from Chapter Five (which shares the title of the book)

The witness had seen a man trying to carjack a woman brandishing a weapon. Looking around for another vehicle because he couldn’t drive a stick shift, a pizza delivery bike soon came by that sported a Slow Poke Pizza sign. While munching on a cold slice, police put out an APB for a man with an anchovy on his face who was cycling slowly.

Students read the story, then read a few pages about how to detect and correct misplaced modifiers, as well as why modifiers have the annoying habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Students then rewrite the story, correcting the mistakes. Appendix 2 shows all of the misplaced modifiers in the story, and a suggestion for how it could be rewritten.

Chapter titles are:

  1. The Tantalizing Tale of Passive Voice
  2. The Illuminating Investigation into the Nasty Nominalization
  3. The Peculiar Puzzle of the Vague -ing Word
  4. The Delicious Drama of the Weak Verb
  5. The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier
  6. The Confusing Caper Concerning the Super-Long Sentence
  7. The Stretched-Out Story of the Wordy Writing

The appendices are:

  • The Top Ten Writing Misdemeanors
  • Answer Key
  • Glossary
  • Weak Writing Rap Sheet (condensed chart-like version of the main points of each chapter)

This book can provide a more interesting look at how important proper language structure is for clarity in our writing and speech. The assignments work best for middle and high schoolers, but elementary age kids can hear the problems with sentence structure in the mystery story examples, and be introduced to some of the complexities of our language in an engaging way.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's entry into the Virtual Curriculum Fair. 

The Every Day of Education Virtual Curriculum Fair posts:

This year's VCF is co-hosted by these awesome homeschool bloggers:

Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Stacie @ Super Mommy to the Rescue

Lisa @ Golden Grasses

We are also being joined by these lovely and talented bloggers:

Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

Becky @ Milo & Oats

Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker

Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Kristi @ The Potter's Hand Academy

Hillary @ Walking Fruitfully

Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

Debra @Footprints in the Butter

Jennifer @ a Glimpse of our life

Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Chelli @ The Planted Trees

Denise @ Fullnest

Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Laura @ Four Little Penguins