Episode 65: Back to School Focus on Language Arts

In this episode we share several resources and some great books for supplementing and teaching Language Arts education with your children and having fun with language. 

Books Recommended in this Episode


Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today is our final episode in our back-to-school series. This time we’re going to be talking about the language arts, which is my favorite subject in school and what I have taught for many years. So I’m looking forward to sharing some great books with you today. Now I have done another podcast (and another,) and I’ll put a link to that in the show notes where I talk about so many fun, great picture books that deal with a play on words and deal with language arts, such as No Reading Allowed, P is for Pterodactyl, and those kinds of books and playing with words and enjoying them.

One book I’m so excited to share with you is a double book, and it is so cute. It is You Are a Reader and if you flip it over it’s You Are a Writer. And this is a rhyming picture book written by April Jones Prince and illustrated by Christine Davenier. And it’s two books in one, like I said, and just very cute. It’s really inspiring to young children to not give up, to keep trying when they’re reading. And even if they have trouble reading to keep giving it a try and to find creative ways to read all around them. And then on the flip side, the same thing–to not give up when writing gets difficult, but to enjoy the process and to tell wonderful stories and then to write about anything and everything. And so it’s a wonderful book I just love. As we start talking about language arts today, I think it’s a brilliant one to start with.

But today I want to share a few resources that you may want to use if your child is struggling in his language arts, that will give you some extra tools you can use with them, or if you’re homeschooling. And then I’ll also finish up with a few more picture books that you can enjoy. But I’m trying not to reiterate the same ones I’ve already talked about. Those you can listen to in our other podcast. And like I said, I’ll have that link for you in the show notes. So one of the books that I’ve just recently come across that I’m so excited to use with my students this school year because I’m always trying to teach them how to proofread. It is such an important skill as a literature teacher and an English teacher, an ESL teacher. I’ve done all of these. And one of the things that I just harass my students with is proofread. You need to proofread, and you need to proofread more than once because we can’t take everything in. If we’re dealing with a first grader, that’s a whole different ball game. But if we’re dealing with upper elementary and middle school and high school students, we need to help them understand from the first-grade years on up that proofreading is vital. We write things down and then we go back and check our work. We go back and look and see how we’ve done. Now, when you get into writing an essay, this is why you have to do it more than one time through. The first time we proofread, we may proofread for flow. How do the paragraphs flow one to the next one? How do the arguments stand up? Have we contradicted ourselves? Have we supported our argument well enough? And the reason for that is many times when we’re teaching essay writing, we start with our body paragraphs. And so in one lesson, you’re writing the first body paragraph. Then the next day or the next week, or whenever you write the next body paragraph and then the next one. And then you go back and you write your conclusion in your introduction. Then you put it all together. Well, when you put it all together, you’ve written this over a week or two-week period of time. It may not flow. And so teaching them to proofread is vital. So the first time you proofread, it may just be to check for flow and that your arguments are strong. But then we have to proofread for punctuation, for grammar, for word choice. Are we using the same word over and over and over?

So there’s this one book called A Sentence a Day: Short, Playful Proofreading Exercises to Help Students Avoid Tripping Up When They Write by Samantha Prust. So you have a sentence that you would give to your students or to your child, and they would try to find the errors and then you have the page they can look at, or you can look at if you’re not quite sure about all the corrections and help them with making those corrections. So this is a great little book because you have a sentence a day. That way you can go over many of the grammar and punctuation rules daily reiterating watching out for those downfalls and helping your students to be able to proofread their own work.

There’s a book called Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing. And there’s Brushing Up on Grammar: An Acts of Teaching Approach. Joyce Armstrong Carol and Edward E. Wilson wrote both of these books and their approach to teaching is really wonderful. It helps you as an educator to meet children where they are, to make learning fun and interesting, and to help us understand kind of the reason for what we’re doing as we teach. I have found so many great ideas. It’s like a goldmine, these books, when you go through them, to just kind of mine out ideas that you can use with your children. These are not textbooks for the children. These are textbooks for the teachers. They’re just great books. On page 1 of the grammar book it says, “Grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor or the scales to a musician. You may loathe it. It may bore you, but nothing will replace it. And once mastered, it will support you like a rock.” And that’s by Beatrice Joy. Then this book goes on to why we teach grammar and understanding it. Then we go into how to use grammar. Both of these books are just great. I just love them. And both of these books have exercises that will work with children of all ages. They have exercises that you can do starting with your first graders and kindergartners clear up through senior high. So they are amazing tools you can use, especially if you’re homeschooling.

As you know, if you join my mailing list, you have access to a phoneme book that you can download. There’s actually three to choose from, but one of them, that is my favorite, is a coloring book. And if you don’t know what phonemes are, we know about phonics and those kinds of things. Well phonemes are chunks of letters put together that make a specific sound. So the funnest one is O U G H. And when we see O U G H, it has six sounds: /oh/, /oo/, /uf/, /off/, /ah/, /ow/, and so children can learn the sounds that those letters make–that that phoneme makes–and figure out what word they’re looking at and sound out the different ways that phoneme can sound. And so that’s what these books are about, but I did find a really great resource online as well, that you can purchase. This great resource–it’s called Child First Publications, and they have several resources. They have actually a set you can order, which is “The Right Brain Phonics and Spelling Kit,” but they also have “Sound Spelling Teaching Cards” and “Sound Spelling Display Cards,” and The Illustrated Book of Sounds and Their Spelling Patterns, third edition. And this is along the same lines of what I have in the phoneme book, but just, of course, put into lesson plans and more usable for homeschooling or reviewing at home. And I think this would be a great resource for anyone to get.

And of course it goes without saying that one of the most important things we can do to help our children grow in their grammar, their vocabulary, and all that has to do with language arts is just to read, read, read, read to them, have sustained silent reading time, let them read texts that then ask discussion questions about what they’ve read, and keep them reading–whatever they’re fascinated with, let them read, read, read. This will do more than almost anything else we do to improve their grammar, to improve their writing, and to improve their understanding of how language works. I love to use books that include all the different literary devices. And I’ve talked about using picture books to help our children understand literary devices. And what happens later on is as they’re reading some great book and they go, “Wait a minute–that’s irony,” “That’s, you know, onomatopoeia, that’s hyperbole.” And they start to recognize when they’re seeing these different literary devices throughout what they’re reading.

When I was in high school, I said it was like dissecting a frog. Every time we read anything, we had to dissect it. We had to take it apart and examine it and look at it. And I just wanted to read and enjoy the story. And so we have to find a way to help our students love reading and enjoy reading the story, but then still enjoy doing a little bit of the dissecting and understanding and taking it apart and looking at it. Hopefully we can help them to do that without feeling like they’re not able to just enjoy watching a movie or reading a book where they don’t have to analyze every single thing. And it becomes something that is fun for them.

When they do see, “Aha! That’s dramatic irony” or verbal irony–tongue in cheek–they didn’t mean what they said. They’re being sarcastic. And helping students to understand those things and enjoy those things without it becoming a burden and taking the joy out of just enjoying the book or the movie. And as much as we can help our children to not only answer discussion questions, you know, respond to what they’ve read, but to also learn to use the same tools they’re reading about, that they’re seeing used in the books, let them play with words, it’s like giving them a hunk of Play-Doh or clay and letting them make and create and do what they can with the words. That is one reason I like to teach poetry because that is a short form of literature to help them write and be able to use these different tools without having to write a whole story or a whole essay.

Language arts for our youngest kids, of course, is just going to include number one, the alphabet. And so we enjoy our ABC books with them. And I’ve shared a number of ABC books over the year in this podcast.

One picture book that I think is really cute and is really fun for the younger children–this is a step above your alphabet books, but would be appropriate for children first grade on up–is called The Alphabet Thief by Claudia Villareal and illustrated by Michael Koch. There are several books actually that are called Alphabet Thief. This one is actually called The Alphabet Thief: Who Stole the Vowels. And this one deals just with taking the vowels out of words. So this one’s more appropriate for around first, second grade, and is a really cute story. There are two other Alphabet Thief books that are geared more towards a little bit older student. They’re fine, but this one is my favorite of the three.

And then there’s a set of ABC books for toddlers that are The Steam Baby Books. One is ABC Math Book. One is ABC Technology Book. And so this way you’re crossing curriculum lines or subject lines as well. The ABC Math Book is by Dori Roberts Stewart and Katie Turner. And The Technology Book is by Sage Franch and Fernando Martin. But the wonderful thing about ABC books is that you can look at what your child is interested in or else what theme or subject you’re really emphasizing for that week or that month. And you can usually find an alphabet book that has to do with that. There’s alphabet books geared toward boys. There are ones geared toward girls. There’s ones for flowers for outer space. You can look at a variety of alphabet books that will work with whatever you’re teaching that week.

There’s a unique set of books that is called The Monsters’ Nonsense. And in these books, they’re dealing with practicing phonics and phonemes using non-words. And so the idea is they have this fun, silly, exciting story about all these monsters on this other planet called Pok, and whatever’s happening in the story. But this one is called Pem Pem’s Birthday. What you do is, parents, you read the text of the story and the children read the speech bubbles of the monster that’s speaking this nonsense language. So it’s not real words, but they’re practicing sounding out the sounds that the monster is making in their speech bubble by just decoding the phonics and the phonemes. So it gives the child a chance to practice nonsense words and practice the skills they’re learning while enjoying a silly story with the parents. And then, like I said, the parents read the story. So it’s a way that we can help our children practice the phonics that they’re learning. And so in this series, there’s Pem Pem’s Birthday, The Zingy Zapper, The Green Gobbler, and some others that are in this same series. And they’re very inexpensive little books, and they’re written by Peter Bentley and illustrated by Duncan Beedie. And so these are just very interesting and a really unique way that we can help our children–encourage them to practice reading their phonics.

So I want to end this part of the podcast by talking about some great picture books. And these are ones we haven’t covered before that I think are just fantastic. One is called If You Were a Verb: Word Fun by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Sara Jean Gray. And there are several books in this series. There’s the one on verbs. And then there’s one on, If You Were a Noun, If You Were an Adjective, If You Were an Adverb. So there are some really cute books available to help your children learn the different parts of speech.

Then we also have a really interesting little book. It doesn’t have a whole lot of words in it, but it’s Literally Amazing Words and Where They Come From. And it’s by Patrick Skipworth and illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson. And it’s dealing with the etymology of words, but it’s really cool to find out where words came from, what they originally meant, and what makes them mean what they mean today. So it’s just a very cute book. It’s probably more for your little bit older elementary student, but it’s a nice book.

Then a very cute book for your really young children is A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Mike Lowery. This one is super cute. It’s about a little boy. And he sees his older sister writing and reading all the time and she says, oh, you can write a story. It’s really easy. And so he tries to write a story. He knows his letters, but he doesn’t know many words. And so he does like our typical little kids do, the squiggle squiggle lines to tell the story. It’s just really, really cute.

And then two other books, How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and illustrated by Mark Siegel and How to Write a Story by the same author and illustrator. And these two books take you through a step by step instruction of how to write and how to read a story, but it’s done in such a cute way and in a fun way that I think it’s brilliant. And I think it’s a wonderful way to introduce reading or writing to your students. How to Read a Story is really cute and encourages the child to have a buddy to read with, even if the buddy is not human; maybe the buddy is your dog. But it’s very cute. The How to Write a Story does actually talk about the different parts of a story, developing a conflict, having a main character and all of those kinds of things. So it really does take you step-by-step how to create a story. So these are just some really wonderful picture books that are available, that focus on the language arts.

And since we’re talking about language arts and words, I thought I really wanted a devotional that focuses on the Bible and the word of God. And so I found one in Hope for Each Day by Billy Graham, this is the September 20th devotional “Choose God’s Word.” Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word. I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you.” “Do you have any favorite Bible verses or stories? The Bible isn’t just another great book. It is God’s word given by God to tell us about himself. I have known many outstanding leaders who made the Bible their guide. One successful businessman told me he began each day by reading the Sermon on the Mount aloud. The Bible tells us how it came to be written in one of his letters. The Apostle Peter wrote, ‘We did not follow cunningly devised fables, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1:16, 21). The apostle Paul wrote, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ (2 Timothy 3:16). As you get to know the Bible, you get to know, God, don’t get too busy to have time to read the Bible. Many years ago, I heard these words: ‘Sin will keep you from God’s word or God’s word will keep you from sin.’ Which will you choose today?”

I thought that was really good. When we talk about language arts and also spirituality, the verse that says, “How will they know unless they hear, and how will they hear unless they are told?” And part of teaching literacy to our children is also teaching them biblical literacy and helping them know how to share the faith that they have–to be ready to give an answer for what they believe and why they believe it. And also as they become teenagers, that they can make the choice to embrace the character qualities and the beliefs that we have taught them. And at that age, those beliefs become their own much more than when they’re younger, but we need to prepare them. We need to help them have the words to be able to share. There are many resources out there, but one I really appreciate is the Three Circles. And you can find their links–I’ll have it in the show notes, but there are videos on YouTube that teach you how to incorporate the Gospel into everyday conversations and doing it in a natural way and with the leading of the Holy Spirit. I think anyone of any age can use this type of understanding of sharing the Gospel, and it will help them to be able to be successful in doing that and knowing that they have obeyed what the Holy Spirit has told them to do.

There’s a book that accompanies this program, and I will put that link in there as well, Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations. And that would be more for you as parents to read, but this is a great program. It’s not a memorizing-a-bunch-of-scriptures program. It’s not memorizing a pat script to share the Gospel. It is sharing from your heart and your own testimony and a very simple way of explaining the Gospel. I do recommend that. Older elementary and middle school children do very well with this. I don’t know if very young children would be able to master it, but the older elementary and middle school definitely could.

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions, as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to join my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. And that is where you can then download the phoneme books we mentioned in this episode. And if you go to my Facebook page or my Instagram account, you will find Bible verses to memorize with your family each week. And of course you can choose your own Bible verses. It’s just to encourage you to try to memorize scripture with your kids. And I’m planning to post two Bible verses each week for the whole school year. We started with the week of September 5th, and we’ll continue through the school year. And then in the summer, I’m wanting to challenge all of us to memorize larger chunks of scripture together. I’m working on a plan for that. And we’ll post that as well. In addition to the Bible verses, I also post some worksheets that hopefully you can use to help your kids memorize the scriptures. I’m using the easy to read version, because I think it’s one of the best translations to use with children. You can certainly change that and use whatever translation you prefer, but I wanted to provide this for you. So it’s there for you if you want it, it’s free. It’s for everyone. You can share it with your friends and encourage them to also memorize scripture together with their family.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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