Well-Ordered Language (WOL) is a new grammar series from Classical Academic Press. The series will eventually consist of four levels with two books—A and B—for each level. Level 1 is appropriate for third and fourth graders. Only Levels 1A and 1B are available thus far. Level 2, which should be available in 2017, will be for grades four and five, and Levels 3 and 4 might be used for grades five through eight. (Plans are for the last two levels to be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.) Usually, you will complete both books A and B in one school year.
There are both a teachers’s edition and a student worktext for parts A and B of each course. Although books are printed in black-and-white, frequent illustrations, plenty of white space, and easy-to-read fonts make them child-friendly in comparison to some grammar worktexts. You will also need the MP3 files with the songs and chants for each level—one set of MP3 files covers both A and B.
The courses are written for classroom use and include many group activities. Homeschoolers can use the series with only one child, but you will have to skip some activities and adapt others. On the other hand, working with a single child might be so much more efficient that you might complete both books A and B in a single semester if you schedule lessons for five days per week. Three potential schedules in the teacher’s guides suggest the fast-paced, five-days-per-week option if only if you want to cover both books in one semester. The two other schedules set you up to complete A and B in two semesters, working either three or four days per week. The four-days-per-week schedule includes some optional activities that might be skipped in the other schedules.
WOL concentrates almost exclusively upon grammar. It uses a very systematic, sequential approach for teaching grammar. Students learn to analyze sentences using a unique system for identifying and marking up parts of speech and their function within each sentence. (You can see short videos with author Tammy Peters showing how the sentences are analyzed for each lesson at www.classicalacademicpress.com/WOL. To preview this, you should look ahead to at least the video for Chapter 4 to get a better picture of what it looks like past the beginning stages of Level 1.)
To learn how to analyze sentences, students memorize definitions of essential elements such as the eight parts of speech and the four classes of verbs through choral recitation. The “songs” are available separately as downloadable MP3 files. I understand the benefit of using songs or chants to master some of the material, but in this case, the style of the “songs” is somewhere in between songs and chants, and it doesn’t seem to be as engaging as either of those genres can be. Also, I question the value of putting simple information into a song/chant format when it is easy to master without doing so. For example, the “Principal Elements” song has the words, “Principal elements are the parts of the sentence that are needed for the sentence to be completed. Subject and predicate are those two parts.” It seems easier to me for children to learn a simple statement that a complete sentence requires a subject and a predicate without making it more complicated than that.
Another point regarding the choral recitation: some children will not mind doing this without other children singing with them while others might resist singing alone. Of course a parent can sing along with a child, but it’s not the same as children doing it together.
The courses require frequent repetition and review so that students master definitions and patterns of analysis. This equips them with the skills to fluently analyze sentences on their own. However, teachers need to project energy and enthusiasm through the sentence analyses and choral recitations, otherwise students might get bored with the amount of repetition.
WOL was written to support a classical approach to education, and this is evidenced by the logical, analytical approach to learning grammar as well as by the repetition and memorization. Memorization and repetition that is appropriate for the elementary grades should shift more toward the analytical and logical applications of that knowledge by junior high. It remains to be seen how well this series will do in this regard.
While the courses need to be taught to students, the teacher’s editions walk you through the lessons with explicit instructions, including complete scripting of the sentence analyses, all of which makes it easy even for teachers who are weak in grammar to feel confident as they teach.
Teacher’s editions have student pages with overprinted answers and instructional notes printed in boxes, and there are additional teaching pages for oral exercises, games, and sentence analyses, plus pages with optional activities to be completed with fables and poems in Level 1, and tales and poems in Level 2. Note that the work with fables, tales, and poetry includes reading comprehension questions (that can be used either orally or for written work), hands-on activities, and copywork, all of which stretch beyond grammar. Nevertheless, these lessons also include some sort of grammatical work, activities such as making a list of all of the adjectives in a poem or analyzing the sentences in a fable (using the optional downloadable PDF). Homeschoolers might enjoy some of the hands-on activities such as making origami birds or Lion and Mouse Trail Mix that are found in Level 1A, but some might find activities such as making sock puppets to retell a fable too much trouble for one student.
Teacher’s editions include occasional “To the Source” sidebars with information about word derivations that you might want to share with students. Also, some of the grammatical points explained in boxes for the teacher might be worth sharing with students. It’s generally up to you to decide how to use that information. There is actually quite a bit of flexibility in how you use (or don’t use) some of the lesson material.
To make the lesson material more interesting, the authors have used excerpts from poetry and literature such as some of those used in Level 1A: At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, “Song of the Brook” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. (The complete poems and lengthier excerpts from the books are at the back of both student and teacher books for Level 1A.) In addition, in Level 1, students are introduced to the fictional Clark family through illustrations and lesson material, all of which helps to make both instruction and exercises more engaging.
Each book is divided into seven or eight chapters. Each chapter will take from one to two weeks to complete. Each chapter introduces a new concept and terms that students need to remember. Chapter introductions conclude with a sentence analysis guided by the teacher to help reinforce what students have just learned. After this approximately ten-minute introduction, students continue with practice and review exercises and activities. On subsequent lesson days for that chapter, students work through correlated sections of “Lessons to Learn” and “Lessons to Practice” labeled A, B, C, and review. Daily lessons should take about 30 to 40 minutes to complete. During part of that time students will be working on their own in their student workbook, but the rest of the day’s class time will be interactive. Those with the time in their schedule can use the optional “Lessons to Enjoy” that incorporate fables and poems.
Those who want additional practice and/or quizzes can order the optional Extra Practice and Assessments for each volume which are laid out very similarly to the primary lesson material. The PDF for volume 1A has 165 pages—this is a lot of material! For each chapter the PDF has additional practice sheets for each section of each lesson, fable sentences that can be analyzed, an extra Lesson to Enjoy, and a quiz.
Level 1A teaches four kinds of sentences, subjects and predicates (introductory level), nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, direct objects, subject pronouns, and helping verbs. Level 1B builds upon 1A, adding object pronouns, prepositional phrases (adverbial), compound subjects, subject/verb agreement, compound verbs, and compound direct objects.
Level 2 begins with a quick re-teaching of the four kinds of sentences, subjects, predicates, helping verbs, and basic punctuation. Students could begin at this level without first completing Level 1. It is important to note that sentence diagramming is introduced with Level 2 and continues through Levels 3 and 4, so even though diagramming does not show up in Level 1, it is an important part of future volumes. Level 2 introduces sentence diagrams in the first chapter and builds quickly from diagrams of simple subjects and predicates to include diagrams with adjectives, adverbs, possessive nouns, predicate adjectives, and predicate nominatives by the end of Level 2A. Level 2 also teaches topics such as interjections, pronouns, and adjective clauses. Levels 3 and 4 continue through all major grammatical concepts.
WOL is a very interactive curriculum that involves reading, writing, speaking, and listening along with choral recitation and some hands-on activities and games. While parts of the lessons are tightly structured, many lesson activities allow for discussion or open-ended responses.
The challenges of choral recitation and adapting activities intended for groups might be limiting features for some homeschoolers. WOL should work best for group classes or for homeschooling parents who have the time to devote to teaching the lessons one-on-one.