English Lessons Through Literature (ELTL) is a language arts program for the elementary grades through junior high that uses Charlotte Mason methodology. The series is projected to eventually have eight levels, but only the first five levels are available at this time.
Beginning with Level 1, rather than worksheets or workbooks, ELTL uses copywork, narration, dictation, and picture study using poems, Aesop's fables, fiction books that are in the public domain, as well as reproduced pictures of works by famous artists. Sentence diagramming is introduced in third and fourth grades, an element rarely included in other Charlotte Mason style programs. Scripture verses (from the New American Standard Bible) and maxims are often included as copywork. Students in fourth and fifth grade begin composition work by "imitation" as in the progymnasmata. They learn to outline their compositions and develop skills for writing different types of compositions. Older students begin to work with historical and scientific narratives in addition to literature.
While Levels 1 through 5 target grades one through five, they might be used a year later or earlier depending upon each child's rate of development and learning. A child who has already learned to read and write in kindergarten should be able to start in Level 2. Also, if your child needs to take standardized tests and they include testing on parts of speech for first grade level, you too might want to begin with Level 2 for first grade. On the other hand, if you have an older student (fifth grade or above) who has had little exposure to grammar, you might want to start with Level 4 because it paces grammar instruction on topics such as indirect objects and sentence diagramming at an introductory level. You might also consider using the first four levels with older students who need a fresh introduction to language arts.
In contrast to most language arts programs, this is intended to be taught three days per week rather than every day.
Each level incorporates full-length books that are read aloud until children are at the stage where they can read independently and comprehend what they are reading. You will need to obtain the read-aloud books, but they are all available free online. Examples of literature included for Level 1 are The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Level 2 uses books such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame , and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Level 3 features books such as The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Among literary works used in Level 4 are Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, and The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. For Level 5 , student read such works as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde, and Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
Most of the example sentences used for instruction as well as some of the copywork are drawn from the literature, so it is best to read the literature assignment before beginning each lesson. Some of those sample sentences have been simplified for diagramming, and some changes have been made in spelling and punctuation in line with current usage. In addition, Aesop's fables are used frequently in all levels. Poetry used in all levels is also from the public domain and includes works from Robert Louis Stevenson, Sara Teasdale, Walter de la Mare and others. While some of the literature seems rather difficult for these levels, many homeschoolers have found that children understand surprisingly well, and their vocabulary and reading skills advance rapidly by the exposure to challenging literature.
Narrations begin in Level 1 with picture narrations. You will first read one of the Aesop's fables to your child, and he or she will draw a picture of the fable. Then the child “narrates” or tells you about his or her picture. Each day's lesson includes an excerpt from literature to be read aloud, a poem, and either an Aesop's fable or a reproduced artwork for picture study.
Picture study differs from the initial picture narrations. Beginning in Level 1, students study pictures of art works. Some leading questions are included for each picture, and they include broad questions such as, "Describe the picture," so that children can narrate to you what they see and think about each picture. Pictures are reproduced in full color in the digital editions while print edition pictures are black and white. The publisher offers free, separate ebooks with the full-color art reproductions plus coloring pages in a single ebook for Levels 1 and 2, one ebook for Level 3, and another combined ebook for Levels 4 and 5. This is a wonderful extra since the color images are much more inviting and interesting for children.
The second half of Level 1 begins standard narrations. For these, you read aloud the fable then your child retells the story in his or her own words while you write it down. If your child is verbose, this can be challenging. You might have to experiment with ways to take a shorthand version of the child's retelling, record and transcribe it, or come up with some other way to capture their ideas accurately. Other children might need prompting with leading questions. Author Kathy Jo DeVore offers suggestions for those in the introduction to each book. In Level 2, you will write a portion of your child's narration for him or her to use as copywork. Children begin to write their own narrations in Level 3, although they continue to do some oral narrations.
In the early years, children learn many aspects of grammar and correct usage simply through exposure to the literary works and their copywork. However, some direct instruction is also included. At the beginning of a lesson, just after reading the literary selection, a new grammatical concept is usually taught using a sample sentence from the literature that was just read. Children begin some written grammar exercises in Level 3. Rather than pre-written exercises, students copy sentences into a copybook then mark them as directed. Some grammar “rules” memory work is included at the end of each book for you to use as you prefer.
Level 1 is lighter than succeeding levels. Children learn capitalization and punctuation as well as sentence structure, usage, and vocabulary as they listen to the read alouds and complete copywork exercises. Direct instruction regarding grammar is largely reserved for Level 2.
Level 2 continues with capitalization, punctuation, and types of sentences, and it introduces the parts of speech, helping verbs, linking verbs, being verbs, contractions, abbreviations, antonyms, synonyms, and homophones. Exercises at this level have children demonstrate understanding of what they have learned regarding grammar.
Level 3 adds two dictation exercises each week. Parts of speech and syntax are taught again at this level in conjunction with sentence diagramming. Students will also do some written work as they analyze words, come up with synonyms, rewrite sentences from the story (e.g., turning a declarative sentence into an interrogative sentence), or imitate a descriptive paragraph. In general, the reading and copywork passages are lengthier, and the exercises are more challenging. The grammar is definitely more challenging than what is covered in many other third grade courses since children learn to identify and diagram all eight parts of speech as well as comparative adjectives, subject-verb agreement, the concepts of person and tense, appositives, infinitives. Before diagramming them, students mark prepositional phrases with brackets, a strategy I find very helpful. (They don't learn to diagram prepositional phrases at this level.) The optional workbook for Level 3 includes the lines for the sentence diagrams, a feature that should make diagramming easier for students.
Level 4 continues with both oral and written narrations, picture study, grammar (with sentence parsing and increasingly complex sentence diagrams), dictation, and memory work. Grammar instruction is more direct than in earlier levels. Students also do copywork each day in their Commonplace Book, a blank composition book, by copying passages from the literary works, model stories, or other sources that a parent might choose.
With Level 4, elements of the progymnasmata become more visible as students continually work through a six-lesson (two week) cycle for each writing lesson. On the first of the six days, students read and orally narrate the model story that will be used as the springboard for the writing lessons. Many of the model stories are from folk tales, but some are non-fiction pieces on science or history. The second day generally assigns a "copia exercise" where students might find synonyms for certain words, condense or amplify (expand) sentences, change the type of a sentence, substitute synonyms or antonyms, or otherwise play with words and sentences to expand their wordsmithing skills. Alternatively, they might write an outline of the model story, The third day is for writing a literary analysis or a descriptive writing exercise. Another copia exercise is completed on the fourth day. The fifth day specifies that the Commonplace Book entry be from the model story. On the sixth day, students write their own narration of the model story from their outline.
Level 5 continues in the same format as Level 4, although the level of difficulty is definitely higher. Both books follow a similar progression with types of writing, even with very similar assignments. For example, Lesson 78 in both books includes writing a scientific narration. The same introductory information is included for both lessons. However, Level 5's lesson adds "Begin your paper with an introduction. This can be background information, an anecdote, a surprising statement or question, a quotation, or an imaginary scenario. Refer back to Lesson 50 and 62 on introductions if necessary." This is a good example of the type of incremental learning that takes place in this series. Levels 4 and 5 might easily be used by students beyond fourth or fifth grade, so be cautious about pushing too quickly through these levels. I can easily see high school students with weak grammar and composition experience working through these courses.
ELTL covers grammar and composition skills. Spelling is learned through dictation exercises and copywork. Reading and handwriting for young students need to be taught separately. While this is a Charlotte Mason approach, it has more direct instruction on grammar than do some CM programs, and many CM programs omit sentence diagramming. Memory work in the appendices of each book can be used in a classical fashion or skipped if that is your preference. Because of these features, ELTL really straddles CM and classical approaches.
Since ELTL uses literature that is in the public domain, the style of most of the books and poetry sometimes seems a little archaic. While you will have to discuss the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary words, the mix of Aesop's fables with poetry and unusual literary selections seems to work quite well so that the content is interesting and even fun to read. In contrast to most of the literature, DeVore's instruction on grammar is written simply and directly to the student in a casual, personal tone. The instruction avoids the sometimes flowery language that was used in earlier books presenting Charlotte Mason-style language lessons.
Christian content shows up primarily in the Bible verses used for copywork. In addition, the Aesop's fables and literary works often teach virtues and positive character traits that support a Christian worldview.
Lessons are simple to follow with instructions included within each book. There are no answer keys for Levels 1 and 2, but answers are obvious or easy to determine. Levels 3 and above have answer keys for the exercises at the back of the book.
All books are available as either print or ebooks. Levels 1 and 2 are also available as a combined print book. Separate, optional student workbooks for Levels 1 through 4 can be purchased as printed books or PDF digital files. (You also have a choice of five different forms of manuscript of cursive models for the workbooks.) The workbooks have copywork models with space for writing, space for drawing, and all other exercises students would otherwise complete separately. While these are optional, they do make it easier for both parent and student.
While English Lessons Through Literature is a relatively new program and it's not as well-known as some of the other CM approach grammar resources, I expect it will quickly become popular since it's a substantive program that retains the hallmarks of CM methodology while also including some classical methodology. The coverage of grammar should also prove helpful to those concerned about the Common Core and standardized tests.