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Elementary Curriculum Guide
The elementary tier of the MCT curriculum includes the first three levels, for students approximately ages 8 to 12 (grades 3 to 6): the Island Level, the Town Level, and the Voyage Level. Michael is producing books for even younger students, the Poodle Level, which is for students ages 6 to 9 (grades 1 to 3). Some of these books are available now, with more in the works.
All MCT language arts texts are based on the belief that students need challenging, classical academics and that academics are inherently exciting. But what are the principles of a powerful academic program of language arts? How do the MCT texts fit together? What is the sequence of instruction?
Start with Grammar
Grammar is the language of language arts—the foundation for punctuation, writing, and vocabulary usage. The key to using the MCT language arts curriculum effectively is to teach grammar first. Unlike traditional grammar texts that drag grammar instruction out for an academic year—until it is too late to apply it—the compact MCT grammar texts are designed to be launched rapidly so that students can use their newly acquired knowledge of grammar during vocabulary and writing instruction. Accordingly:
- Teach the grammar text first. Complete it before turning to the practice, writing, or poetics books. Remember that when you teach grammar, you are teaching writing, even if you do not mention writing. Academic writing must be grammatically correct, so every grammar lesson is a writing lesson.
- Emphasize depth and fun over pace. The compact format of the grammar texts makes it possible to linger on one term at a time, reading and talking, thinking of examples, and reflecting on why it is important. Let the concepts build naturally. Remember that the practice book and the writing book will continue the process and serve as additional reinforcement and exercise.
- All MCT texts use Michael’s four-level analysis strategy for comprehensive grammar instruction. This method focuses on the four ways in which to analyze a sentence: by the parts of speech, the parts of the sentence, the phrases, and the clauses.
Do not begin the vocabulary text until you have finished teaching the eight parts of speech in the grammar text. Students will benefit from referring to vocabulary words as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Once you have introduced the parts of speech in the grammar text, and you have begun to study the parts of the sentence, you can begin working with the vocabulary book. Each of the MCT vocabulary books is designed with several features that promote long-term vocabulary growth:
- The vocabulary texts aim to introduce the life of the mind. What is most important is to establish an intellectual foundation about where English vocabulary comes from and how it is constructed of stems from the ancient world—primarily from Rome. The texts also concentrate on the affective dimension of vocabulary, teaching students to love words and the romance of their history, rather than to hate studying lists or doing tedious and demoralizing worksheets. Accordingly, these texts patiently establish the historical, cultural, and geographical background of English vocabulary. Building Language introduces this background, and the two Caesar’s English texts expand it exponentially. Both books contain extensive content about ancient Rome, and this content provides a multitude of opportunities for students to encounter the vocabulary. Despite their rich and abundant scope, the books have been designed for visual simplicity and beauty.
- These books contain vocabulary content of exceptional power; they offer a program of quality, not quantity. The Caesar’s English texts focus not just on Latin stems but also on classic words. These words come from Michael’s research database on the vocabulary of the classics and have been selected carefully to prepare students for the vocabulary of serious literature.
- To establish permanent retention of the knowledge, the vocabulary texts use a cumulative approach to chapter content; every quiz requires students to review the stems and words back through the first chapter of the book, creating an ever-increasing body of knowledge.
Reinforce the Grammar with Practice
Once you have finished the grammar text, begin the practice book to maintain students’ comprehension of the four levels of grammar. There are 100 sentences in each practice book. These sentences are organized by emphasis, with the first twenty-five featuring the parts of speech, the second set of twenty-five focusing on the parts of the sentence, the third set emphasizing phrases, and the last set focusing on clauses. These are ideal for homework, small-group work, or Socratic discussion. It only takes a few minutes to do a four-level, so they are great as warm-up activities.
The four-level analyses in the practice series combine and reinforce the grammar and vocabulary contents. Each sentence contains words or stems from the vocabulary series.
Begin the Writing Text after Finishing the Grammar Book
Do not begin the writing text until you have finished the grammar text and are doing sentences from the practice book. Students should be comfortable and conversant with grammar before plunging into the contents of the writing book.
The elementary writing series provides a sequenced, classical instruction: first, the sentence (Sentence Island); second, the paragraph (Paragraph Town); and third, the essay (Essay Voyage). The elementary texts use the power of graphics to present accelerated instruction in a creative context of pictures and characters that students love.
Following the grammar foundation established by Grammar Island, Sentence Island emphasizes the two sides of the sentence, action versus linking verbs, subject/verb agreement, placement of words and phrases, a complete thought, and sounds in sentences. Paragraph Town follows Grammar Town and provides a review of sentence grammar, an exploration of structure, clarity in paragraphs, kinds of paragraphs, the order of paragraphs, and sounds in paragraphs. Essay Voyage follows Grammar Voyage, providing a review of sentence grammar and paragraph elements, followed by a rigorous array of the properties of academic essays.
Formal, standard, academic writing is the essential genre of writing for all students who intend to advance through challenging high school classes and on to college, so establishing a foundation for that writing is essential. The strategy of the elementary writing books is this:
- If you cannot write a good sentence, then you cannot write. It does not matter if you can explain a paragraph or an essay; if you cannot write a clear, complete sentence, you cannot write. A good sentence is the foundation of all good writing.
- All effective academic writing must be properly paragraphed.
- The ability to write an excellent essay is critical to virtually all academic success.
- Accordingly, it is worth whatever it takes, even if we have to devote an entire book to each part of it, to give students a deep grounding in the nature of a sentence, a paragraph, and an essay. In these books, advanced concepts are presented in simple and approachable ways, loading students with understanding.
Begin the Poetics Text after Finishing the Writing Text
Poetics are not just for poets. Great novelists incorporate poetic techniques into the prose paragraphs of their novels, adding soundtracks to their plots. These techniques are not learned from prose, however; they are learned from a serious study of poetry and poetics. Poetry is an academic training ground for great reading and great writing.
The poetics texts examine poetic techniques, providing abundant examples of poetry and giving students insight into the way great writers control the sounds of vowels and consonants and the rise and fall of stressed and unstressed syllables. Students will find that an understanding of poetic techniques prepares them for all genres of writing, not just poetry.
Supplement the Curriculum with Literature
The MCT classic literature series features trilogies of great literature with vocabulary support and MCT language illustrations that highlight the author’s writing techniques, grammar strategies, and poetic devices. Cumulative thinking questions develop literary comprehension. This reinforces the importance of all aspects of the curriculum for students because they see all of the things they are learning being used by the greatest authors.
The books in the literature trilogies are classics that have been loved by readers for generations—with one exception. At the first level is a trilogy about Mud the fish, the main character of the Level 1 writing book, Sentence Island. The novels in the Mud Trilogy were written by Michael himself and comprise a wonderful entry point for students’ literature study.
Michael has provided one trilogy (complete with an instructor manual) for each level of the curriculum, but students should be encouraged to read far more than that. In fact, students should supplement the curriculum by reading an extensive list of classic works that are the common experience of educated individuals in the world, and they should be encouraged to choose their own classics with guidance. These “outside classics” are designed to double the reading quantity and to give students a reader’s—rather than a student’s—experience. They are therefore best evaluated with amiable conversations—book talks. After all, as Michael points out, “It is by loving to read that children become literate.”
- Do grammar first.
- Begin the vocabulary text after you finish the parts of speech in the grammar book.
- Begin the practice book after the entire text of the grammar book is complete.
- Begin the writing text once four-level analysis is strong, as seen in the practice sentences.
- Begin the poetics text after the writing book is complete to develop expertise in controlling the sounds of sentences.
- Extend the curriculum with literature.