The Good and the Beautiful's Language Arts & Literature courses are available for Level Pre-K through Level Eight, but this review is of the most current editions of the courses for Levels One through Seven. I review the first three levels and Level Eight separately because they function differently than the levels reviewed here. (You can read my individual reviews for Level Pre-K, Level K Primer, Level K, and the Level Eight Book Studies.)
Level One through Level Five are available as free downloads, while downloads of the course sets for Levels Six and Seven are only $20 each. You can also order printed resources for all levels. This sounds like there has to be a catch, but there isn't. You do need to print out many pages if you buy the digital files, and you might prefer to buy some of the printed resources, such as the sets of cards or the Level Four: Creative Companion, but you don't have to.
The Good and the Beautiful's (TGATB) courses for language arts and literature are challenging, so you might use a level that is below a child’s grade level. You can use the free, online placement assessment to determine the correct starting point for each child.
These courses cover more than language arts. In addition to teaching reading, spelling, composition, grammar, vocabulary, and literature, they also teach art and geography. (Geography is taught in Level Two and above). Courses up through Level Three include complete phonics and reading instruction. After that, reading instruction reviews phonics, but it concentrates more on literature and reading skills.
A course book is the central item for each course. (The course book for Level Four comes in two books, Part 1 and Part 2.) The author, Jenny Phillips, recommends that the PDF version be printed in color and assembled in a three-ring binder. The course books have both instructional information and student worksheet activity, often combined on the same pages. At all levels, students need to be able to see most, if not all, of the instructional pages since they include charts, visual aids, reading material, full-color artwork, and other essential parts of the lessons, as well as the activities that students need to complete. The pages with student activities generally need to be printed in color. In addition, parents work closely with their child in the courses up through Level Three, so course books for those levels are written for the parent to direct the lessons. Instructions to the parent within each lesson are in a blue font, while the content that the parent is to read to the child is in a black font. Printing out a course book in black and white will make this difficult to spot. With Level Four and above, children are expected to complete most of their work independently, although there are occasional instructions telling students to read aloud to parents, and parents will provide dictation to students. Assessments are also included in each course book.
In addition to the course book, Level One and Level Two require the use of TGATB's set of Phonics Cards. These come with the free digital course files or you can buy pre-printed cards. Level Four introduces a similar set of Geography & Grammar Cards that will be used all the way through Level Seven. The inclusion of a reader (sometimes two volumes) or a "Course Companion" book varies for each level.
Each course book includes quite a few worksheets. Worksheet activities are balanced between interaction, discussion, and hands-on activity in Levels One through Three, but as students begin to work independently in Level Four, learning methods depend more on reading and writing. Phillips purposely changes the formats of the courses and the individual activities from course to course to keep things interesting.
The curriculum includes reading practice within some of the course books or in readers. Some of the reading material, poems, and images in the course books are from out-of-print sources. (This is probably one way that TGATB has been able to keep their costs so low.)
Parents are encouraged to have their children read additional books of their choosing. You can get Jenny Phillips' list of more than 650 recommended books for grades two through twelve by signing up for her email list.
The courses cover both composition and grammar. Some composition work is included beginning in Level One, but serious composition work begins with Level Four. Grammar is included in Level One, although it is minimal since the emphasis is upon reading. The amount of grammar instruction gradually increases. Sentence diagramming is introduced in Level Two and continues through all levels.
Spelling is incorporated into the lesson plans and is initially taught in conjunction with phonics. Beginning with the third unit of Level One, children begin to memorize and apply spelling rules. The dictation activities within the lessons are also important for improving spelling skills. While spelling activities are sporadic up through Level Three, beginning with Level Four, spelling activities of some sort are incorporated into every lesson.
Each course includes several poems from which students (or their parents) can select a few that the student will memorize over the year. Students have other memory work that varies from course to course.
Geography is added beginning with Level Two. Map work and cultural studies shift geographical focus each year to different, specific parts of the world. While principles of geography are taught each year, geography coverage is relatively superficial. You might want to add more comprehensive geography at some point.
Images of artwork are included in all course books and are incorporated into the lessons with teacher-directed questions. Artworks are not used for picture studies in an open-ended fashion. Instead, children learn something about the artwork, and then they respond to specific questions presented from the course books. In addition, children develop drawing skills and work with some art media. Beginning with Level Two, art lessons are often integrated with coverage of other subject areas.
While the author of TGATB's Language Arts & Literature courses is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the content is non-denominationally Christian. Courses are written from a Christian perspective, incorporating biblical principles and character building, but they are not designed to teach religion; developing positive character is a much stronger theme. As Phillips explains in the introduction to Level One, “This course is faith-based (geared toward Christians of all faiths), with the goal of producing not only intelligent minds but also high character and hearts that love God, nature, and good literature” (p. 2). Consequently, religious content in these courses is limited and sporadic with only occasional mentions of God.
Aside from printing out and preparing resources if you’re using the PDF files, this is pretty much an “open-and-go” curriculum that is easy to use. There is a lot of material in these courses, and the overall quality is surprisingly good. To produce a curriculum like this for free or at very low cost means cutting corners in some areas. The main area seems to be the frequent use of older reading material and artwork that are available for free. Some parents and students might be put off by the style and content of the older material while others might find it charming and appealing.
Reviews of individual levels follow below.
Level One (third edition)
The course for the first level includes the 360-page Level One: Course Book (third edition), the Level One: Reader, and a set of phonics cards. The student should have a three-ring binder where they will collect stories and other things they write for this course and subsequent courses. Activities require a few other resources such as watercolors, poster paints, index cards, cotton swabs, cotton balls, and balloons. An answer key is available as a free download from the publisher’s website.
The course is arranged for you to complete one lesson per day, four days per week. It reviews phonics and introduces nouns, verbs, and adjectives. It also teaches about types of sentences, punctuation, capitalization, verb tenses, and possessive nouns.
Three Writer’s Workshop lessons introduce the writing process as children write two simple stories and a thank you note. Students will work with the same set of phonics cards that they might have begun in Level K.
The 311-page Level One: Reader has stories arranged to correlate with lessons in the course book. The stories are written by Jenny Phillips, and each story is heavily illustrated with artwork for each created by a different illustrator. While the style of artwork varies from story to story, all of the illustrations are lovely.
Children should also have access to other reading material that is at their level. In addition, parents are expected to read aloud from literary works that are above the child's grade level for about ten minutes a day.
This course assumes that children already know how to properly write letters and words. It requires them to write complete sentences and write words and sentences from dictation.
Spelling words are taught within the lesson, and there are charts at the back of the course book with additional high-frequency and irregular spelling words for students who are ready for the extra work.
This level incorporates some artwork study and a few art activities, but if you want more, you should consider using TGATB's Creative Arts & Crafts Projects.
Level Two (second edition)
Components for Level Two are the 377-page Level Two: Course Book (second edition), the Level Two: Course Companion, Level Two: Reader, and phonics cards. You can continue to use the set of phonics cards that was used in Levels K and One if you already have them. You will also need four read-aloud books: The Beatinest Boy by Jesse Stuart, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, Prairie School by Avi, and Lumber Camp Library by Natalie Kinsey Warnock. Questions and activities are included for these four books. In addition, you will need to choose three historical fiction books by Clyde Robert Bulla (selected from 12 available titles) for children to read on their own. There is no separate answer key, but after questions that are to be read to the child, answers are sometimes provided within brackets.
Children are expected to read significantly more at this level than for the previous level. In addition to the individual books mentioned above, the course book contains a number of fiction and non-fiction passages plus stories for children to read. Comprehension questions often follow these readings in the course book. The Level Two: Reader is not incorporated into the lesson plans. This leaves parents free to use either the Level Two: Reader or other reading material written at the same level.
Lessons should take from 45 to 60 minutes each day. Phillips suggests that students read from personal books for an additional 20 minutes a day and that parents read aloud to children for at least another 20 minutes per day.
The amount of writing increases this year as you would expect. Children write sentences for some assignments as well as thank you notes and lengthier compositions. Sometimes worksheets with instructions help them through the writing process. For example, one assignment on page 175 has students present an oral narration comparing two books they have read. Parents help children prepare by assisting them as they list similarities and differences in both books and create an outline. These activities help young students develop skills they will apply to written essays in future courses.
Geography lessons cover foundational concepts such as maps, continents, hemispheres, oceans, the compass, seasons, the equator, and the North and South Poles. They also teach specifically about the countries of North America and a number of European countries. [Note: I came across one questionable geography statement on page 15: “When the world was ﬁrst made, the land was all together in one landmass (a big area of land). The Bible teaches us that many years after Noah and his ark, the land dried apart. Today we have seven continents (main areas of land.)”]
The Level Two: Course Companion is an essential part of the course that will be used primarily by the parent. Parents will record information on some pages in this book. It begins with a chart showing what should be done on a typical day. One activity on this chart is practicing with “sight word ladders.” The 12 sight word ladders (found near the beginning of this book) are 12 lists, each with 16 irregular-sight words or high-frequency words. Children are to practice reading through two of these each day until they can read them fluently. Also found in the Course Companion are instructions for using the phonics cards, instructions and word lists for spelling, spelling rules, poems and instructions for memorization, reading assessments, and map work keys.
Level Three (second edition)
Level Three includes instruction in phonics, reading skills, grammar, vocabulary, and composition skills. The components for this level are the Level Three: Course Book, Level Three: Course Companion, Level Three: Readers (two volumes), and Level Three: Challenging Words Flashcards. The readers are not incorporated into the lesson plans, and you can choose other reading material if you wish in place of them. There is no separate answer key, but after questions that are to be read to the child, answers are sometimes provided within brackets.
The book A Penny’s Worth of Character is required reading this year. In addition, Two “Reading Challenges” require students to read one biography and one work of historical fiction. in addition, parents are expected to read aloud to their child from literary works above their grade level for about 20 minutes a day.
Grammar grows more challenging with activities such as identifying coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, dependent clauses, and independent clauses. Students also learn diagramming skills, including diagrams for compound sentences.
Geography in this course reviews the countries of North America and Europe, then focuses specifically on the United States. It also covers foundational topics such as the equator, hemispheres, maps, the compass, and the poles.
Lessons should take from an hour to an hour and a half each day.
Level Four (first edition)
Level Four has a different layout than the other courses. Course components are Level Four: Part 1 Course Book, Level Four: Part 2 Course Book, Level Four: Creative Companion, and the set of Geography & Grammar Cards.
The full-color, non-consumable Creative Companion book is for students rather than parents. It has lesson material and activities for writing, art, and geography. (Note that this is quite different from the course companion books for some of the other courses.) The Creative Companion often makes connections between the different subject areas being studied. It has instructions for art projects as well as artwork images used in lessons. Students will trace maps from the book, labeling on their traced maps rather than writing in the book. Phillips encourages you to buy a printed version of this book ($13.99) since art images "bleed" to the edges of pages and won't reproduce completely when printed from a computer.
Students also need a number of art supplies and resources for other assignments: a highlighter, tracing paper (or very thin paper), a set of chalk pastels, a kneaded eraser, art tape, a spray ﬁxative, and watercolor or pastel paper.
This course signals a shift toward more independent study for students in TGATB curriculum. Children complete one lesson in the course book and one lesson in the Creative Companion each day. Course books and the Creative Companion are written directly to the student. Frequently, the course books tell students to read something to their parent or teacher, so some parental or teacher involvement is still required in these instances. Parents will also need to check student work and help with art projects.
Children will do a good deal of independent reading this year using five older books that are included with the course books plus another two newer books that you will need to obtain: The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck and Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop.
Writing and grammar receive increased attention this year with children learning to write short essays, poetry, stories, letters, and thank you notes. Some lessons have students work from writing models by well-known authors. Daily spelling activities help students master 80 words that don't follow the rules or are commonly misspelled.
Lessons should take about 85 minutes per day, four days per week. Answer keys are in the back of the two course books, but Part 1 has the answer key to Part 2 and vice versa.
Level Five (second edition)
Components of the fifth level include the Level Five: Course Book, the Level Five: Course Companion book, the set of Geography & Grammar Flashcards (the same set used with earlier levels), the Level Five: Personal Reader, and the Level Five: Shared Reader. Students will also need a timer, a watercolor set, watercolor paper, and paintbrushes.
The readers contain public domain material with small modifications to update the language. In the Shared Reader, the reading is more difficult than what the child should easily be able to read on his or her own. So parent and child take turns reading paragraphs with the parent assisting with or teaching difficulty vocabulary words as needed. The Shared Reader is coordinated with the lessons in the course book. The Personal Reader is not integrated with the lesson plans and can be read by students on their own. Other reading material can be substituted for the Personal Reader.
Geography this year reviews basic information and focuses on South America and different biomes. Students will practice with the geography flashcards until they are mastered.
Students are expected to work more on their own as they mature, so Level Five has Daily Check Lists for students to mark off assignments as they are completed. In addition to using the Shared Reader, parents still work with students on a few things. They need to dictate sentences to students every day, and the course book occasionally indicates other activities that require parental interaction.
The Level Five: Course Companion is used by both student and parent. Students will frequently use the States and Capitals Ladders, poems for memorization, reference section (with an extensive grammar guide plus maps for geography), course readings (all written by Jennifer D. Lerud), and editing symbols and explanations. The answer key at the end of the book, along with the sentence dictation section, will be used by the teacher. Personally, I’d print these pages and separate them into teacher and student groups rather than keeping them together.
Students will do quite a bit of writing, and Phillips recommends that children learn to type on a computer if they have not already done so. Students will need two blank notebooks; one for written assignments and the other for notes and ideas for future assignments. There are numerous “Writer’s Notebook Assignments” throughout the course book. Many of these are brief, timed writing activities, but students will also write poems, descriptions, summaries, various types of essays, a narrative story, and a researched article.
For art, watercolor skills are developed through various projects. Some art projects stand alone, while others connect to subject matter in the course. Art appreciation lessons like those in earlier levels continue to develop familiarity with both art and artists.
Using the Level Five: Course Companion, students rotate practice with States and Capitals Ladders and poetry memorization, working on one of these each day in addition to course book assignments. Similarly, they will also practice with either the geography or grammar cards each day. The memorization and drill should take a total of about 10 minutes per day. Sentence dictation should take about 10 minutes. Students should spend about 30 minutes per day on course book work then read independently for another 15 to 20 minutes each day. The Shared Reader should require about seven minutes a day. All activities should take a total of about 75 minutes per day. Lessons are scheduled for only four days per week, so there’s plenty of extra time for additional reading and completing activities that weren't completed on other days.
Lessons are laid out in sequence for students to easily follow. They will be writing directly in their course book, so parents can easily check their work. An answer key is in the Course Companion. Parents will also need to check composition work separately and ensure that students are actually completing drill work that they have checked off on their Daily Check Lists. This balance of independent work and interaction should work well for most students at this level.
Level Six (first edition)
The sixth level has a course book, an answer key and a reader. You will also use the set of Geography & Grammar Flashcards (the same set used with earlier levels). The book Little Lord Fauntleroy is used for about a month, and you will need to borrow or purchase it. Students will also need a timer, a highlighter, tracing paper, a set of chalk pastels, a kneaded eraser, art tape, spray fixative, a charcoal pencil, watercolor or pastel paper, and blending stumps.
The Level Six: Reader includes two complete books and excerpts from another book. A full-length biography and a number of poems are also found in the course book. The biography is in the course book rather than the reader because it is presented in sections and is accompanied by activities for each section.
The course book has activities to be used with Little Lord Fauntleroy, instructions as to when to use the Level Six: Reader, dictation sentences, and all of the other course material since there is no course companion.
As you would expect, language arts and literature receive the most attention while there is also plenty of instruction in grammar and composition skills. Composition assignments include a book review, summaries, literature response papers, a magazine travel article, poems, autobiographical sketches, and various types of essays.
In art, students develop drawing skills and work with pastels. For geography, students learn about Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Scotland, United Kingdom, and New England.
Level Seven (first edition)
Level Seven components include the Level Seven: Course Book, the Level Seven: Course Companion, Level Seven: Favorite Classics Reader, Geography & Grammar Flashcards, and the Daily Checklist (the same list used for Level Five).
The 280-page reader is a compilation of four lengthy stories, a play, and a collection of short stories by Leo Tolstoy. Some of these works have been modified and updated by Jenny Phillips.
Art projects in this level teach line art drawing skills, so students need a set of drawing pencils and a sketchbook.
The coursework consists of daily dictation sentences, ladders and poetry to be memorized, lessons from the course book, independent reading, and composition work.
Grammar, literary skills, compositions skills, spelling, and vocabulary become increasingly challenging. This level adds links to four teaching videos presented by Phillips. In one of these videos, students are to practice listening and taking notes as Phillips discusses one of the required books and the criteria for judging the quality of books. In another, she teaches how to diagram prepositional phrases that modify other prepositional phrases.
This course helps students learn how to write research papers, but it begins gently by supplying the "research material" in an easily accessible format in the Level Seven: Course Companion rather than requiring students to do their own research. This is useful preparation for high school level research papers.
As with Level Five, the Course Companion mixes sections to be used by the student and the teacher. This includes an answer key. So I recommend printing these pages from the PDF file and separating them into teacher and student groups rather than keeping them together.
Geography covers Russia, Wales and the United Kingdom, Pennsylvania, and regions and sub-regions of the U.S. It also reviews states and capitals that were learned in Level Five.
Students completing Level Seven should be ready for high school level work, although they can instead use the Level Eight book studies which TGATB considers optional.