Saxon Grammar and Writing (SGW) uses the same educational methodology that has popularized the Saxon math books. Courses for grades four through eight are designed so that students can do much of their work independently. Saxon Grammar and Writing 3, a new course for third graders published by Hake Publishing, is also available but is reviewed separately. New concepts are taught in small increments, building upon prior concepts in a spiral fashion that helps students retain what they have learned. Lessons also offer continual review.
There are three components for each level: student edition, student workbook, and teacher guide. Both the student edition and student workbook serve as worktexts with instruction, exercises, and assignments.
The student edition, the largest of the three books (with 107 to 112 lessons per volume) is the starting place. A brief introduction succinctly describes course content. At the top of the first page of each lesson is a box that says “Dictation or Journal Entry” followed by “Vocabulary”—a few words with definitions and sample sentences. Without instruction, students would not know that there are dictation passages for each week at the back of their student edition. (In the introductions to the student editions for grades seven and eight, a few vital lines have been added to direct students to dictation and journal topics in the appendices.) Students copy dictation passages on the first day they begin a group of lessons and study them on remaining lesson days until they reach a test day. Then they write the passage out from oral dictation as part of testing. Spelling and punctuation are learned primarily through the dictation exercises.
Each student edition has 100 journaling topics at the back. Students should write about these topics between the first day when they copy the dictation and test day, although they are not assigned for particular days. The bulk of the book is dedicated to instruction, examples, and exercises in grammar. Lessons follow a standard format of instruction accompanied by examples. This is followed by some practice exercises on the new concept and the vocabulary for that lesson. The review set is where students find the bulk of the exercises for a lesson. Reviews tackle previously-taught concepts. Italicized numbers next to each question indicate which lesson(s) taught the concept in case students need to review. While many students will like the variety in these exercises, others might prefer exercises all on one topic such as you find in Easy Grammar.
This is a fairly comprehensive English program covering grammar, writing, spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary. Literature and reading are the only areas missing. Grammar instruction is very challenging and includes sentence diagramming.
The program does review and repeat through each level, so it is possible for a student to begin at any level. In fact the review is so extensive that you can easily skip some levels. For example, in both SGW 4 and SGW 5 student edition lessons have the exact same titles and cover essentially the same material in all except two lessons. However, SGW 4 provides diagramming templates for exercises while SGW 5 does not. Other levels are not quite this repetitive.
Aside from the dictation and journal assignments in the student edition, the separate student workbook is where composition instruction occurs. SGW has a stronger composition component than many other comprehensive programs, and it was increased even more with the second editions of levels five through eight published in 2013.
A schedule for the lessons—showing which days students are to do lessons from either the student edition or the student workbook—is found in the teacher guide. I would recommend making a copy of this schedule for students to have handy.
All levels work on paragraph writing as well as essay writing—persuasive, descriptive, and informative essays at first, but gradually adding other types of essays and honing essay-writing skills. Students also write personal narratives and imaginative stories, and they write in response to both literature and informational texts. Surprisingly, even fourth graders tackle a research paper with an outline, note cards, and a working bibliography. Research paper instruction is almost identical through all levels, but I question whether most fourth and fifth graders are ready to work at this level. Use your own judgment.
In addition to composition lessons, student workbooks have “More Practice” lessons that are to be used in conjunction with student edition lessons. (Note that in the student editions it says “See More Practice Lesson 'x' in the Student Workbook.”)
The student workbooks also include a few supplemental activities that are similar to Mad Libs where students come up with a list of words that fit designations such as “abstract common noun,” “preposition,” or “nominative case personal pronoun (feminine).” They then slot these “parts of speech” into a pre-written story in the workbook, and the result is bound to be silly. This is a great way to review grammatical terms.
The content of the lessons sometimes integrates information about literature, history, geography, and character building. While U.S. history gets some attention at all levels, the eighth grade text brings in U.S. history and government even more through examples, exercises, dictation, and journal topics. This makes the eighth grade course an excellent companion for simultaneous study of U.S. history in social studies or history.
After the first ten lessons, tests are in the student edition after every fifth lesson. This does not follow a predictable schedule such as testing every Friday since there are five student edition lessons and sometimes one or more student workbook lessons between tests. Tests and answer keys for all components are in the teacher guide.
All three components for each level are printed in black and white in softcover books. There are no graphics other than those required for diagramming or other exercises. The books are definitely meant to be consumable books. Students can complete many of their exercises directly in the student edition and student workbook, but sometimes they will need more space for such tasks as rewriting sentences or diagramming. Thus, students will also need to maintain a notebook for some of their exercises as well as for composition assignments.
Saxon Grammar and Writing seems comparable to the more rigorous grammar program in its coverage of grammar, and its composition instruction is better than that in most comprehensive programs. Also, the inclusion of diagramming distinguishes it from many other options. The distinctive Saxon incremental teaching and review approach—the same approach used in the Saxon Math series—will also attract fans as well as put off those who prefer more concentrated coverage of each topic in each lesson. I suspect parents will like this program since students can complete most of their work on their own, and even with composition assignments, students learn to self-evaluate to a certain extent. The content appeals to a broad audience that might be either secular or religious.