The Critical Thinking Co.™ publishes Language Smarts, a language arts series for the elementary grades with Levels B, C, D, and E available for grades one through four, respectively. One large worktext (over 340 pages) for each level provides self-instructional student activity pages and has an answer key at the back. Each volume can serve either as your core curricula or as a supplemental resource.
In contrast to most language arts programs that can serve as core curricula, these worktexts arrange lessons by topic, covering one area of language arts at a time. For instance, there might be a number of lessons on the parts of speech, followed by a series of lessons on punctuation. An exception to this is the lessons taken from Editor in Chief® books (from the same publisher). Editor in Chief lessons that are appropriate for each grade level are scattered throughout all four books. Levels C, D, and E also add scattered lessons from the publisher's Writing Detective® series (also from the same publisher).
Lessons are presented in a variety of formats with a heavy dose of critical thinking skills incorporated from time to time. While there are many exercises that are similar to what you find in other courses—e.g., underlining words that belong to word families, circling the verb in each sentence, and joining sentence fragments to create one complete sentence—many lessons include some of the same innovative approaches that The Critical Thinking Co. has used in their other publications. I've already mentioned the lessons from the Editor in Chief and Writing Detective series. Some reading comprehension lessons use formats similar to those in the Reading Detective® series. Level B includes a few deductive-reasoning grid puzzles from the Mind Benders® series. In addition, lessons sometimes include word searches, crossword puzzles, and pictograms.
Some Brief instruction at the beginning of a lesson is followed by one or more practice pages. Students write directly in these consumable books.
The visually rich practice pages In Levels B and C are likely to make practicing those concepts more appealing to students. Curiously, the graphic design style changes for Level D and Level E. In the first two levels, the pages have colored, wavy frames and background shading within the frames. Level D has colored, rectangular frames around the pages, but no background shading. Level E is less colorful than Level D.
Levels B and C feature many more illustrations than you see in most language arts books. The illustrations in all of the books are a mix of styles, but there is a jarring mix of clip art styles in Level D. Level E has very few illustrations, so the style is irrelevant. While there's a significant difference in the appearance of the different levels, the books all have some full color, and the pages are not overly busy.
Details about Each Level
Level B for first grade begins with letters, short and long vowels, vowel digraphs and diphthongs, consonant blends, and other phonetic elements of words from pages 1 to 57. Later, there are lessons on nouns, verbs, subjects and predicates from pages 116 through 155. Other topics covered in this book are the articles a and an, syllables, word families, rhymes, contractions, compound words, high-frequency words, verb tenses, sentences, usage (e.g., was and were, me and I), comparative adjectives and adverbs, singular and plural, antonyms, synonyms, homophones, homographs, categorizing, sequencing, deductive reasoning, capitalization and punctuation, reading skills (context clues, facts and inferences, predictions, characters, setting, topics, main ideas, and cause and effect), poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and descriptive writing.
Level C for second grade reviews and expands upon concepts taught in Level B then adds prefixes, suffixes, roots, paragraphs, Writing Detective® activities, alliteration, folktales, writing and following directions, the parts of a book, using the dictionary, writing friendly letters, and other writing activities such as alternative story endings and problem/solution paragraphs.
Level D for third grade again expands upon earlier concepts and adds alphabetizing, simple and compound sentences, conjunctions, common and proper nouns, adjectives, irregular verbs, similes, metaphors, the use of story maps, writing numbers with words, using reference materials, and the library. This level concludes by having students write a one-page “research paper.” In addition, the content also seems less creative and less oriented toward critical thinking—many of the activities seem much like those in traditional language arts workbooks but with more color.
Level E for fourth grade reviews some concepts such as the parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation, but it adds noticeably in three areas: the use of reference resources, literary analysis, and composition skills. The author of this book, Noreen Conte, is also the author of The Critical Thinking Co.'s Building Writing Skills® series. Conte uses some of the same formats and techniques here for multi-part composition lessons that she uses in that series.
Many of the Language Smarts activities are likely to be a bit more interesting for students than the fairly predictable activities in most traditional language arts workbooks.
(Note that Editor in Chief, Mind Benders, Reading Detective, and Writing Detective are the trademarked names of particular styles of activities created by The Critical Thinking Co. and used in other resources they publish.)