Tips for Teaching Middle School English

ThumbnailI have to admit English is not my best subject. I know it, but I often find it difficult to get the info across to others. My Middle Schoolers really struggle with many English grammar concepts and they need my help… which often leaves all of us a bit frustrated. Here’s where I call on my online resources… we all know if we can’t teach it there is always someone out there who can!

1) Learning vocabulary, syntax, and grammar can be alot easier with an online Middle School English resource. We love using Time4Learning, but have also used Learning Games for Kids to practice our parts of speech. My favorite part of speech? …definitely contractions!

2) We also often use spelling and vocabulary lists to help us practice the various parts of speech and what they mean.

3) Writing is a must – and yet… dreaded by my Middle Schoolers. They are working on a research paper currently, but when that is over I usually try to give them fun and interesting writing topics. One of our favorites for this is the “Rip the Page” series for young writers. There are some super fun ideas that really get my kiddos laughing and enjoying the writing process.

4) Use the good old “Schoolhouse Rock” videos to make learning those parts of speech a blast! (Now, that’s classic!)

5) Finally, the most practical way to learn English grammar, writing, and even reading comprehension is to do it! Practice, practice, practice!

Phonemic Awareness for Pre Reading

reading strategiesLearning to read is by far one of the greatest accomplishments of a person’s life. Yet, so often we tend to take this amazing feat for granted. As a homeschool mother, with each of my children I seemingly sweat bullets every time it came to teach them how to read. I guess I realized all too well how vital this ability was to their future success in school. Consequently, on the flip side of that…. is the realization that when taught phonemic awareness on a regular basis the child will eventually read when they are ready. It took me just six kids to realize that one!

When I begin to teach a little one how to read I always start with the basics. Here is a simple timeline of my process for providing them with pre-reading skills.

1) Start with basic letter recognition

2) Build to letter sound recognition

3) Teach consonant and vowels

4) Build to consonant and vowel blends

5) Teach children how to make ABC order

6) Build to consonant blends

7) Teach children how to decode words ( short sound, long sound, special sounds)

8) Introduce short words

9) Build on that!

5 Great Resources to help you Celebrate National Poetry Writing Month!

Did you know that next month is the official POETRY MONTH? What a great way to really focus on writing and studying poetry. National poetry month was started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 as an effort to get kids interested in writing poetry. As we all know…the study of literature in any form is always good. Recently we have even been studying spelling with alphabetical order worksheets. It’s great to incorporate a love of language in all your homeschooling subjects. I love all the great inspiring articles that float around the web during this time of year. In fact, I’d love to share them with you – in hopes that it inspires you as well. So, without further adieu here are some great suggestions for getting your kiddos writing poetry in the month of April and beyond!

1) Inspiration can be found at the Scholastic site

2)Great resources are found at the Academy of American Poets website.

3)I love this – 30 ways to celebrate!

4)Education world has some great ideas!

5) Here’s a lesson plan to help you formulate your own National Poetry Day plans!

Teaching Tip #1 – Lesson Planning

When starting down this road called homeschooling, some things can seem like insurmountable mountains that we just can’t climb. I know that many of my “first time” homeschooler friends feel like they just can’t do it because they know nothing about teaching. Well, if it’s really scary there are ways to get around that. Homeschoolers have so many options today it is almost unthinkable. There are online options that have online teachers, there are video courses that have teachers, and even computer programs that make learning automated. All the scare has been taken out of homeschooling!

However, if you are more of a hands on type of person. You might just want to learn a few “teaching” basics. Yes, just because we are homeschooling doesn’t mean that we don’t use sound “teaching methods.” These methods aren’t scary, they aren’t intimidating, but they are useful. One of the first things that I teach my students in my college Introduction to Education course is the basics of lesson planning. For those homeschoolers who really want to be involved in teaching and learning with their children and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty… this is for you!

Tips for making your own lesson plans…

Lesson plans are basically a way to focus instruction for maximum effect. It’s our bullseye – and we all know if we aim for nothing we will surely hit it!

1) To start at the very beginning, if you are planning a unit study you will need to begin with your overall BIG goal. What do you want to accomplish/learn for the study. Write your goal.

2) Determine how long you want the unit study to last. If it is a month. Then divide your study up into weeks and write goals for what you wish to accomplish each week.

3) Once your weekly goals are in place, you can make daily or lesson goals which we usually call objectives. These daily goals are more specific and should include “measurable” action words. Teachers will often start these goals off with “The learner will be able to…”

4) Now you’re ready for your lesson plan. Taking each of these daily objectives, you will need to determine how you’ll teach the lesson, which methods you will use and any materials or assessment that you want to include. When I teach teachers how to do this I encourage them to use this acrostic – GOMMA.  It’s something I was taught in graduate school and I feel it really helps keep things focused.

Homeschool lesson plan

5) I take the acrostic for each day and fill in exactly how I wish to teach the lesson along with any correlating tools. For example, if I am teaching a unit study on science then I might include in my daily assessment some second grade science worksheets. The assessment doesn’t have to be a test, it can be a time of Q&A, a worksheet, or even a drawing. It is simply a way for the student to show that they understood the lesson.

6) I usually keep my lesson plans and all accompanying materials in a three ring binder. That way they are all together and ready to use if I have to teach that subject again!

Homeschooling? Is this normal or is it insanity?

homeschoolingAh… my homeschooling friends. There are days that we really need each other. Days that just being able to ask one another if my regular crazy is anything like yours? …and then the refreshing feeling when we are told just how crazy our fellow homeschoolers are. It’s great, and without it I know I would have been discouraged many years ago.

At our house we have a first grader, a third grader, two seventh graders, a tenth grader, and one in her first year of college. Days are full, busy, and always crazy. I do find that the older the children get the more independent they become. Which is quite a blessing. This allows a little more time for other things. Yet, my first and third grader require A LOT of my attention. So, until I get them functioning independently… I’ll be facing a big dose of crazy.

Most of my children have always preferred to do things on their own. However, there are a few of them that really have been dependent on me and have a difficult time breaking that. My twins, though in seventh grade, have been very dependent on me and up until this year had to have me in the room sitting there with them to work. This year, in order to help encourage more independence, I purchased them a video curriculum. This has definitely helped untie the apron strings.

My third grader is great, she can go in the school room and get out her books and get to it. She still needs review and help with certain problems, but she will work without my ever abiding presence. However, my youngest will only focus on school if I am sitting there beside her. This can make for difficult days especially since I work from home. So, most days I sit with my laptop right beside her desk while we work on numbers, letters, and 1st grade science curriculum. Some days I get alot done, and other days I get nothing but her schoolwork done. Seriously, nothing – not even a shower… and then dinner is something quick. So, there is the source of most of my crazy these days.  Sure, it’s a trade out… and it limits my personal freedom… but one day soon she will be grown and gone. My oldest had some of these issues and now she is in college doing her own thing. So, I know… it will be over soon… and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

So, there is my crazy for now… what’s yours?

Teaching Homeschool Vocabulary Tips

vocabulary learningWhat do you think of when you hear the words… vocabulary words? It conjures up mental images of sitting at my desk and writing till I had a blister on my finger. I can also see those boldfaced words in my science and history books… you know… those words that we had to look up and define. Ugh! Those were the days, right? Well, how do we teach vocabulary to our students? Is it the same mundane way? You know, it is a tradition…

I have to say that the fundamental way to teach vocabulary in America has been to write the definitions or use them in a sentence. Hey, we’ve been doing it for decades… so what’s the big deal? Well, I have to say that just writing and using them in a sentence doesn’t go far in helping the student understand the concept. The key to learning is understanding. So, with vocabulary words as well as other types of learning students need to make connections between the new knowledge and the prior knowledge. These connections can make all the difference in understanding. Prov. 14:6 says, “Knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.”

Secondly, just using our eyes or ears alone doesn’t enrich us with great meaning. I teach my education students that using as many of a student’s senses as possible increases their ability to understand and retain the knowledge that they are learning. So, as you are teaching vocabulary use as many senses as possible. That means draw a picture, or act out the word (play charades), make up a song to go with the word, ask questions about the meaning such as “is it living or nonliving“, and play games. Using many senses in the acquisition of knowledge allows it to more firmly be seated in our understanding.

Third, the vocabulary word does no good unless it is used. The application of knowledge is also key to retaining that knowledge. Understand the vocabulary word, involve senses in practicing the meaning of the word, and then use it daily! We’ve all heard the rumors that if we do something more than 14 times it becomes a habit… well, use those vocabulary words more than 14 times and they’ll become part of your personal vocabulary.

3 Tips for finding the right Homeschool HighSchool Curriculum

homeschool highschoolI think one of the biggest questions that I hear from high school homeschoolers is “What curriculum is good?” I think we are all afraid of spending too much money on a curriculum that just doesn’t work for us… or wasting a bunch of time on a course that really didn’t teach what we thought it would. So, how do you navigate the myriad of curriculum out there without getting mental burnout?

One of my favorite stops is the Let’s Homeschool High School Curriculum Directory. It is a rather comprehensive curriculum listing of well-know tried and true curriculum. In fact, in the near future they will be listing personal reviews of these various curriculum along with the curriculum information.

Most of the time I LOVE trying something new, but the cost of high school curriculum is definitely intimidating. While Time4Learning has just recently put out their highschool curriculum it is definitely an affordable option. The last time I checked it cost $30 a month for four subjects. That is definitely a deal. The courses are all online and are aligned to state standards. These are courses that will lead your student to college readiness upon graduation.

Another great homeschooling idea is to find and use opencourseware or Homeschool College USA. You can look over the courses prior to investing time in them to see if their scope and sequence aligns to what you want to learn. Both of these options are FREE, which is amazing because some of the open courseware courses are through very prestigious colleges. You can’t get better than free if the course meets your expectations!

Getting Back to School

homeschool puzzlesThe holidays are such a wonderful time. In fact, for me… an oasis in the middle of the year.  I love just enjoying each day without the heavy duty schedule that we keep on a regular basis. This year, like any other it is hard to get back to the routine. To make things a little easier on “re-entry” I thought we’d have a warm up day. When we start back to homeschooling again this week, we’re going to begin with a day full of the fun homeschool activities that we rarely make time for.

1) Creative Writing – I thought it would be fun to use some figurative language prompts to get us writing creatively. We really enjoy fun writing, yet lately we’ve been all “business” with science projects and research papers.

2) Art – My children love for me to have a dedicated art class. Since, I almost became an art major – I LOVE it too… I just too often put it on the back burner!

3) Board games – these are our homeschool board games – they include games that help us learn multiplication tables, phonics blends, etc. We have a lot of these fun games, but again… put these on the back burner.

4) Critical thinking skills puzzles… my kiddos love these and I have a ton of books that I used when I taught school. I simply make copies and we do them together!!

5) Mazes. One of my all time favorite puzzle games… I have two very cool books filled with black line masters of the most awesome maze puzzles you’ll ever see. We are definitely doing some of these this week!

Christmas Break Activities

Well, all the Christmas gifts have been made, bought, and wrapped. Most of the Christmas parties are now over… so we’ve been on break for a while now… are your kids complaining about being bored? Mine are already claiming their fame and are actually ready to do some fun activities. A great way to fight boredom is to find some fun and exciting games or printables.

My kids love Christmas crosswords or even word search puzzles. Here are a few of our favorite Christmas ideas…

1)Christmas symbols word search

2)The Twelve Days of Christmas word search

3) Christmas coloring book

4) Christmas word play games

5) If you can’t find one that you love – make your own with this word search maker

6) Make your own Christmas cards

7) Make your own Christmas ornaments

8) Listen to holiday audio books and old time radio stories – many homeschoolers love The Cinnamon Bear epidsodes…

9) Make placemats and napkin rings for your Christmas dinner!

10 ) Listen to the Christmas story together.

Teaching Highschool Math… it can be fun!

homeschool highschool mathI think everyone here already knows about my crazy stupid love for math. Yes, I admit it… I am a nerd. I love the “puzzle” that math affords, and I can always count on math to be black and white – solution or no solution. So, when it came time for me to start teaching my own children high school math subjects… it took on a new meaning. Though I had studied through calculus in high school, and had minored in math in college… it had been 12 years since I had done advanced math. I had to go back and study before I could teach them ANYTHING! It wasn’t pretty… at first.

Now that I’ve been through all that hairy scary math for my oldest daughter… it comes so much easier for the others. Yet, I know that the average homeschooler doesn’t love math enough to go back and study the course just ahead of their children. So, I’m here to tell you that there are other ways!! Teaching high school  math doesn’t have to be insanity. It can be a smooth process that gives your highschooler everything they need to meet the demands of future college courses. Since I began writing for Let’s Homeschool High School, I’ve been introduced to some amazing homeschool highschool curriculum and resources. You need to check their curriculum directory out for a very comprehensive listing of great cheap/free homeschooling resources.

However, knowing which ones are student friendly and those that have been tried and true can only be found through someone who has walked that road before us. Though I’ve not used every one of these curriculum, close friends of mine have and I am using their opinion in conjunction with my own.  I also want to preface by saying that though I love ABEKA for many subjects, highschool math is not their strong point. I have always used other types of math curriculum for my homeschool.

My all time favorite algebra curriculum is the Glencoe high school math series. This however, is a regular text book and must be taught by a teacher/parent. So, this is definitely not for the faint hearted, but the book covers everything that would be needed for basic algebra on up to what an advanced algebra math student might need. I started using this book simply because I was tutoring the neighborhood children and this is what the public schools were using.

For those who just can’t teach their highschoolers math. Aleks math is a great curriculum that works on mastery. The student masters a skill and then is able to move on to the next skill. There is also a way for highschoolers to log certain of these courses with ACE as college credit. This curriculum costs $20 a month but is pretty easy to work with and understand. The Aleks system doesn’t keep records beyond the course that your student is in currently. Make sure that you retrieve any necessary information prior to your student starting their next math course.

Another one of my favorites is the new Time4Learning highschool algebra curriculum. This has just been released this year, but I had a part in writing the curriculum map for Algebra I so, I know the details of what this course covers. It is definitely a comprehensive course and one that is presented in a fun and engaging manner. If your highschooler likes using the computer for courses, this is definitely a win/win for them.

I have friends that use the Saxon math for high school, and they love it. It has definitely been a great foundational tool for college math courses. It is very review oriented, just like the elementary Saxon math. Yet, it is challenging and covers everything necessary to meet college expectations.

Finding the right math course isn’t a walk in the park… but it is achievable. My advice, take time to review each of them and if possible let your student try them out. Sign up for any free trials that they offer and see what works for you!