Learning Grammar Naturally {Review}

I have always been a bit of a grammar geek, as was my grandmother before me. People talk about having blue blood; well we have red ink running through our veins. Most of our kids have naturally good grammar, because they grew up hearing great literature and generally proper spoken grammar. Usually this carries through to writing, but sometimes there are questions–where in tarnation does this comma go?

I know many students, even good ones, who hate grammar after years of repeatedly studying rule after rule after rule. Even after all that repetition, some still can’t figure out why I’m dying in the pews every time a pastor says, “Speak to Judy or myself after the service.” I just died again. Rules taught by most curricula don’t necessarily translate to proper usage. The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has solved this problem with their six-level Fix It! Grammar program, from which we are using level 2, Robin Hood.

Fix It! Grammar models proper grammar through literature and usage. It takes a classic story (in our case, Robin Hood) and breaks it up into sentences over the course of 33 four-day weeks. The students read and work with a sentence or two each day as they essentially play hunt-and-correct games and perform exercises to practice grammar elements. Each lesson initially provides only minimal instruction, so the students don’t immediately realize they are learning. As the students edit the work, they begin to internalize the concepts and eventually edit their own writing.

This is an example from Week 5 in the student book of Robin Hood, level 2.

Each level contains a student book and a teacher’s manual. The manual includes links to download additional copies of the student book to print for other family members. (You know by now how much I hate printing, but this really wasn’t a big deal.) There is also a link to grammar cards that can be printed and cut out, or the students can use the cards in the back of the student book. Students also require a spiral bound notebook for vocabulary words. If a family is working with more than one student and printing extra pages, that student will also need a binder if you don’t want your new living room decor to be grammar pages.

Over the course of 33 lessons, the students will learn the following concepts:

  • Parts of speech–all the basic parts of speech are reviewed or taught, as well as who-which clauses, coordinating conjunctions, clauses and phrases, subjects, main and independent clauses, and coordinate and cumulative adjectives.
  • Punctuation–there is a heavy emphasis on commas at this level.
  • Dress-ups (writing enhancers)–students develop a solid grasp of who-which statements, descriptive words, strong verbs, and clause starters.
  • Sentence starters–students learn six different ways to begin a sentence or clause.
  • Extras–the book reviews numerous homophones as well as capitalization, indentation, number rules, and reviews of all previously learned material.
  • Vocabulary–about five words are learned each week.

The teacher’s manual is currently listed at $19 for each level. The student download pages are included with the teacher’s manual. If a student prefers the spiral bound student notebook, that is also available for an additional $15. All six levels of the teacher’s manuals are also available for a total of $89. Did you catch that? For $19 and the cost of printing, you have an entire year of grammar!

Each week in Robin Hood begins by reading over the Learn It section either independently or with the instructor, ideally with the instructor. Here the student learns the grammar concepts and the proper editorial marks they will be using to correct that week’s sentences.

Each day the student will read the day’s sentence. The student fixes the sentence and then discusses the fixes with the instructor. Missed edits are considered learning opportunities. Therefore, much of the teaching occurs when discussing the student’s mistakes. The student also looks up the day’s vocabulary word or words. The word goes directly into the notebook, beginning at the back and moving forward.

We’re not this far yet, but this is an example of the student page in week 30.

After the sentences are fixed, the student copies them neatly into the spiral notebook from the beginning moving toward the back where the vocabulary words are listed. The final result is a properly edited copy of the entire story.

The program is designed with a teacher available to guide the students on the first day. Subsequent days are for the student to work independently, but for the instructor to step in to discuss mistakes. However, it is possible for older students to work through the program themselves if they are given access to the teacher’s manual as well. The most benefit comes from working together, of course, but if you’re our neighbors in a crazy little town called Real World, rest assured that older children can follow the program well while you’re in bed with a migraine from not sleeping through the night in 23 years…hypothetically.

The age of the student isn’t as important as the student’s current knowledge, or rather mastery of a concept. Placement tests are available on the IEW website to know where to begin. IEW recommends beginning at lower levels and moving faster for more advanced students. Very young students will need to be adept at reading and writing, as well as understanding the abstract concepts of grammar. IEW doesn’t list an age recommendation, but I would recommend beginning around fourth grade or later. We have two high schoolers who are using the program independently and are moving at about twice the regular speed. Our seventh grader could also use it, but we decided to back up to level 1 with this particular student so as not to miss any important concepts.

These are the flash cards. We do not cut them apart, because…trailer life.

The one-on-one approach to Fix It! Grammar is excellent for the homeschool parent. Each lesson takes no more than 15 minutes four days a week. The student can move as quickly or as slowly as the concepts are mastered. While, as a parent of nine children with a whacky life schedule, I would have preferred the course to require even less teacher time, the flexibility of the lessons make it simple to fit into a busy home schedule. And again, so far I have done nothing with my high schoolers and they’re still moving at an advanced speed, and that’s with taking a week and a half off of school.

Our students enjoyed the life-and-death hunt for grammar errors. (Okay, it really wasn’t a life-or-death hunt, but Robin Hood might need some saving.) They liked using the editorial code that professionals and scholars use. While we are not big flashcard people, the grammar cards are a nice addition. Most of all, they are grasping concepts and easily applying them to their IEW assignments as well as their other writing. My grammar geek heart flutters when I peek at their work and see all the proper editorial marks. Be still my heart!

Fix It! Grammar from Institute for Excellence in Writing

Ultimately, I am very pleased with this approach to teaching grammar. There is no drudgery or boredom involved. My kids aren’t turned off to it and don’t need to be reminded to do their grammar. The unfolding of the story encourages the child to anticipate each new lesson and jump in eagerly. Advanced topics are taught at each level so even the older children stay challenged and interested. I also appreciate the effort to teach stronger writing as opposed to simply teaching proper writing. The Institute for Excellence in Writing definitely lives up to its name in this regard!

All in all, my family is enjoying this program and we are planning on purchasing future levels for our older children and level 1 for our younger children, definitely for our seventh grader and possibly for our fourth grader as well. What a delight to learn grammar, share a story, and enjoy yourself all at the same time!

The program also works on strengthening their writing styles.

Other Crew reviewers checked out other levels of Fix It! Grammar. You can read their reviews right here; I highly recommend checking out other reviewers, since you might find one whose teaching style matches yours better than my roadschooling for independence approach.

Fix It! Grammar {Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) Reviews}

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