Charlotte Mason published First Grammar Lessons as a private educator in late-Victorian England. Her methods relied heavily on what she called "narration"—teachers read aloud to students, who repeated what they'd heard in their own words. This form of language arts instruction encompasses grammar, vocabulary and composition, and strengthens children's auditory and creative powers. Torchbearers of the "Charlotte Mason method" have brought her ideas and methods to 21st-century educators, primarily home school parents.
Karen Andreola is among the vanguard of this effort, preaching the Charlotte Mason gospel everywhere and publishing a host of articles and books detailing its unique methodology. In 1993 she actually edited and republished Mason's First Grammar Lessons as Simply Grammar: An Illustrated Primer which uses narration to teach students grammar rules and usage. With a simple format, simple language, and no frills, Simply Grammar is a fitting and informative title.
How Does This Work?
This is not intended as a consumable text. Lessons are read aloud by parents and students together (or by students alone as they get older), and exercises are interactive and oral as parents implement narration techniques and children "say back" what they learned in the lesson. This makes one text sufficient for multiple students over a period of several years.
46 lessons in four parts focus on the sentence, parts of speech, verbs, and pronouns. The course is meant for grades 4-8 (Mason didn't believe grammar should be taught before 4th grade); some of the text is a little young for most eighth graders, but they'll still learn grammar. Repetition is a good way to make sure kids retain what they learn, so working through this book more than once isn't a bad idea.
Lessons average one page in length, followed by a 1-2 page exercise set in which parents read the instructions aloud to students who respond with the correct answers. Each lesson includes two black and white 19th-century illustrations that relate to at least two of the exercise questions; often, students are to tell what's going on in the picture or create context from what they see.
A natural progression between lessons makes skipping around difficult. Each lesson covers a single grammar rule that builds on those before it, and since they're so brief it's no sacrifice doing them in order. Lessons take about 10-15 minutes apiece, though you can take longer as needed. Andreola points out that learning, not time, is the important thing.
Appendix A contains extra lessons; Appendix B has answers to select exercises (not all of them have specific answers). There's no teacher text, because everything you need is in this book. Parents without a strong background in grammar have complained about this lack, though the material is straightforward and you shouldn't need outside support.
Our Honest Opinion:
Some parents don't like what they regard as archaic language, claiming their kids can't understand it. While it may take a bit more effort than other courses (the original from which Andreola copied is over a hundred years old), the language of Simply Grammar isn't substantially different than ours. In fact, rather than being archaic, the language Mason/Andreola employs is simply more precise and thorough. Calling a noun a "person, place or thing" is far less accurate than "that of which we speak."
Simply Grammar is sufficient to stand on its own, though you can also use it as a supplement. Andreola suggests using Daily Grams if your child needs more practice and review. This is more important if your student hasn't experienced narration-style learning; the workbook format reinforces information in a way they're familiar with. Not for everybody, Simply Grammar is nonetheless an excellent grammar resource whether you're a fan of Charlotte Mason or not. To follow up, check out Analytical Grammar or The Mother Tongue.
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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