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 Level 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, so you might prefer to buy some of the printed resources.
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. The newest editions of the courses (third editions have adjusted the level of the work to be more appropriate for each 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 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 activities, 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 flashcards. Level Five introduces a similar set of Geography & Grammar Cards that will be used 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.
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, but you won't have to.
Images of artwork are included in all course books and are incorporated into the lessons with teacher-directed questions. The artwork images are printed at high resolution so that details are visible. 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 using 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; artwork for each story was 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 lessons, and there are charts at the back of the course book with additional irregular and high-frequency 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 (third edition)
Components for Level Two are the 325-page Level Two: Course Book (third edition), the Level Two: Personal Reader, the Level Two: Shared Reader, and the set of Phonics Cards. You can continue to use the set of phonics flashcards that was used in Levels K and One if you already have them. The Shared Reader, which is comprised of five books, is to be read aloud by both parent and child. A free PDF answer key is available. This latest edition is easier to use than previous editions. Lesson material—aside from the readers, flashcards, and sight word ladders—is presented where it will be used for each lesson, so parents can just open the course book and follow along.
Phonograms are reviewed to reinforce previous instruction in phonics, and children will also memorize some sight words. Plenty of reading practice is included. In addition to the Personal Reader and the Shared Reader, the course book contains a number of brief fiction and non-fiction passages plus complete stories for children to read. Comprehension questions often follow these readings in the course book. Specific assignments from the readers are included in the lesson plans. Phillips suggests that parents read aloud to children (or have them listen to audiobooks) for at least another 10 minutes per day.
The amount of writing increases this year as you would expect. Children write sentences, lengthier compositions, and thank-you notes. Sometimes worksheets with instructions help them through the writing process. Spelling instruction is expanded from the previous edition with increased emphasis on spelling rules and patterns.
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.
Level Three (third edition)
Level Three includes instruction in phonics, reading skills, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, composition skills, literature, art, and geography. The components for this level are the Level Three: Course Book, Level Three: Personal Reader, and I Sat by the Sea (poetry collection).
Students will start to learn independently part of the time, so some activities are written directly to the student. Stories from the 326-page reader and poems from I Sat by the Sea are incorporated into the lessons that are presented from the course book. Students will work on memorizing some of the poems.
Grammar grows more challenging with activities such as identifying coordinating conjunctions, dependent clauses, and independent clauses. Students also learn diagramming skills, including diagrams for compound sentences. Spelling words taught in this course are rule-breakers and commonly confused words rather than phonetically grouped words.
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.
A free, PDF answer key is available at the publisher's website.
Level Four (third edition)
My review of the third edition is too lengthy to include here. It has some innovative features that deserved mention. You can read my review of Level Four here.
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 Cards, 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 difficult 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. (The grammar flashcards from the Geography and Grammar Cards set are used separately.)
Students are expected to work more on their own as they mature, so Level Five has Daily Check Lists so that students can mark off assignments as they are completed. In addition to using the Shared Reader, parents 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 (lists to be memorized), poems for memorization, a reference section (with an extensive grammar guide plus maps for geography), course readings, and editing symbols. 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 alternate 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.
All lesson 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 Cards (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 (for blending charcoal pencil lines).
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.
Since there is no course companion, the course book has all of the course material, as well as activities to be used with Little Lord Fauntleroy, instructions as to when to use the Level Six: Reader, and dictation sentences.
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, the United Kingdom (especially Scotland), 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 Cards, and the Daily Checklist (the same Daily Checklist used for Level Five).
The 280-page reader is a compilation of four lengthy stories, a play, and several 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 daily coursework consists of dictation sentences, "ladders" (lists of states and capitals) 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 has URLs for four teaching videos presented by Phillips. With 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. Rather than requiring students to do their own research for papers, this course eases students into the process by supplying the "research material" in an easily accessible format in the Course Companion.
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 all together. (The sections are clearly delineated, so it should be easy to separate them.)
Geography covers Russia, the United Kingdom (especially Wales), Pennsylvania, and regions and sub-regions of the United States. It also reviews states and capitals that were learned in Level Five.
Students completing Level Seven should be ready for high school level work. However, if they are not yet ready for high school level work, they can instead use the Level Eight book studies which TGATB considers optional.