Three Reasons for Teaching Writing, Grammar, and Vocabulary in Context...and Medieval History Writing Lessons from IEW

I can clearly remember my English classes growing up. We had quite a few books for that class. We had a vocabulary book, a grammar book, a writing guide to use with writing assignments, and a literature book. None of them were related in any way.

Our vocabulary lessons usually were focused around a particular prefix, suffix, or root word. Our grammar books consisted of disconnected lessons. One week we learned about complex sentences. The next week were diagramming infinitives. Our writing assignments sometimes related to what we were reading in literature, bit often they were jus about seemingly random topics. “Write a persuasive essay about which presidential candidate you’d vote for if you could vote.” And our literature consisted of reading a selection of poetry, excerpts from classical novels, and a few full novels. These readings might all be related in a vague way- all British authors, perhaps; but often they were all on different topics.

Teaching language arts in context; IEW review

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I loved my English classes. I’m an avid reader and grammar and writing skills come fairly naturally to me. So, at the time, I didn’t really care that we were learning each different component in a random, unrelated way. When I began homeschooling my own kids, however, they weren’t so accepting of language arts curricula that was all disjointed and unconnected. I learned through teaching my own kids that they seemed to learn much more easily when the material presented to them was connected, taught in context.
It’s especially helpful to learn language arts in a connected, contextual way. When vocabulary words are related to material kids are reading, when grammar skills are practiced in the context of writing assignments, when writing assignments are connected with a particular theme, language arts instruction is more effective.Here are three reasons I’ve found this to be true and information about an IEW curriculum that combines vocabulary, grammar, and writing instruction in context.

Kids will remember vocabulary words used in context much better than words memorized in isolation.

Do you remember memorizing lists of vocabulary words in school? Chances are that you would memorize them and remember the meanings just long enough to take a test on the words. Then those words would shuffle right out of your mind. And if you read them in an actual book, you weren’t likely to remember what they meant. From my days of classroom teaching when we used a spelling/vocabulary curriculum like this, I know that that’s how it works for most kids.
In contrast, think about reading through a book, coming across an unknown word, and looking up the word’s meaning. I’ll bet that you remembered the meaning of that word as you read on. And in remembering it, you’d be more likely to use it in writing- especially if you then had a writing assignment that tied in with what you were just reading.
The purpose of learning vocabulary should be to increase reading comprehension and writing skills. Vocabulary words mentioned in isolation, though, don’t often help with these things. But vocabulary words learned in context do.

Practicing grammar skills while writing makes much more sense than learning random grammar rules.

When I first began homeschooling, I used the textbook/workbook based curriculum that had used in my traditional school classroom. Nothing about the curriculum was in context, including grammar, which was taught by having kids complete workbook pages to practice different grammar concepts. My son, although not really a fan of language arts instruction, could complete his workbook pages with fairly high accuracy. But if he ever had a writing assignment, his grammar was atrocious. He didn’t use any of the skills he’d had to practice in the workbook.
I’ve found this to be true in teaching many kids over the years- in a traditional classroom, in homeschool co-ops, and in my own kids. Just because kids can accurately complete a grammar worksheet doesn’t mean that they’ll use those grammar skills in their own writing and in editing their writing. But when I’ve worked with kids on grammar concepts using their own writing, they’ve been more likely to internalize a grammar rule and begin to use it more consistently in writing.

A curriculum of writing assignments focused around a theme allows kids to dig deeper and learn more about the thematic topic.

Ah, the writing prompt. Have you ever thrown out a writing prompt to your kids and had them look blankly at a piece of paper while they struggle to come up with something to write about that topic? It can be a painful process. And even if kids can come up with something to write about this week’s topic, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to come up with something for a new, unrelated topic next week.
In contrast, when writing is in context and kids are learning about the same topic for an extended length of time and then writing using material they’ve already read about the topic, they aren’t going to need to struggle to come up with something to write.They’ll have a context, a framework, and knowledge about the topic to inspire their own writing. As a bonus, they’ll be learning more and more about the topic that they’re reading and writing about throughout the entire curriculum.

Teaching language arts in context; IEW review

Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons from IEW

I’ve blogged before about our experiences using IEW’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style. Three of my kids have used that basic IEW curriculum to some extent. And it’s pretty popular among homeschoolers. But IEW also has some themed curricula that cover writing, vocabulary, and grammar. And I was excited to have the opportunity to review one of these- Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. This curriculum, intended for 6th-8th graders, follows the same basic principles of IEW;s Teaching Writing Structure and Style, but everything is themed around Medieval history.

About the Curriculum

The curriculum is a thirty-one week curriculum with a suggested schedule that breaks each lesson down into a four day week. The lessons follow the framework of the basic IEW Teaching Writing Structure and Style, and it is assumed that the teacher/parent has taken that course and knows the principles of IEW’s writing curriculum. 
The curriculum follows the nine basic units that IEW’s writing program uses, and the source texts are all related to Medieval history. The lessons include vocabulary words, writing assignments, and grammar skills. All of these are used in connection with one another and in the context of learning about Medieval times. This could be a great choice for writing curriculum if you’re using a history-based curriculum and learning about the Middle Ages because it would allow you to tie in  your writing lessons with your core learning.

Curriculum Features

~ The material is recommended for 6th-8th graders (the B level in IEW’s resources).
~ There is an teacher’s manual sold separately that gives teaching information for each lesson.
~ The student book includes vocabulary cards at the back that go along with the words used in each lesson. These can be cut out for the student to review.
~ The student manual and teacher manual both have a suggested scope and sequence and schedule at the beginning of the book. They also suggest some options if you don’t have the same number of weeks in your school year or if you’re teaching more experienced or less experienced writers. All of this makes it easy to be flexible and use the curriculum in a way that fits your family.
~ There are also instructions for the teacher who might be using this curriculum in a co-op or classroom setting.
~ There are some free included downloads that are listed at the beginning of both the teacher and student manual. You can access these when you purchase either.

Learn More

You can find IEW’s website here. And you can learn more about Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons here.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the student and teacher manual in exchange for an honest review. Any opinions are my own, and I was not compensated in any other way.