Grammar is one word that can send even the bravest teachers and parents toppling into insanity and babbling terror. It looms over the other academic disciplines like a horror out of Lovecraft, its dimly perceived tentacles searching the space around us, looking for another victim to drag into the murky haze of Dangling Participle Outer Space.
And let's face it, not even grammar nazis actually like grammar. That's why they fascistically uphold its rules—not because they love those rules, but because those rules have choked them and terrified them into a lurking subservience. Just as Igor serves Victor Frankenstein out of slavish terror, so it is with these tight-lipped grammarians.
Fortunately we live in the age of grammar grace, and the subject has no power to enslave or terrify us any longer. This is in part due to the existence of the Institute for Excellence in Writing's Fix It! Grammar series, which takes not only the fear but the mythos out of grammar, instead using mythology and fairy tales to teach a vital topic.
How Do These Work?
There are six levels of Fix It! Grammar, each with a student book and a teacher's book. (All teacher books include a code for downloading free copies of the student book.) Author Pamela White has taken great care to develop the books to progress naturally from one level to the next by building on what's already been taught, and consequently encourages parents to start kids at Book 1. For those entering from another program who don't want to repeat too much, placement tests are available.
The course can be started in any grade, but it works best for elementary and middle school students, especially as the stories in each book are geared to these ages. Like any other IEW program, this one is teacher-directed, with students working directly with teachers for many of the assignments.
Unlike any grammar series currently available, Fix It! Grammar uses preexisting stories to teach kids the elements of punctuation, parts of speech, capitalization, tense and number, and other aspects of usage and mechanics. Students work sentence-by-sentence to revise incomplete or poor work, eventually linking each sentence into a complete story.
Each of the six levels consists of a consumable student book and a teacher's manual to be used over a 33-week year, five days a week. If five days of grammar every week seems like a lot, don't worry—assignments shouldn't take more than 5-15 minutes per day. No preparation is required (except cutting out flashcards), and grading will take seconds.
Every day students are given one sentence to edit, correcting mistakes and adding elements as needed. Each sentence contains one bold-highlighted word which students are to look up in a dictionary, deciding which definition is correct given the context and writing the word in a notebook.
On the first day of each week, parents guide students in the revision as new grammar rules and concepts are introduced. For the next three days, students work alone using the grammar cards contained in each volume to remember the rules. On the last day of each week, students rewrite the sentences in corrected form in a notebook, each week adding to the overall story.
An extensive glossary in the back of each student book rehearses the rules learned in that volume in an organized format for easy reference. This glossary is reproduced in the teacher's manuals, but the grammar cards (printed on card stock) appear only in the student books.
The lessons in the teacher's manual aren't scripted per se, but everything you'll need to present to your kids is clearly laid out, and answers to every assignment are included. There are also teaching notes, but most of these are of the "ready reference" variety to keep parents from having to flip around looking for definitions all the time.
Our Honest Opinion
If you're looking for lists of rules and uniform charts, Fix It! Grammar isn't for you. But if you want your kids to actually be able to utilize the rules of grammar in their own writing and not recoil every time the g-word is used, we think you'll be interested in this easy-to-use program.
The approach of fixing rules while having the sense of creation (students don't write a new story, but it kind of seems like they are as the book's story unfolds) is one that appeals to kids innately without putting more burden on them than necessary. The use of reference cards means that they'll internalize rules by performing them, not by simply doggedly memorizing them.
Of course, having a grammar reference in one place for both students and teachers to consult is an excellent idea, which is where the many grammar supplements suggested by IEW come in. But for teaching the subject and training kids to actually put their knowledge to use, Fix It! Grammar is unique, welcome, and refreshing. And, of course, highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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