Grammar Castle publishes grammar and writing resources for kindergarten through eighth grade, with courses for high school to come. The books are charmingly illustrated and feature characters such as King Verb, Queen Noun, Princess Pronoun, and Lord Adverb to teach the parts of speech and make it more memorable for children. The characters live in The Kingdom of Writing, which is used metaphorically to teach both grammar and writing. The books are written for a Christian audience with relatively frequent references to scripture, Christian character, worship, prayer, and so on.
The text in these books is especially well written with most instruction up through fifth grade provided via a story format. The storyline in the standalone book, Grammar Castle and the Kingdom of Writing: Story & Songbook about the 8 Parts of Speech, is repeated and expanded upon in a series of workbooks. While the storyline is engaging, Author Rusty Gorby also uses interesting vocabulary, songs, and rhymed lines. This excerpt from Workbook on the 8 Parts of Speech—2nd and 3rd Grade, gives you a sense of the storyline and vocabulary.
Before Lady Noun became Queen Noun of Writing, the bad Knights of the Wrong Table had destroyed all the well written pieces of literature in the kingdom. This dark time became known as the "Dart Ages" because the wicked knights used storybooks as dartboards during their tournaments and merrymaking (p.7).
The entire series emphasizes Christian character and positive values, such as in this the line, “Lady Noun taught the villagers to love and value people, places, things, and ideas by naming them” (Workbook on the 8 Parts of Speech—2nd and 3rd Grade p. 8).
Using the various resources in the series, students will gradually learn the parts of speech, usage, punctuation, capitalization, composition skills, editing, and oral presentations. At the front of each workbook up through grades four and five, it explains how to teach composition at three different levels. This allows you to go through each book a second or third time, advancing the level of writing each time.
Elements of a classical approach are evident, especially in the Middle School Level book. The courses use models from Scripture, gradually adding other literature. They stress the mastery of the “grammar” of language arts, such as the definitions of the parts of speech and punctuation rules, and they gradually teach composition and speaking skills (the rhetoric skills of classical education). Grammar Castle also fits a Charlotte Mason approach with its use of authentic literature and integrated grammar instruction.
The Grammar Castle resources all use a color-coding system for the parts of speech. Words within the text are often color-coded, and in the workbooks, each section on a part of speech is bordered with the corresponding color. These features add visual interest and make it easier for students to focus on new skills.
The series starts gently with Grammar Castle and the Kingdom of Writing: K-1st Grade, A Gentle Introduction to Writing and Grammar (4 Parts of Speech). The K-1st Grade book is used by both teacher and student. It teaches about nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adjectives through the characters and by color coding each part of speech. An answer key is at the end of the book.
There are six lessons in this 118-page book, each following the same five-part pattern. With most kindergartners and first graders, you will probably spread each lesson out over two or three days. The five parts are:
- Read and Sing: Students read a story and sing the song that defines the part of speech. For example, the first lesson introduces Lady Noun. In the story, it says, “As Lady Noun grew up, she loved the children in her village and wrote a song to teach them about "naming words." The story gradually shows more nouns in a red font. Children will learn to sing “The Noun Song.” The eight songs for the parts of speech are set to standard tunes, such as “Ring around the Rosies” for “The Noun Song” and “London Bridge” for “The Verb Song.” Some of the songs have tongue twisters or pacing that’s a little tricky. You will almost certainly want to listen to the songs online (or download them for free) to understand how they are meant to be sung.
- Learn and Find: Students learn about the part of speech, then complete activity pages to identify images that match the parts of speech.
- Memorize and Share: Students practice singing the song aloud to memorize it.
- Write and Share: This section includes planning, writing, and reading aloud what students have written if they are able. Younger children can dictate, gradually moving toward doing their own writing. Prompts, questions, and sentence completions assist students in their writing.
- Draw and Share: Students draw or color, then share their artwork.
Young students might also want to use the Grammar Castle and the Kingdom of Writing: Coloring Book that has additional coloring pages besides those in the K-1st Grade book. You might also want to go ahead and introduce young children to the entire story in the Grammar Castle and the Kingdom of Writing: Story & Songbook about the 8 Parts of Speech. (All of that book’s content is repeated across the different levels of workbooks, so it isn’t essential.) Children who are able to read can use the first of the set of six Grammar Castle readers, all based on the characters from the Kingdom of Writing. These readers for children in kindergarten through second grade are not phonetic but feature more than 100 of the Dolch sight words in each reader.
The Workbook on the 8 Parts of Speech—2nd and 3rd Grade has 178 pages, making it much lengthier than the K-1st Grade book. Like the K-1st Grade book, teacher and student are combined in one book, and the answer key is near the end of the book. Students will need a set of colored pencils used to identify parts of speech on the activity pages.
This course provides thorough coverage of grammar, usage, and composition for about one year, and you might repeat the writing assignments at higher levels in a subsequent year. It reviews the first four parts of speech and adds the other four.
The book is divided into eight units with several lessons per unit, 35 lessons in all. The pattern of the units is different than that of the K-1st Grade book, with more writing and less drawing. Most lessons have two or more activities. Students will sometimes be able to complete more than one lesson in a session, but more often, they might need to split a lesson over two sessions. The pattern for the units is as follows:
- Read and Sing: Children read the story and sing the song at the beginning of each unit.
- Connect and Copy: Parents discuss values and character traits in relation to the story, then copy “A Beautiful Sentence” from scripture on the page provided. Students become familiar with beautiful writing, scriptural values, and proper sentence formation through the copywork.
- Learn and Find: This section provides additional instruction that is not in story format. It is followed by several activities that help students identify and write examples of the parts of speech. (The song is repeated during the activities for reinforcement.)
- Write and Share: Several writing activities guide students as they learn to write by answering questions, filling in blanks, and using the guided-writing instruction. Space is provided for those who want to add a drawing, insert a picture, or use the guided-writing instructions to create their own compositions. (Note that the third unit differs a little from the other units since it focuses primarily on sentence construction rather than one of the parts of speech.)
At the end of the book are nine Song Book & Coloring Pages adapted from some pages in the Coloring Book. These have images to color plus the words of the songs for the parts of speech.
The course for fourth and fifth graders, titled 8 Parts of Speech and the Knights of the Write Table: 4th and 5th Grade Fairy Tales, Fables, and Short Stories, is still under development but due by spring of 2023. From the sample I saw, it continues with a format similar to that of the course for second and third grades. Spelling, literary analysis, dictionary usage, and composition skills receive more attention at this level.
Children will listen to and analyze The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (included in the workbook) for setting, characters, conflict, and the moral of the story. They apply what they learn as they create their own short stories in response to guiding questions.
Middle School Level
Middle School Level is the title of the course for grades six through eight—and maybe even useful for ninth graders. The course has 30 lessons and should take about one school year to complete with sessions two or three days a week. Older students might complete the course in less time. The way the course is written makes me think it was created for a group class meeting once a week. It has practice exercises and homework as you would expect for that setting. Students can do most of the work independently, but there are points at which they should have a discussion, and they should read their compositions aloud to parents or other students. (The final composition assignment includes a Presentation Rubric for evaluating the student’s oral presentation.)
There are separate teacher and student editions. The teacher edition is available only as a PDF, but you can purchase either a shrink-wrapped set of looseleaf pages or a PDF for the student edition. The 454-page PDF of the student edition needs to be printed in color, so keep this in mind when considering which version to purchase. The teacher edition has overprinted answers, highlighting, and a few pages of information for the teacher, but is otherwise the same as the student edition.
Scripture and classic literature to be used for reading and analysis on many levels include the book of Esther from the Bible, scripture passages about Jesus, and lengthy excerpts from The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan) by J.M. Barrie. Students will mark up sections of these literary works presented in the various lessons. Interestingly, Lesson 20 introduces a primer on worldviews that challenges students with some worldview questions, such as “What does it mean to be human?” The last two questions ask students to apply worldview analysis to the story of Peter Pan.
The lessons on writing teach both structure and style. Students have fewer writing assignments than in the earlier levels; there are occasional brief assignments and a few lengthy assignments to be completed with MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting. In at least one instance in Lesson 19, they do an extensive analysis of one of their own writing assignments. Students will write an essay on the irony in the book of Esther in the first semester and a two- or three-page “Imaginary World Narrative” in the last quarter of the course.
The course introduces “The Awful Words Song” to teach students a short list of overused words to avoid in their writing. To replace those words, students learn to use a thesaurus to look up alternatives.
The Middle School Level covers grammar at an increasingly sophisticated level, adding topics such as verbals (gerunds, participles, and infinitives), verb tenses, apostrophe rules, and clauses. Students spend a great deal of time identifying parts of speech, syntax (e.g., nouns used as subjects, direct objects, or indirect objects), correct and incorrect usage and punctuation, and prepositional phrases. They also edit and revise at gradually more difficult levels, as they move from Fool’s Forest to the Family Tree, and finally to the Artist Tree.
Comprehensive “Semester Grammar Reviews” that might be used as tests are included in Lessons 14 and 30, but Gorby says that applying grammar within the writing activities is more important.
Middle School students can continue with By the Book Writing, A Writing Curriculum With Classic Literature and a Research Paper: Middle School Level and By the Book Writing’s Research Manual MLA Format. Grammar Castle and the Kingdom of Writing workbooks for high school are also under development.
Grammar Castle offers an intriguing approach to language arts that is both beautiful and uplifting. It starts out gently, but it has strong academic content that fits especially well with both classical and Charlotte Mason approaches to education.