Author Melanie Wilson wanted to create an easy-to-use language arts curriculum that children enjoy and that also teaches for mastery rather than repeating the same concepts year after year. The result is the Grammar Galaxy curriculum. In spite of the title, the series covers much more than grammar, also addressing vocabulary, spelling, composition, literature, and speech. The courses do not teach phonics or handwriting.
Grammar Galaxy consists of a series of six courses that are not written for specific grade levels, so you can use them whenever they are most suitable. The first course is best for students who are just beginning to read and write—usually first or second grade. The second course through the sixth course fit best for grades three through seven, respectively, but they might also be used with older students. Titles of the Grammar Galaxy courses are:
Volume 1: Nebula
Volume 2: Protostar
Volume 3: Yellow Star
Volume 4: Red Star
Volume 5: Blue Star
Volume 6: Nova
Each course is divided into either four or five units, and each unit focuses on one or two areas of language arts. All courses have separate units on literature and grammar and a combined unit on composition and speaking. Nebula has two separate units on spelling and vocabulary while all of the other courses combine both topics within a single unit. These courses have children spend more time reading, writing, and working on speaking skills than on worksheets.
You can spread the reading and activities out over as many days of the week as you wish. While each course has 36 chapters (and missions) that can be used over an entire school year, it should be easy to move through courses at a faster pace than one lesson per week, possibly even completing two courses in one year.
Older students who have struggled with language arts might start with Nebula. The amount of writing required in Nebula is minimal, which means it won’t be adequate for the average older student, but it could be perfect and build confidence for those who have difficulty with written work. An older student can also start with one of the other courses, but since this program doesn’t repeat topics, you will need to make sure students are placed at the proper level. Click here to use Grammar Galaxy’s placement quiz. Alternatively, if you have a good idea of what your child already knows and needs to learn next, you might be able to identify which course to use from their scope and sequence.
Each course consists of an Adventures in Language Arts storybook and a Mission Manual. Both books are available in both print and PDF formats. (If you purchase digital versions, you can print pages for more than one child in your household.) Children will write only in their Mission Manuals, each of which has about 350 to 400 pages. The storybook is also available as a set of MP3 files (as of June 2021, only for the first two courses), recorded by professional voice actor Tom McLean. (Students who listen to the audio still need to be able to see pages from the storybook for other features, such as the definitions of vocabulary words and the end-of-chapter questions.) In addition to these course components, the publisher's website has dedicated pages with free online resources. Some of these resources, such as graphic organizers and online tools that simplify student work, are super helpful.
How It Works
The Adventures in Language Arts storybooks present stories about three children—Kirk, Luke, and Ellen—and their parents—the King and Queen of planet English. The King explains to his children that whatever happens on planet English affects all of Grammar Galaxy. He frequently enlists the aid of his children to combat problems, appointing them Guardians of the Galaxy. The children are called upon to avert potential disasters, such as the disappearance of words not used frequently enough—words such as abominable and atrocious. Or they might confront a problem caused by the Gremlin who is out to destroy Grammar Galaxy. The Gremlin is responsible for nefarious acts, such as breaking apart all compound words or tricking all of the pronouns into moving to the Confinement Condominiums where they are imprisoned and can’t be used.
Snippets of instructional information are snuck into the stories as the children figure out how to deal with each dilemma. Vocabulary words are taught within the context of the story as well. These are bolded in the books, and brief definitions are shown in sidebars. Spelling strategies are also taught within the stories rather than having children study lists of spelling words in a traditional fashion. Three questions are posed at the end of each chapter. These questions are always of three types: one asks the meaning of one of the vocabulary words, one is a comprehension question relating to the story, and the other has to do with grammar rules or definitions. These questions are intended for oral responses. Answer keys for these questions are only available for Blue Star and Nova (Volumes 5 and 6) as of June 2021, but they will be added to the second editions of the first four volumes. In the meantime, parents should be able to figure out correct answers easily enough.
After reading a chapter, students complete Mission Manual activities, which often refer back to the story. These activities generally look like traditional grammar exercises. Each set of activities is introduced with a brief letter from the Guardians of Grammar Galaxy (the English family) that assigns students a mission related to the story. For example, the story about the adventure of the imprisoned pronouns in Chapter 23 of the Nebula storybook connects directly with Mission 23 in the Mission Manual for Nebula where students complete three activities involving pronouns and vocabulary words. Some review of previously taught concepts is usually included in the first activity. There is a fourth activity for “Advanced Guardians Only” that is optional and should be used by students who need a greater challenge. Correct answers for all activities are on the final page of each mission.
As I mentioned earlier, Grammar Galaxy teaches for mastery when it covers a concept, so it does not reteach the same information year after year. Using nouns as an example, Nebula introduces their basic forms (common, proper, singular, and plural). Then Protostar teaches about nouns that are possessive or are used as subjects. The third course, Yellow Star, then covers abstract nouns, direct objects, and subject-verb agreement.
At the end of each unit are two quizzes, each with ten multiple-choice questions. You should use one quiz, and if a student answers at least nine questions correctly, he or she can move on to the next unit. If not, you can review then retest with the second quiz.
Working with Younger Students
Since Volume 1: Nebula is intended for young students, Wilson has purposely limited the amount of writing required. For most activities, students can use a highlighter to mark the correct answer. She suggests that parents work closely with younger students throughout the course, reading the story aloud, discussing vocabulary words and questions, and working through the activities. The books for Volume 2: Protostar might also be read aloud to students depending upon their ability to read and understand on their own. By Volume 3: Yellow Star, students should be able to work independently. Even if students can read independently, I recommend that parents go over the three questions at the end of each story in the storybooks aloud with their child as a quick verification that they understood what they read.
Coverage for Literature, Composition, Spelling, and Vocabulary
Similarly, concepts build from year to year in other areas. For instance, in the literature units, Nebula teaches about reading from context, reading for comprehension, identifying fiction and non-fiction, the elements of a story, tall tales, and rhyming words. Then Protostar moves on to reading and analyzing fables and myths, reading autobiographies, identifying story elements such as alliteration and story action, and reading classic literature. (With parental assistance, children will choose five classic books to read over the year.) At the top level, Nova, students learn about literary genres, story arcs, and character arcs. They also learn to identify propaganda techniques, which helps them learn how to both read closely and analyze what they are reading. Most of the courses incorporate a few excerpts from classic literature, fables, and myths—either in the Mission Manual or in the online resources.
In the area of composition, even beginning with Nebula, the optional activities for Advanced Guardians often include writing. In Protostar, all children are required to do written work, and they gradually encounter harder writing assignments as the series progresses. For example, Red Star, the fourth volume, teaches students how to write a research paper, including outlining, note-taking, and citing references (using the in-text MLA format). (Yes, this is early to introduce this level of research-paper writing.) Blue Star, the fifth volume, teaches concepts such as parallel structure, passive voice, and how to write various types of essays and news articles. Nova, the sixth volume, introduces topics such as how to use dictation software, how to proofread, writing exam essays, and writing a keyword outline to use for presenting an after-dinner speech.
Spelling activities focus on a few areas that are problematic for students rather than attempting to provide a complete spelling program. Vocabulary is emphasized in one unit in each course, but there are vocabulary-related activities throughout the courses. Actually, all of the different language-arts skills often appear in other units than the designated one, and I really like this integration.
You will need to supplement most of these courses with additional literature and composition work, particularly when students are not working in those particular units.
Teaching these courses should be easy. There’s no advance preparation time and no separate teacher manuals to read through. For many lessons, it will take longer to read the story than to complete the activities. Many children will enjoy the use of the stories as instructional devices. But a few children might find the story an unnecessary bother to get to the instructional information—they might prefer a more efficient approach.
Grammar Galaxy teaches much more than grammar, and it does so in a unique fashion. I am strongly in favor of not belaboring grammar by reteaching over and over again, so I appreciate Grammar Galaxy’s efficient approach in that regard. However, some children might need reteaching or more review than is included in Grammar Galaxy. In addition, while I personally like the integration of the various areas of language arts, some parents and children might prefer separate instruction in grammar, literature, composition, etc. These are matters of preference that parents should consider when deciding whether or not Grammar Galaxy is a good choice for them, but I believe that it should work well in many situations. Free sample lessons are available on the publisher’s website, so you can try them before buying.