Wednesday, August 27, 2014

{Crew Review} Essential Skill Advantage Online Program


Levi has had the opportunity to help me review an online product during this second half of the summer.  Essential Skills Advantage (ESA) is an subscription service that helps students with – you guessed it – the essential skills necessary for academic success – literacy.

Essential Skills Advantage designed to help elementary-aged students with all the components of language arts

Reading Comprehension

A subscription (the premium program is $9.99/ month per student) gives you access to the entire elementary program, allowing you to customize each component to your child’s needs.  You can take advantage of the 20,000 interactive activities to create a language arts program to help your child succeed.

Equipment Needed: You will need an internet connection the entire time you use this, as well as any popular browser.  In addition, you’ll want the volume on (or a pair of headphones) as well as a computer that has Java Player 10 or higher. Sorry, this doesn’t work on an iPad – we tried.

How This Worked for Us:  There is SO much in this program!  Here’s a screenshot of all the options, once you have logged on:

ESA log in page

I decided to enroll Levi in the “Complete Reading for Grade 3,”  Which has 4 section:  Vocabulary Builder, Language and Grammar, Reading Comprehension, and Spelling.   Luke has been able to give the Reading Comprehension section a try, so I have asked him to just log into the single skill section:


There is a newer, second way to log in:  by skill development.  Say for example, your young student needs some extra reinforcement in phonemic awareness;  you can log into your Parent Portal, select “Individual Units,” Click on the activity you want your child to work on, and then have him sign in.

individual unit log in

There are really a lot  of activities and content in this program.  You can work on Reading Comprehension by reading stories and answering questions; Vocabulary by building words with prefixes and suffixes;  subject-verb agreement, punctuation, capitalization, and verb tenses (just to name a few) in Language and Grammar, and a variety of tricky spelling words by rule:


Parents and Students can see progress in several ways:


Students see a graph.  Notice the green bar at 80%, a good measure of skill development.



ESA screenshot of scores

Parents can glean more information from charts that show high scores, time spent on task and when tasks were completed; (click on the picture to see them close up).  There have been a couple times when I’m not sure the score report captured Levi (or Luke’s) performance accurately, but on the activity pages, there is a bug in the corner you can click on to report any difficulties.


Levi spent the most time working on some of the language skills, since he hasn’t had a grammar program since 1st grade.  Nothing was terribly hard for him, but I think it is important to note that the program does not teach skills – it drills them in a pleasant way. For example, Levi and I haven’t talked much about adverbs, but he does know the definition of an adverb;  this little bit helped him to be able to categorize a variety of adverbs according to the type of question it answers about the verb (How?  When? Where? How Often? To What Extent?).

Interestingly, the parent company of this program is out of Canada, only once did I see something that was definitely more Canadian English than American English, but it was an easy work around (and as I’m writing up the review, I cannot even recall what it was, so apparently it wasn’t very life-or-death and Levi and I could work through it!)

Nearly 100 Crew Reviewers had the opportunity to try out Essential Skills Advantage;  Please click on the link below to learn how it worked for their students.

Two Special Deals!

Deal #1:  A Free Version of ESA! Essential Skills Advantage has started to offer a sponsored version of our program that is completely free. You can sign up completely free at Members can enjoy access to every course ESA has to offer, but there will be sponsored advertising and some of the available features will be missing.

Deal #2: Coupon Code! You can use the code TOS50 for 50% off the monthly subscription cost for the life of your membership (as long as you are a continuous member).  You must sign up for the premium plan (regularly $9.99/ month/ student) by October 1st with this code.  Your monthly cost will be only $4.99/month/ student! 


Connect with Essential Skills Advantage:



Please read more reviews at Schoolhouse Review Crew.

FTC disclaimer

All pricing is accurate as of blog post

Monday, August 25, 2014

UberSmart Math Facts {Crew Review}

Over the course of the years of reviewing homeschool and educational products, I have reviewed several programs that help students master their basic arithmetic facts.  This summer’s math fact program to review was UberSmart Software’s downloadable UberSmart Math Facts ($24.95).

Did you catch that bolded word – downloadable?  Yes, this is a program  that you purchase once and can load on as many computers as you own forever, and you never have to be connected to the internet.  I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times when I need a review program for Luke and Levi to work on that is not online!

UberSmart Math Facts was designed to really grow with your child (and your family;  you can have up to 8 students!).  It starts off with non-math skills and progresses to math fact mastery of all four operations, so definitely grades k- 6th can benefit, but if you have older students, the interface is not so little kid-ish (is that even a word?!) that it will revolting to your older pre-algebra and algebra+ students who still need a boost in the math fact memory department. It drills on:

Dot Cards (like adding domino faces)
Keyboard Entry (Ten-Key Numbers)
Flash Cards (add, subtract, multiplication, division)
~ Addition/Subtraction goes up through the 9s
~ Multiplication/Division has the option to set it to go up to 9's - 20's.

Technical Requirements:  UberSmart Math Facts only works on Windows Vista, 7 and 8.  Once it is downloaded, there is absolutely no internet connection required!

One other important thing to note when you are deciding where to install the program:  each install will have its own database of score reports for your child.  There is not a way to set up the program on each of your home computers and have your child’s scores stored in a single file that is shared by all devices.  Therefore, consider which PC-based devices your child uses most and install it there (you can read more about this and other FAQs on the UberSmart Math Facts website)

How It Works:
The entire program is fairly easy to use.  At a basic level, you enter your children’s names and you are ready to go:

You can adjust the time requirements that students have to answer the problems.  UberSmart recommends 4 seconds to respond for elementary students and 2 seconds with older students.  At least one of my kids freaks out with the time requirements, so I tend to be more lenient in the beginning.  For an thorough explanation of the “Mastery Factor” and “Beat the Clock Factor” you can click on the blue “?” box and it will take you to a manual.  Not only does it include an explanation for why  math fact memorization is important, but it will walk you through the program to help you use it as designed {I will note, however, that the the content still has “under construction” noted on it and is not complete).

One of the things that was helpful for our family is that you can adjust the times/ division table for your family.  Some math programs only assume math fact mastery up to 10, others up to 12, and in Classical Conversations, Luke is responsible for knowing some facts up to 15!  Luke’s, then, is set to 15 (yes, he is angry at me for that, lol!) and for now, Levi is at 12 (even though his math program only requires mastery up to 10s).  Next year, I’ll bump Levi up to x 15s.

I do want to point out that this program is designed to reinforce and drill taught math facts.  There is no teaching of math facts in this program, and it will frustrate you if you are looking for some teaching.
Next step is picking a starting point.  If your student is unfamiliar with a number pad, then this is a good place to start.  I have tried to teach the kids to keep their middle finger close to the “5” on the number pad, then learn by touch typing the location of the other numbers.  For this drill, all students have to do is type our the number on the screen:

You can start with Dot Cards (like dominoes) to provide a more visual approach to reinforcing math facts. Now, I did say that the program doesn’t ‘teach’ math facts, but it does, at this level and with the flashcards, help students to commit to memory the facts that they’ve learned through a math curriculum.
I did not feel compelled to use this tool, as my kids right now are at a point where they are just working on fact recall speed. 

Here’s what the practice section looks like with flashcards:

This next screen (below) shows what it looks like if you have forgotten the fact and press the blue “check” button.  It also looks like this after the time you’ve set has elapsed.  The second screenshot shows what it looks like if you get the problem wrong:

There are no buzzes or beeps that proclaim, “HEY, WORLD!  I got the problem wrong!”  Which is nice in my book.  When you finish, you get encouraging, but honest, messages:

Then, under the TEST tab, you can chose from “ASSESSMENT: or “MASTERY.” 

Assessment is a tool to measure baseline mathematical thinking skills. This is really something you would want to do at the very beginning with each of your students – but personally, I would only do it with students  It is comprised of several sections:
  1. An Untimed section of mathematical thinking skills: sequencing, reading dots on a card, greater than/ less than, While it is great that it is untimed, if you have a reluctant or slow reader, you will want to sit by and read it aurally to them;  outside of a tapping noise when you press a button, there is no auditory output from the program.
  2. Timed keyboarding skills: You just type in the numbers that pop up on the screen (single and double digit).
  3. Timed addition skills
  4. Timed Subtraction skills
  5. Timed Multiplication skills
  6. Timed Division skills
When this is complete, you get an assessment report for your student! Not only did it explain a student’s level of success with the program, but it also considered response time.  The report can be saved on your computer (rtf file) or can be printed out and added to your child’s portfolio.  What a great report to add to your child’s portfolio of work! 

The Mastery Tests are fact-by-fact assessments of your child’s recall of information.You can assess each fact family, or you can assess the entire math operation, as I’ve shown below:

It took about 5 minutes to go through all the math facts.  When you are working on the mastery test, you can see the math problem that is coming up.  I really relied on this to increase my speed, but for Levi, it was hard to get used to – he was concentrating so much on the center fact that the others were a little visually confusing to him. 

Finally, there is the competition tab.  Here, your scores for addition/ subtraction or multiplication/ division or all operations are compared to one of four groups of people:  elementary, middle and high school students as well as adults.  At this point, the programmers of this tool do not have a huge database to compare scores to….so as we were completing the review, we were adding to it!

My Thoughts and Recommendations:  I  think this is a great tool to add to the arsenal of math fact practice.  It’s simple interface isn’t gimmicky and should appeal to a broad age range.  My favorite feature is that it can be adjusted to encompass a wide variety of math fact families, which makes it a helpful add-on to nearly any math curriculum.

As far as my boys enjoying it…. well, it is summer and it is a math program, so it wasn’t their favorite. But, honestly that has nothing to do with the program.  It is a distraction-free program that I think works beautifully for it’s goals.   Levi had a hard time working through the assessments, because they do take a while to complete but that was my fault because initially I didn’t realize what was involved it the program, and he was happy to give it a whirl.  If I had to do it again, I would hold off on the assessment until Levi was a little older. On the other hand, Luke should be able to endure the assessment test on bi-annual basis – at the beginning of the school year and at the end. {I want to add that our desk top, which had all of Luke and Levi’s work on it, is dying a slow death right now;  I actually cannot get it to log on without having crazy screen graphics, so I had to go through and take screenshots of my work for this review.}
GREAT NEWS!  UberSmart Software is offering a 30% discount on UberSmart Math Facts through Sept. 30th!  Please use the code: v4 Early Bird.

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew

All prices are accurate as of blog posting.  

School Year Start Up 2014



It has been a long, restful summer, but it is TIME.

Time to get back into a schedule, time to exert some discipline, time to wrap ourselves in blankets in the morning as we putter around with our daily jobs.

This year is our second with Classical Conversations, and I feel so much more ready and prepared for what lies ahead.  I get the system.  I get the simplicity.  I get the structure.  As one who usually enjoys something brand new to discover and master, I am appreciating being where I am.  And, while we do have some new things to try this year, I think I am so less anxious about them, because I have seen how the spine of our program – the memory work – really pays off and is a blessing.

Luke and Levi start their Foundations and Essentials program two weeks after I start with Ben in Challenge.  But, there are plenty of things that they can begin to do as the school year ramps up for them.

I’m implementing a gradual start for their school year.  I don’t recall if I did that last year, but just based on the fact that I was frantically trying to figure out how to be a Challenge director/ tutor, I’m pretty sure they did not do much academic work until early September.

Week 1 Ramp Up:

  • Bible: We are using Bible Study Guide for All Ages (BSGFAA);  I had purchased the 2nd quarter after our review last year because Levi enjoyed it so much.  Since I already have it, both Levi and Luke are going to use it – even though the Intermediate Level is slightly below Luke’s grade level.
  • Math:  Luke is going to start Epsilon and Levi will continue on in Gamma.  This is the year of the fractions!
  • Memory Work:  We are going to begin reviewing the Math/ Skip Counting and Timeline work. 

I am working on establishing good habits this year.  I hope to start our day at 8:30 with some memory work time, then spend the next while on Bible.  I’ve modified my expectations for BSGFAA so that we complete one lesson per week (4 days) + we are all reading through the Bible (Levi is using the Day by Day Kid’s Bible.  Luke is reading through it from beginning to end.  Right now,I am not worried about getting a study done in a certain set time period; rather I am wanting us to get into good habits of getting into the Bible on a daily basis.

Here’s how I decided to break up the Bible study:



Week 2 Ramp Up:

  • Bible, Math & Memory Work
  • Spelling:  Luke and Levi are finishing what we had last year.  Spelling is a subject that Luke can mostly do on his own, but Levi is hands-on with me. 

Week 3 Ramp Up:

  • Bible, Math & Memory Work (all of it!); Spelling
  • Essentials (Luke)
  • Primary Arts of Language (Levi)
  • Literature

The plan for this week is to add in all the rest of our language arts.  This could end up being a heavy week, especially for Luke, my guy who is not such a lover of LA.  The boys are also going to practice handwriting with all the history and science memory work this year. 

I do have some resources for science and history that I’d like to work through. I will see, however, how the first three weeks work before I add in these ‘extras.’

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

{Not So} Wordless Wednesday: Because it might not be said for another 10 years....

Yes, I do sometimes know what I'm talking about.  There are many times I'm wrong (I've always tried to do my best to admit my mistake and apologize), but every once in a while, I know what I'm talking about.

This was one of those times. 

Ben is 15.  Yep. Ten to 20 is about the right number of years until I hear these words from my sweet boy young man.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Putting yourself out there: the fruit of Classical Conversations

One of the great things I've noticed about Levi this summer is that my little boy has made huge improvements in his soccer game!  He has  improved so much and is actually out on the field seeking after the ball, getting involved in trying to steal it away from the opposing team, and volunteering to be a goalie.  Truly, this is a different child than the one who played soccer last summer;  in fact, he is SO excited to play fall travel soccer and cannot be talked out of it.

This past year, Levi had to give a weekly 3-minute presentation in his Classical Conversations program.  Yes, weekly!  Twenty-four times, my shy-guy had to stand in front of a (safe) (encouraging) group of his playmates and peers and talk about something -- a place in the world, an event in history, a favorite toy or picture. He practiced making eye contact, answering questions, speaking loud enough to be heard.  Then he practiced being a good listener when his classmates had their opportunity to speak.

What a blessing this past year was!  I am grateful and thankful for the wonderful mama/ tutors who sat in his class last year and encourage Levi and all his classmates in their public speaking.  I know that it was a great opportunity for him to put himself out there -- make himself vulnerable -- and I think it is paying off in other areas of his life.

God is good!

{And, yes, I'm a bad mom!  I always forgot my good camera when I went to soccer practice}

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Grammar of Poetry {Crew Review}


We are usually pretty ‘light’ on poetry in this house – it has always been a genre of literature with which that I’ve felt uncomfortable as a teacher or learner.  But when Roman Roads Media offered to me the opportunity to review their The Grammar of Poetry Bundle ($100), I was happy to give it a try.

Written by Matt Whitling, The Grammar of Poetry Bundle includes the following items (prices are listed as if the items were purchased individually): 

  • Student text/ workbook ($22.00)
  • Teacher edition ($24.00)
  • 4-disc DVD set ($85.00)



The purpose of this video-based curriculum is to help middle-school aged students (roughly 6th – 9th grade, but older students who have little experience with poetry would benefit from the program as well) understand the basic elements of this genre.  In 30 lessons (plus a final exam), students will cover the following topics:

How to Read Poetry
Iambic foot
Trochaic foot
Anapestic foot
Dactylic foot

Spacial Poetry
Rhetorical Question

The program is written to be used 3 times per week (in 30-minute sessions), therefore this entire course could take 10 or so weeks. In the classical model, students are using the technique of imitating excellent and worthy models, such as Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Land of Nod, Robert Browning’s The Laboratory, and Beowulf.  (Since it is summer, we definitely broke the course into smaller chunks;  the teacher guide does give allowances to home educators who want to spread this course over a semester or longer period of time).


What is included:

The Student textbook /workbook has a softcover, 157-page book with a glossary and appendix of poems grouped by type (epic poems, historical poems, poems about God, etc.)

The Teacher’s edition is an exact reproduction of the student book (with answers to excercises).  Also included are instructions for teaching (the appendix D has suggestions for home educators which supplement the instructions in the forward of the book).  This edition also includes the student final exam (and answers) as well as a section with suggestions on how to properly grade poetry.  I do which there was more of a graphical rubric for grading the imitation assignments, however, it is something that I will pull together on my own prior to school starting this fall.

With the purchase of the DVDs, you will actually have Mr. Whitling walking your student through the text of their workbook.  Each DVD lesson (30 in all) is about 15-___  long.  This gives you enough time to work through the exercises in the student book in easily 30-40 minutes (I guess it depends on how much you need to drag your student through the information!)  Here is a sampling of the lectures:

Now, here is where Mr. Whitling had me:  Lesson 2.  In this lesson, he begins with the concept of “Thankfulness in Poetry.”  As I alluded to earlier, my boys were kickin’ and screamin’ with this review (..and whinin’…and complainin’…), but I absolutely LOVE Mr. Whitlings calm, logical and godly attitude adjustment that he gives to students (especially boys) who are not coming into this course of their own free will.  He really speaks to the prejudices that boys often bring to the study of poetry (the touchy-feely, “girliness” of poetry’s topics) and winsomely asks them to come with an open mind.

The course progresses through standard concepts of poetry – meter, rhyme, foot, etc., but of course you’ll also come across some common ground it shares with prose – literary elements that all writers use.  I really appreciated that Mr. Whitling’s course reached back to literature to show students that literary tools (tropes) of simile, metaphor, and personification are elements that my boys have already learned about, but are now playing with in this new form of writing. Helping to show students common elements in prose writing and poetry makes poetry a little less fearful.

He walked us through each of the exercises’ directions and did a great job explaining the task;  then, we stopped the DVD and worked through the tasks ourselves.  I totally agree with the suggestion that home educators work through the exercises alongside their students to model learning this subject; it will bless poem 2your children to see you learning and will give you an opportunity to assess their comprehension and mastery of the material.

Each lesson has a few easy exercises to help students learn the grammar (or basic) concepts of poetry.  In the 3rd or 4th week of the course (if you are completing 3 lessons/ week), students begin having imitation exercises. In lesson 11, students will have their first opportunity to write a poem, modeled after “The Land of Story-Books” by Robert Lewis Stevenson.  Mr. Whitling uses the structure of this poem (the meter/ rhyme scheme) to help students create their own work.  After helping students to see these patterns (and giving lots of great tips!), he provides a student example which really helped to show that writing a narrative poem isn’t so hard!

My recommendations & thoughts:  Levi, who is a little young for this review, is a trooper and sat through some of it – I suspect I’ll work through it again when he is in 6th grade or so. Luke did great with the beginning of the course (considering it is poetry).  The clear cut nature of the teaching style – and the emphasis on imitation in creation of original works provides a child-friendly (need I say boy-friendly?) systematic approach to a topic.  As a mom of boys, I appreciate that the poems used throughout the text were not overly feminine (as Mr. Whitling says, “butterflies and rainbows.”) but represented classical poetry with a little testosterone for good measure.  Truly, this is as boy-friendly a poetry course as I can think of!

Roman Road Media was generous to the Review Crew in providing a variety of their curriculum to try out (I cannot wait to read about the US History course!).  Please click the Schoolhouse Review Crew link below to read about Latin, US History, Ancient Western Culture and more.

Connect with Roman Roads Media:

Click to read more reviews from the Schoolhouse Review Crew


All prices are accurate as of blog posting. 

My Summer Projects - Part One


I had three goals this summer:  re-organize the school room; have fun and build memories; get ready for next school year as a Classical Conversations Challenge II director + parent/ teacher of my own kids.

I  purged 3 boxes of curriculum to give away/ sell at our used curriculum sale in June, and managed to only have one box return to me unsold.  I made $93 (enough to purchase a second microscope for the biology class I tutor), and started my de-cluttering of the schoolroom. 

Dave helped me to put up another bookshelf in the schoolroom – a wall-mounted shelf so I could reclaim some floor space.  

2014-06-19 21.07.04

It is very nice having a strong young man in the house!

2014-06-19 21.58.53

Here is the new L-shaped wall shelf. It is 4 ft. unit, which can provide 12 linear feet of storage.

love. love. love!

2014-06-22 13.48.42-2

Purging, sorting and storing, oh my!

With 10+ years of homeschooling behind us, we have acquired a wonderful library of books and materials.  I’ve always used the “library” system in our office – which to me means that we keep all of our books and materials handy, categorized by subject or history cycle (Ancients, Middle Ages to 1600, Early American/ 1800s, 20th Century/ Modern).  My darling husband suggested that I store books we will not be using this year – so I put our history books from creation through the Renaissance/ Reformation away. I also stored curriculum sets and instructor’s guides in the basement as well.  My schoolroom closet and shelves are so much better!

2014-07-27 20.24.51This is the command center;  printer, paper supplies, the boys’ binders, workbooks, and curriculum; slots to turn in their papers.  The hooks and clips hanging on the wall were used last year for our CC timeline;  this year, I’m planning on using them to display art projects, hang our memory work flashcards, and generally serve as a catch-all for head phones and ear buds (those things turn up everywhere!)
2014-07-27 20.25.51There used to be two white bookshelves side-by-side on this wall.  It made the window area cramped.  I really like having three locations for the couch – under either windows or under the suspended L-bookshelf.
2014-07-27 20.26.31

I’m obviously not one of those people who posts perfectly designed and organized pictures of our rooms!  There is still a big pile of Ben’s freshman year schoolwork that needs to be stored in the basement.  I’m planning on purchasing a few more 4” binders so that I can keep our required 3-years of portfolio (for state law) organized and not have to keep swapping papers out. These will be stored in the basement.

(And, yes, at certain points in the day, our schoolroom looks like a yellow highlights.  I don’t care for it, but this is a hard room to paint.  Plus, the yellow is more than cheery to help me through the long winters.)


I still want to replace the particle-board bookshelves (in white), and plan to do that over the next few months as I set aside some money for it.

Reorganizing the bookshelves has allowed me to finish the boys’ portfolios for the year, and I’ve been working on a template to create course descriptions for Ben’s high school level work.  I’ve only completed 3 of them – I think I have 4 more to go.  The resources over at The Home Scholar have been inspiring and so helpful as I create Ben’s transcript and course descriptions.

The reorganizing has also allowed me the opportunity to clear out other homeschool materials that had started to clutter spaces in the living room and dining room.  I brought a nightstand down to the living room, and one of the drawers if for teacher guides and read alouds that I use with the boys. The other drawer is for my Bible study tools. 

We also acquired a  futon/ bunk bed for Ben’s room.  What teen wouldn’t want a couch in their room?  I thought the bunk/ futon combo would be good for him and if he has a friend sleep over, they can crash on it. I’m trying not to nag him about cleaning his room (as Dave has reminded me, we’ve taught him what to do, the rest is up to him).  He did have to do a major clean in order to get the new bed and mattresses into his room;  and I admit, I did nag him to finish cleaning it once the bed was in place.  Now it is time to let him be in charge of his stuff.

I’m hopeful that with the extra room we have in the schoolroom + Ben’s new acquisition, we can keep at bay the curriculum scatter that seems to happen over the course of the year.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Memoria Press Literature Guides {A Review}


memoria press

One of the things I’ve grown to realize over the past year is that I need “guard rails”  to help me stay on track with different components of our homeschooling.  When our Classical Conversations year ended and my youngest two were finishing up math, spelling and reading, I began looking for literature guides that would keep me focused on engaging Luke and Levi in good discussions about good books.

I really wanted to try something new, and after looking around, decided that Memoria Press’ literature guides might be what I needed.

3rd grade

After contacting Memoria Press, I was sent both the Third Grade Literature Set ($69.00) of teacher and student guides and the Fifth Grade Literature Set ($95.00) of the same. For a little more, you can purchase the teacher and student guides with the literature books themselves. I also received PDF downloads of both literature set Individual lesson plans ($8.00).  We had several of the books on hand here, so we used our own copies of the literature books, however you can purchase the guides + books as a set at the Memoria Press Website.  Additionally, each of the student and teacher’s guides can be purchased individually.

5th grade_thumb[1]

How We Used This: 

The 3rd grade Literature Lesson Plan schedules out reading and literature guide assignments for 33 weeks.  It also includes some additional readings (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and some poetry selections from Poetry for the Grammar School).  The 5th grade Literature Lesson Plan offers 34 weeks of lesson plans.  Quizzes and Tests are included in both grade levels.

3rd Grade Literature

Farmer Boy
The Moffatts
Charlotte’s Web
5th Grade Literature

Adam of the Road
The Door in the Wall
Robin Hood
King Arthur

The Lesson Plan also provides some teaching suggestions.  One thing that I noticed is that the lesson plans are primarily written for classroom teachers.  However, I did not feel that the suggestions were impossible to adapt to our one-room schoolhouse.  The guide even suggests spending a day reading the week’s chapters silently, then re-reading them aloud (presumably with the class) while working through the guide.  We adapted to spend one day reading the chapter, then working through the guide orally and in writing the next day.  I know this definitely slowed down our progress through the book, but it was workable for late in the school year/ early summer.  After our first couple weeks of trying to follow the lesson plan pacing, Levi and I abandoned it; it just didn’t mesh with our style.   He was much more comfortable alternating reading and study guide materials compared with the pacing in the Lesson Plan.  I am glad I have them, as it helped me to understand how the book and guides are designed to work together, however, I can see that they are really not necessary for the future.

The Teacher’s Guide includes instructions on how to help students be smart readers for each of the book – encouraging note taking while reading the books, pre-reading comprehension questions for focused reading, etc.   The guide has answers printed on each of the full-sized reproductions of the student workbooks pages, as well as quizzes, tests, and answers for discussion questions. 

The Student Workbooks all have a similar structure for each chapter and each book.  Each chapter’s study guide has the following sections:

lit guide

  • Reading Notes – This section provides some additional information about characters introduced in the chapter, settings, and other contextual information to increase comprehension. 
  • Vocabulary – Several words are provided in the context of a phrase.  Students are asked to write down brief definitions.  These words are reviewed again in quizzes and on tests.  The boys and I used this as an opportunity to hone dictionary skills (both with a hard copy and e-copy) and thesaurus skills.  I usually asked the boys to try to define the word for me (sometimes I’d search out the word in the text of the book for additional contextual information) and then we’d seek out a concise definition or look up a synonym for the word. 
  • Comprehension Questions – These questions deal with the factual events that occur in the story.  Students are encouraged to write complete sentences.  This section worked much better for Levi (who is more willing to sit and complete a workbook page) than for Luke.  Luke’s pages are mostly empty, because I found that it was better to work on verbal discussion with him compared to physical writing.  However, Levi and I would often discuss the answers to the questions, then I would leave him to write out answers to help with penmanship, sentence formulation, and punctuation/ capitalization.  When we return to the guides in the fall, both boys will be held accountable for more written work than in our pre-summer days.
  • Discussion Questions – These questions begin with a quote from the chapter and then turn to several questions that turn to less concrete discussions of character motive, plot development, etc. Answers and information for each of these questions are in the Teacher’s Guide.
  • Enrichment- A variety of tasks are incorporated into this section.  Copy work, composition, map work, and even some additional research (especially into historically significant details of the stories) are incorporated into this section.  We certainly did not do every activity from this section – again, with Luke, we often just discussed the material. 

Extra practice sections, which come periodically throughout the guide (and vary by book) help students focus on literary elements such as characters, setting, and plot. 

Reviews, quizzes and final book tests are included in each of the teacher’s guides. I haven’t yet focused on these (we’ve done some quizzing orally at this point), but I plan to introduce them more formally to Luke especially as he advances through his 6th grade year.

Memoria Press Lit Guide Review_thumb

The Student Guides often have additional information in the appendices of each book, such as poems, a glossary, recipes or drawings of items important to the book.  If you are a person who likes arts and crafts that go along with literature, these guides do have some material, but you will probably want to search online for additional crafts, games, and recipes to supplement what is included in the guide.

My Thoughts and Recommendations: I think that these can be useful guides and are certainly easily adapted to meet the needs of a variety of students.  Written workbooks do not have to be always filled in completely, and I know it stresses Luke out to see an entire workbook with blank lines in it! Therefore, I’ve had to adapt our use and be a bit non-traditional by working through the guide orally.  I do think it is important for Luke to be able to do written work, and I plan to introduce it gradually to him as our fall begins.

Levi, on the other hand, loves workbook pages;  as a matter of fact he whined when I told him we would do some of the comprehension questions orally. 

For both my learner types (Type A and hands-on, auditory), these books can serve the purpose of helping students with reading comprehension and beginning literature skills.  I’m looking forward to re-starting school and being able to walk through these books with my sons. (I hate to admit that I’ve never read Robin Hood before!) 

I’m not convinced that I would need to purchase the individual lesson plans in the future;  There is enough flexibility in the program that you can easily work with the guides and mold them to fit yours and your child’s reading style.  I personally think they work best by alternating book reading with guide work.  That way, information is fresh for discussion. 

Small Dandelion_thumb[1]FCC Disclaimer:  I received free copies of these guides and lesson plans from the vendor in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.  This disclaimer is written in compliance with FCC regulations.