Fix It! Grammar is a series of six books that teach grammar and other elements of language arts. I like this series so much that I created a video review as well. Books in the Fix It! Grammar series present students with a short excerpt from an ongoing story each day. Students define bolded vocabulary words; make grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling corrections; identify parts of speech, phrases, and clauses; and work with dress ups, sentence openers, and other style elements as taught in Teaching Writing Structure and Style. Students then recopy each passage once they’ve fixed it.
Lessons begin on a relatively easy level and gradually progress to a challenging level. Each Fix It! Grammar course is based upon a fictional story in an abridged or rewritten version. The six courses are:
The Nose Tree (Book 1)
Robin Hood (Book 2)
Frog Prince or Just Deserts (Book 3)
Little Mermaid (Book 4)
Chanticleer (Book 5)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Book 6)
Fix It! Grammar can serve as your primary source of grammar instruction while also developing students’ vocabulary and writing skills. The series makes a perfect companion for IEW’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style since it applies terminology and strategies from that course. The terminology is explained well enough in the new series that even those not using Teaching Writing Structure and Style can still use Fix It! However, it still makes sense to use both together if possible.
The Fix It! books are ungraded, and they might be used with students as young as about third grade as well as up through high school. White recommends that all students, even teens, begin with The Nose Tree (Book 1) since the knowledge, skills, and strategies taught in each book build upon one another. However, there is a placement test at IEW’s website for those who think the first book might be too easy or redundant for their child.
In each course, the fictional story is told with only one or a few sentences per day. Students will then work with that portion of the story learning about and identifying grammatical elements, making grammar and punctuation corrections, defining a vocabulary word, making stylistic changes, and rewriting the complete passage. Humor, fantasy, and a delightful use of language—hallmarks of the fictional stories—are all likely to appeal to most students. Here is a student rewrite of one passage from Robin Hood so you can get a sense of the language used. This passage was presented one sentence per day for four days.
As he approached, he noticed a tall stranger, who was resolutely striding toward the other side of the bridge. Robin quickened his pace when the stranger did too since each imagined to cross first.
“If you know your best interest, stand back, sir,” demanded Robin brusquely, “because the better man should cross first.”
“No,” responded the confident interloper, “you stand back yourself since I am the better man” (p. 91).
There are both a teacher’s manual and a student workbook for each course. Purchase of a Fix It! Grammar teacher’s manual also gives you free access to a downloadable PDF copy of the student workbook for the course. You may print pages for your entire family or class group. (Co-op groups meeting once or twice a week should require each parent to purchase a teacher’s manual since parents will need it to work with students between class sessions.) IEW also sells printed student books if you prefer not to print them out yourself.
Students will also need a binder with four tabbed sections for Fix Its, Grammar Glossary, Rewrite, and Vocabulary. While students will mark up sentences in their student workbook, other work will be done on binder pages.
New concepts are explained in the student workbooks. Still, parents or teachers should go over the concepts with them, modeling what is being taught for students so they clearly understand what they are to do. For example, The Nose Tree teaches about adjectives in week 14 (p. 30). The student book explains what an adjective is, gives students a "test" to use to determine whether or not a word is an adjective, and instructs them to add the grammar card on adjectives to their collection of grammar cards. Students are then to begin identifying and marking adjectives in each day’s passage. The parent or teacher should work closely with students, first helping them to use the "test" to identify adjectives in the first passage, then continue working this way until the student is able to easily identify most adjectives. The exercises are teaching tools, so White encourages parents and teachers to treat lessons like puzzles or detective games rather than exercises to be graded. Students will be exposed to concepts over and over again, so they will learn eventually even if they struggle with a concept at first.
Student workbook pages in the first three courses have “reminders” at the top of the page above the sentences from the story that they will be marking up. Reminders are prompts for the tasks students need to complete for each sentence. For example, a list might include reminders for the vocabulary word, paragraph indent, punctuation, apostrophes, and parts of speech to be marked. (Reminders aren’t used in the three other books because the tasks shift toward more comprehensive editing.)
Students will also be working with a set of grammar cards. These come already printed on card stock (double-sided) in the printed student books, but you can print them yourself onto card stock from the PDF files. Students gradually add these cards to their “working collection” as they learn about each topic.
The teacher’s manuals have completely marked up sentences for easy reference. Below each day’s correctly marked up sentence, the teacher also has detailed notes and explanations for anything that might not be obvious. Among the teacher’s notes, you will sometimes spot “Grammar lovers” notes. These are more advanced explanations that might help clarify a point of confusion or might be taught to advanced students. Teacher’s manuals also have reduced images of student instructional pages, so it is easy for the teacher and student to work together through each day’s lesson.
As I mentioned earlier, books get progressively more difficult, building upon one another in sequence. For example, The Nose Tree (Book 1) teaches basic parts of speech and prepositional phrases. Subsequent books emphasize identifying subjects and verbs so that students can identify both main clauses and dependent clauses. Editing work begins at a simple level in the first book and continually becomes more challenging so that students are doing advanced editing in Book 6. On the other hand, students are expected to have mastered parts of speech and identification of prepositional phrases after a few books, so the “mark up” activities for those taper off while the emphasis shifts toward more comprehensive editing.
Students work on elements of writing style both to develop writing skills and to practice applications of grammar. Using IEW terminology, the courses have students identify only dress-ups in the first book, and sentence-openers are added in Book 2. Both continue through the rest of the books becoming increasingly challenging.
Students will rewrite the passage each day after they’ve made corrections, so it is important that they get it all correct before the rewrite.
Fix It! requires both independent and interactive work. Once students understand the process, they can sometimes correct and mark up the passage for the day on their own, and they should be able to do vocabulary work and the rewrites on their own. There will definitely be points at which students need additional instruction on a skill or concept. Discussion is an important part of the courses. Also, the parent or teacher needs to go over student work before they rewrite to make sure they have done it correctly. How long this will take each day varies from lesson to lesson and student to student. No more than 15 minutes a day should be spent on a lesson. If students have trouble completing lessons within that time, parents or teachers should decide if there are parts of a lesson that can be skipped for a student to keep things manageable. Even if students don’t do everything, they will be exposed to concepts over and over again and will gradually learn the concepts. On the other hand, if students already have some background, they can move through lessons more quickly. High school students might even complete two books per year.
Fix It! courses should be more effective than traditional grammar courses because they teach grammar through immediate application—they teach students only what they need to know at the moment. The interesting language of the stories combined with the storylines themselves are also much more likely to engage students’ attention. Even students who have begun to learn grammar using other resources might find Fix It! a welcome change.