Learning Language Arts Through Literature (LLATL), a comprehensive language arts curriculum, is based upon Dr. Ruth Beechick’s ideas about how to best teach young children—ideas which have much in common with Charlotte Mason’s. The program actually begins with the Blue Book, a beginning phonics program that I review under reading programs. LLATL does a great job with comprehensive coverage of language art skills in the Red Book and above.
One of the key features of LLATL is literature—in the form of both short excerpts and complete novels—used as a springboard into other areas of language arts. The literature motivates greater interest in both the lessons and the books themselves. In addition, Student Activity Books have lots of variety, and this helps stimulate and maintain students’ interest.
Focus shifts from emphasis on developing reading skills in the early grades to more work with composition and literature at upper levels. A Skills Index at the back of each teacher book shows which skills are covered on which pages.
Following recommendations by Dr. Beechick, once children are able to write independently, they copy short passages from prose and poetry and also take them by dictation. Parts of the ensuing lessons refer back to the literary passage (e.g., identify personal pronouns in the passage). Grammar, spelling, handwriting, vocabulary, and other skills all receive extensive attention.
Student Activity Books for each level are essential since they contain numerous workbook type assignments, periodic reviews and assessments, and some pages that need to be cut out for activities. You will also need to buy or borrow novels that are used for most of the levels.
Each book should take about one school year to complete if you use them daily. Although books are suggested for particular grade levels, once past the first year or two, you should be able to use the same level with children over a two to three year grade level span.
The program was designed for home educators and provides plenty of detailed instruction on lesson presentation. However, it is not clearly specified in the books that include studies of novels when you are actually to be reading the novels. It makes the most sense to me to read the novel and do the book study lessons that focus narrowly on the book first, then tackle the broader lessons that include grammar. (This is also the order in which lessons are presented.) Minimal lesson preparation is required, but lessons do need to be presented by the parent/teacher. Answers are in the teacher’s book.
This is a great program for new homeschoolers who want to use something other than traditional textbooks, but are stymied as to how to do it.
The LLATL books are written by Christians and reflect Christian attitudes, but religious perspectives are not dealt with in most lessons. A few excerpts from the Bible are used for reading.
I have one negative observation: dictation passages sometimes have unusual or unorthodox punctuation that a student would be unlikely to predict just from hearing the passage. Some such instances are neither pointed out in advance nor explained afterwards.
The Red Book package - 2nd grade level
The program for this level comes in a boxed set containing the teacher manual, student activity book, and readers, although you can also purchase books individually. Although six illustrated readers come with the program, you will need to borrow or purchase ten additional children’s books.
While lessons are multi-sensory and interactive, students will occasionally work on assignments in the Student Activity Book on their own. Phonics is reviewed at this level, but instruction also covers beginning composition skills, handwriting (printing), grammar, reading comprehension, spelling, critical thinking, and beginning research and study skills. If a child has already mastered phonics, you might skip those parts of the lessons and focus on new material instead. Periodic assessments help parents/teachers determine how well students are progressing.
Printing instruction is a bit strange. Students are asked to write full sentences from the very first lesson in the book. But at lesson five, they seem to be moving backwards since the lesson requires students to trace and print letters and two-letter words. In addition, the style of letter presented for tracing and emulation is more like calligraphy than ball-and-stick or slant-print, but it is presented without explanation. I find this confusing and suggest using another tool for teaching handwriting, either manuscript or cursive.
One other minor complaint: bingo charts and flip books that are to be cut out and put together should have cutting lines clearly marked as well as some explanation of how flip books are to be put together.
The Red Book provides a great alternative to traditional workbooks and programs that isolate subjects and skills. In spite of the above observations, it should be fairly easy for even beginning homeschoolers to use.
Yellow Book - 3rd grade level
The broad range of language arts skills covered at this level include grammar, composition, cursive handwriting, spelling, listening, oral presentation, dictionary skills, and critical thinking.
Four “Literature Link” units interspersed throughout the book offer two options: read the recommended book and work with questions and activities that refer to the book, or read the lengthy alternate passage included within the text and use the appropriate questions. The four recommended books for these units are The White Stallion, Madeline, Meet George Washington, and The Courage of Sarah Noble.
Extra enrichment activities found in the Student Activity Book (e.g., word puzzles, projects, critical thinking and grammar activities, analogies) can be used for challenge or enrichment.
Orange Book - 4th grade level
Four books are used as literature sources for lesson material at this level: The Boxcar Children, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Benjamin Franklin, and The Sign of the Beaver. A Book Study of each is followed by additional lessons that integrate literature, vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and composition skills.
Periodically, students copy short literary excerpts or write them from dictation, depending on their abilities. Units on research, journal writing, poetry, newspaper writing, and story writing/book making are interspersed between the book studies.
Purple Book - 5th grade level
The four books studied this year are Farmer Boy, Trumpet of the Swan, Meet Addy, and Caddie Woodlawn. Students focus particularly on oral presentations, poetry, tall tales, folk tales, and speech making. As is appropriate for this level, the Student Activity Book requires more writing and little cut-and-paste activities. Enrichment activities found only in the student book stretch into research, analogies, and logic.
Tan Book - 6th grade level
The four books studied this year are Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; The Bronze Bow; Big Red; and The Horse and His Boy. There are special units on research and writing the research essay. Lessons are increasingly challenging as students work through activities for reading, grammar, composition, vocabulary, spelling, library skills, and thinking/logic.
Green Book - 7th grade level
The Green Book covers grammar (including diagramming), poetry, book study, creative writing (including a short story), topic studies, speech making, and research papers. Literary passages from books such as Black Beauty, The Borrowers, and Eight Cousins are the foundation for study in many lessons. Other books and a play will be required for book studies that last a few weeks or more. These are Star of Light, Adam and His Kin, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
Composition and grammar skills receive the most attention in the Green Book although all concepts typically taught in seventh grade language arts are covered. Writing skill lessons are well developed. Reading skills (comprehension, recognition and use of literary devices, structures, etc.) are taught explicitly, while vocabulary work is integrated throughout the lessons. Spelling receives some attention, with an emphasis on rules and generalizations. Study and research skills are both incorporated into lessons.
The content in this book is more obviously Christian than in other books in this series with the inclusion of some Psalms and the book, Adam and His Kin, a retelling of the first part of the book of Genesis.
The integration of literature with other language arts activities as well as the interactive nature of the program makes this approach more interesting than most traditional courses for junior high.
The Gray Book - 8th grade level
This book definitely shifts students to a more challenging level of work, especially in the areas of writing and critical thinking. Similar in format to other books in the series, this course includes dictation, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and brief composition activities plus four books studies and four significant writing assignments.
In many of the lessons, students are given passages from well-known literature by dictation. (If this is too challenging, have them copy passages first, then take them by dictation.) In addition, students work on spelling from a list of the most commonly misspelled words coupled with their own list of troublesome words they encounter. Grammar activities and exercises in each lesson often tie in with the dictated passage. Frequent writing assignments develop composition skills, but a special unit on writing teaches students to write four lengthier papers: a narrative, a persuasive essay, a comparison/contrast essay, and a research paper. Four book units are interspersed between other lessons. The four novels students will read are Across Five Aprils, A Lantern in Her Hand, Eric Liddell, and God’s Smuggler.
The Student Activity Book includes an appendix with basic spelling, capitalization, and comma rules; Commonly Misspelled Words List; and space for creating their personal spelling list.
A Christian viewpoint is evident throughout the book, both in the choice of literature and treatment within lessons.