In the last five and a half years of homeschooling, we have used several different English grammar curricula, including Bob Jones, Shurley Grammar, Instructional Fair Diagramming, Write Source, and various grammar workbooks.
All of these curricula have their strong points, and we didn’t necessarily switch specifically because of problems with them. Often we chose to change because I simply wanted a different approach that would better fit my children’s learning styles.
What I Look for in a Quality Grammar Curriculum
Students shouldn't learn grammar for the sake of learning grammar. They should learn it so they can apply it, both in their speech and in their writing. Consequently, that's what I look for in a good grammar curriculum. I want one that not only gives the student a strong understanding of English grammar, but also demonstrates the application of the concepts in real life.
For us, the Rod & Staff Building Christian English curriculum fits that bill almost perfectly. It's not the fanciest curriculum on the market, but I think it does a thorough job, and it's what we've used for several years now, and we will continue to use it for my youngest daughter for several more.
Rod and Staff Building Christian English series, a Curriculum Review
This review will specifically cover Rod & Staff English: Progressing With Courage, Grade 6, but most of the review could just as easily apply to any other level of their program.
This curriculum consists of a hardcover, non-consumable student textbook and a hardcover teacher’s manual. A set of worksheets and tests are also available for use with the curriculum, but they are not required. We usually only use the student book and the teacher's manual. You can view dozens of sample pages from the Rod and Staff English curriculum here.
Considering Rod and Staff English books are both hardcover and non-consumable, the price is quite reasonable since you can use them for multiple students. You can pick up new editions for around $13-18 for the student text, depending on the grade level, and $15-24 for the teacher’s manual. A worksheet set costs around $3 and the tests about $2. Of course, these books can also be found used online and through other homeschoolers. I purchased our own grade six set (student text plus teacher’s manual) for $13 from a fellow homeschooler and it's now been used by two of my children.
The Student Text
The student book is printed in black and white, with only a few black and white pictures interspersed here and there. Although the text lacks bright colors and lots of illustrations, for some students this simple layout might be a benefit since it is not distracting.
The 6th grade student text is broken up into 11 chapters, which are further divided into a total of 132 lessons. In general, each major section covers one part of speech, such as verbs, nouns, adverbs, etc. Each lesson begins with a 2-3 page explanation about the topic and includes several well-written examples to illustrate the concept being taught.
Since Rod & Staff is a Mennonite publisher, some of the examples are drawn from Scripture. There are also many references in the example sentences to the simple Mennonite lifestyle (which in our experience can prompt some interesting discussions about the subject).
At the end of each lesson there is a Class Practice section which, for the homeschooler, can simply be done one-on-one. Following the Class Practice are the Written Exercises which are meant to be completed by the student on his own. These are not fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions as in many other curricula; rather they are application sentences which require the student to understand the concept fully in order to get the right answers.
At the end of each lesson there is often a very short section of review questions which covers concepts from previous lessons.
The Teacher’s Manual
The teacher’s manual includes the entire student text, in reduced size, as well as the answers to all the class practice, written exercises, and review questions. The answers to the worksheets and tests are also included at the back. (View sample pages from the Teacher's Manual here.)
At the beginning of each lesson, the teacher’s manual includes an oral review of previous concepts. Then following the oral review, the lesson is given in outline form with suggested teaching tips.
Quality of Content and Application
Rod and Staff does an excellent job teaching grammar as it applies to the spoken and written word. A concept is never taught for the sake of the concept.
For example, when teaching about the four types of sentences, the student is shown the practical application of that concept, giving examples of writing that makes use of only one type of sentence as opposed to all four. Then the student is asked to write a paragraph utilizing all four types of sentences. This practical application throughout the curriculum helps the student understand the “why” of the concept and gives him the tools to apply the concept in his own writing. Rod and Staff's approach is quite different from many curricula I've seen which have page after page of busywork and little application.
The content across the Rod and Staff Building Christian English curriculum is spiral, so students can enter at any level and they won't miss any concepts. Each level gets progressively deeper into each topic. If your child has completed a few years of the curriculum, you may even find you can skim over a handful of the lessons, or simply do 2 or 3 in one day if the concepts are very familiar already.
While some people may cringe when they hear the word diagramming, when taught properly, diagramming can be a very effective method of teaching grammar and sentence structure. In fact for me, diagramming is what finally made 10th grade English grammar make sense!
Rod and Staff teaches sentence diagramming from the very early levels of their curriculum. But at each and every step, it's used to teach concepts directly related to its application to writing and speech.
But before you think that every lesson is full of diagramming, fear not. It's not overdone and not every lesson requires it. Even at the beginning, such as in grade 2 and 3, students are required to diagram only the basic skeleton of a sentence (subject and predicate). And even in later levels, students are not always required to diagram every single word of each sentence. They still learn the lessons from diagramming without being burdened with needless busywork.
How Our Family Uses Rod and Staff
Jerah is currently using this curriculum and I required her to complete four to five lessons per week. For each lesson, we sit on the couch together and I (sometimes) do the oral review from the teacher’s manual. Once that is done, she reads the lesson to himself. We usually discuss specific sections of the lesson, but sometimes a thorough read through is all she needs.
Next we go through the Class Practice together, using a lap-size white board as a “chalkboard” on which she writes her answers if necessary. Following that, if I feel she needs more practice or review, I assign her all, or just a portion of the written exercises and review questions.
Occasionally a particular lesson requires a writing assignment which takes longer to complete. But most of the time, unless I assign the full written and review exercises (which is rare), we can complete an entire lesson from start to finish in 15-20 minutes.
Would I Recommend Rod & Staff?
Most definitely. I have been exceptionally pleased with the curriclum.
Rod and Staff may not suit every learning or teaching style, but if you want a solid, well-written grammar curriculum that will help your children understand and apply good English to their speech and writing, I can't recommend Rod and Staff English enough.
You can read other reviews of Rod and Staff English curriculum below.
- Rod and Staff English is one of Cathy Duffy’s Top 100 Picks
- Home School Reviews: Reviews from homeschooling parents who have used Rod and Staff
- The Old Schoolhouse magazine reviews Rod and Staff
For more curriculum reviews, visit the Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup at The Happy Housewife.