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Where Do I Start With Grammar?

Picture of Susan Wise Bauer
Susan Wise Bauer
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When beginning a homeschooling grammar program, you probably wonder what curriculum would be best for you. Let us help you figure out where to begin, if you’re using one of our great options: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind and Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind.

First Language Lessons is an easy-to-use four-year grammar curriculum for the early elementary years. With it, you can give your child a strong foundation in clear communication and skills necessary for good writing. Topics covered include: punctuation, parts of speech, capitalization, contractions, dictionary usage, letter-writing, and sentence diagramming.

Generally, first and second graders should begin with First Language Lessons Level One, because Level Two assumes knowledge from Level 1. Following Level Two, Level Three assumes the student has had no previous grammar instruction and thoroughly reviews everything found in levels One and Two (at a third grade pace) before introducing sentence diagramming. A fourth grader can begin with Level Four.

First Language Lessons provides students with the perfect introduction to language to begin Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind.

Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind takes middle-grade and older students (roughly 5th-12th grade, though some students start in 6th or 7th) from basic definitions through advanced sentence structure and analysis—all the grammar skills needed to write and speak with eloquence and confidence and be prepared for high school and college work. The curriculum is best suited for students who have a grasp of diagramming and a strong foundation in grammar and the English language. Because Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind is aimed towards older students, the curriculum moves faster and uses more complex sentences as examples. For a guide to make Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind work for your student, check out our Teaching Tips.

The primary difference between Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind and First Language Lessons, aside from their age level difference, is that First Language Lessons is sequential while Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind is cyclical. Remember that when using Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind, there are no “years” or “levels” as such. Any “color” workbook/answer key set of Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind is a good place to start with any student 5th grade and up.

The most important rule when using either grammar curriculum is patience. The goal is proficiency, not a rapid progress through workbooks. Build your students’ understanding and mastery of grammar rules; a lifetime of clear communication awaits.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.
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Discussion

49 thoughts on “Where Do I Start With Grammar?”

  1. How about a student entering 5th who has never used any of this curriculum. He has used traditional brick and mortar school curriculum and is fairly well versed in parts of speech and rules of grammar. However, he has never learned any aspect of sentence diagraming. I am thinking that Level for of First Language Lessons would be appropriate.

    Reply
    • Certainly, Level 4 of First Language Lessons would be a good place to start in that situation. There’s no need to rush!

      Reply
  2. Where does a child go after completing Grammar for the Well Trained Mind? WTM says that students need to progress through a tenth grade grammar curriculum, so I’m debating about switching from Rod and Staff only to have to go back to it. (My oldest two will be in 8th and 5th and have done all of FLL and WWE, then WWS and Rod and Staff English 5th-7th for my oldest.)

    Reply
    • Our most up-to-date advice, taking into account “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind” (which was not yet complete when WTM was written), is this: Students who finish all four years of “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind” will have a thorough grasp of the English language. No further grammar studies/curricula will be necessary.

      Reply
  3. I am a bit confused on which level I should purchase. I went through Language Lessons 1 with my first grader, for second grade she went to a classical school where they continued doing grammar. I am now homeschooling her for third grade. Should I purchase level 3 or 4 for her?

    Reply
  4. What age do I start the whole process? Like when do I start teaching my kids? 4, 5? Do I work with them for fun before that with phonics or?

    Reply
    • It’s generally good to start this type of grammar program in first or second grade, transitioning slowly from oral lessons to lessons that require more physical handwriting. Before that, you can help them learn to learn the letters & combinations and then learn to read (our “Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading” is perfect for that). There’s a LOT more detail about this in our book “The Well-Trained Mind.”

      Reply
  5. Hi! I have a 8th grader…which history and grammer would we need to start with? We have not used Well Trained Mind curriculum before.
    Thanks
    Barbara Grizzell

    Reply
    • Barbara, for history, you could use our Story of the World curriculum as a “spine” or a base. The Story of the World was created for grammar stage students, but, it can also be used with middle school students by following the guidelines found in the front of each activity book, under the heading, “Multilevel Teaching.” Following these guidelines will make the work more challenging and appropriate for a middle school student.
      The paragraph about multi-level teaching in the front of the activity book can also be found on our samples page. Follow this link and scroll to page vii http://downloads.peacehillpress.com.s3.amazonaws.com/pdfs/samples/sotw1absample.pdf .
      For grammar, it would depend on how much grammar the student had studied before. If the student has had basic grammar instruction in elementary school, they could start with our “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind” (look at the page on our site called “Intermediate Grammar.” If you want to brush up a little more on the basics first, use First Language Lessons Level 4 for a year before starting “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind.”

      Reply
  6. I have a 6th grader who will be completing 6th grade Rod and Staff the end of this school year. He has a good grasp of grammar and does well with Rod and Staff. But we are looking for a little change of pace. We are interested in WTM grammar. Where would I begin him on WTM Grammar?

    I also have a 3rd grader who will complete 3rd grade R&S Grammar. Where should she continue come 4th grade?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • After your 6th grader completes the 6th grade Rod & Staff curriculum, he would be ready for our “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind” series. Start him on the Purple Workbook (you’ll need the Core Instructor Text and the Purple Answer Key for yourself).
      Your 4th grader would be in our “First Language Lessons” program, specifically in FLL Year 4.

      Reply
  7. We are considering switching to homeschooling after our daughter has been at a classical charter school. After first grade she will have finished Saxon 1 Phonics and Shurley English. Can she start ELL level 2 for second grade? Thanks!

    Reply
    • You should start a 2nd grader in First Language Lessons, Level One. Work through that level this year, then skip to level 3 for third grade. This is because levels one and two used to be combined in the same book. We broke them up for consistency and ease of use with our other materials. So, Level Two assumes the student has already gone through level One. Level Three assumes the student has had no previous grammar instruction and thoroughly reviews everything found in Levels One and Two (at a third grade pace) before introducing sentence diagramming.

      Reply
  8. I have a 7th grader and an 8th grader. What level should we start at? We completed FLL when the oldest was in 1-4 grades.

    Reply
  9. I have WTM third edition and it says if you start a seventh grader on Rod & Staff they should begin with the fifth-grade book, Progressing with Courage. My question was going to be which is right fifth-grade or Progressing with Courage. But now I think my question has changed. 🙂 My son is coming from a private school that taught grammar from Voyages in English so he does have some experience. What is your recommendation for that? And do you no longer recommend Rod & Staff?

    Reply
    • We used to recommend Rod & Staff or Voyages in English, but now in the 4th Edition of the WTM, we recommend our own Grammar Curriculum, “Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind.” You could start with either the purple or the red workbook, and you’d also want the Answer Key for whichever workbook you choose, and the Core Instructor Text.

      Reply
  10. If I choose Grammar for the Well Trained Mind, will I need an additional writing curriculum? Again, I’m asking since recommendations in the third edition of WTM claimed Rod & Staff would be all inclusive. Thanks for the help!

    Reply
    • Yes, if you choose GFTWTM, you’ll need a separate writing curriculum, since GFTWTM doesn’t cover composition. We recommend our “Writing With Skill” series, starting with Level 1 (instructor text and student book).

      Reply
  11. What is the difference between the purple and the red workbook? How do you split them into 4 years? Is it 2 years on purple and 2 years on red?
    We’ve homeschooled for one year and our daughter is about to be in 9th grade. This will be our first grammar curriculum.
    Thanks!
    Ashley

    Reply
    • Ashley, the purple and the red can be done in any order. You use the Core Instructor Text each year. The same content is covered each year in each workbook, but with different practice sentences and homework exercises, to reinforce the concepts. Ideally, one workbook would take about one schoolyear to complete.
      Right now only the red and purple books are available. Over the next two years we’ll be releasing Blue and Yellow workbooks to finish the 4-year series.

      Reply
  12. For what age range was GFTWTM intended? Once the yellow and blue books come out, is the complete program meant for middle school, high school, or both? I have a 9th and
    a 7th grader. The 7th grader is a stronger student and has had 3 years of a cyclic grammar program and has a pretty good grasp; the 9th grader has had less and is weaker in that area. Wondering if GFTWTM is an option to do with the 9th grader? Could the same level be done with both or would you recommend different levels? Which levels would you recommend?

    Reply
  13. We home school our two boys which we adopted from Uganda who are ages 10 and 12. We are just finishing Level 4 of First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind. It appears as though we can start with any color book in Grammar For the Well Trained Mind. Is that accurate? Does it matter if we start with red or purple?

    Reply
    • It doesn’t matter: you can start with red or purple and do them in either order. Both of them use the same Core Instructor Text.

      Reply
  14. Hi! I am going to be homeschooling my children for the first year in the fall. They have been in a public school until now. I will have a 5th grader and a 1st grader. My friend has recommended the Well Trained Mind First Language Lesson and Story of the World. Where do they each need to start? Thanks so much

    Reply
    • For grammar for the first grader, we would recommend starting with First Language Lessons, Level 1, if the child can read complete sentences (if not, wait until he/she can do so).
      For grammar for the 5th grader, we would recommend starting with First Language Lessons, Level 4. (For that one, you’ll need an Instructor Text and a Student Workbook).

      For history, the 1st grader can do “The Story of the World, Volume 1.” We’d recommend reading a chapter a week aloud to the student, and doing the simpler activities in the activity book like coloring pages, narration (“can you tell me what happened in this chapter?”) simple crafts, etc. The 5th grader can also do “The Story of the World, Volume 1,” but can read the book for themselves, a chapter a week, doing the Map Work, the review questions, and selected activities or Further Reading from the Activity Book.

      Reply
  15. I have a 3rd grader and i would like to start using the First Language Lesson but should i start with 3rd grade or second grade. We haven’t use this curriculum.

    Reply
  16. My children are going into grades 1, 3, 6, and 8. This is our first year homeschooling and they have been doing basic grammar at school but no diagramming. I’m thinking they should be doing First Language Lessons level 1 and 3, and then both older kids with Grammar for the Well Trained Mind, starting at the beginning. Is that right? Will the older kids be able to pick up the diagramming without the First Language Lessons prep?

    Reply
    • Yes, you’re right; the grade 1 child can start in FLL1; the grade 3 child can start in FLL3. The older two could both start at the beginning of GFTWTM (you could get one Instructor Text, one Red Key, and two Red Workbooks). Diagramming is reviewed in GFTWTM, starting at a very simple level. So they should be OK, but be prepared to go through GFTWTM slowly; there’s no rush.

      Reply
  17. My daughter is in 3rd grade and we want to start first language lessons and writing with ease. How do I know which level to start?

    Reply
    • For Writing with Ease, take a look at the diagnostic evaluations found here: http://downloads.peacehillpress.com/pdfs/samples/wwe/wweevaluations.pdf

      They should show mastery of the Year One evaluation before starting Level 2; mastery of Year 2 before starting Level 3; and so on.

      For First Language Lessons, a 3rd-grade student can begin in Level 3 because it reviews the concepts taught in levels 1 and 2. Level 3 is appropriate for students in 3rd grade regardless of their level of prior grammar instruction.

      Reply
  18. You can begin with the Instructor Guide and any “color” set of Student Workbook and Answer Key. The instruction is the same for each color, but the sample sentences are different to provide variety with each repetition.

    Reply
  19. My children are currently in 4th and 6th grade. We have been using Abeka for this first Semester, 2020. We need to change Language Arts to a better understanding English. Abeka tends to be too intense for them. Also, My 6th grader started home-schooling this past March due to covid-19. He was in 5th grade public school this past year. He needs help in Grammar and I’m unsure on what level to start him? I would appreciate any help you could give me.

    Elizabeth in Georgia

    Reply
    • For a situation like this, we’d suggest starting with First Language Lessons level 3 or 4. Check out the samples on the product pages.

      Reply
  20. My children are in 4th and 6th grade. We began Homeschooling last year. Our children do not have a good foundation about Grammar and I’m wondering where to start? My concern is our 6th grader going through this program until 12th grade? Are there any placements test our children can take first? Also, could you please suggest a good “Copy Work” writing curriculum that has spelling and vocabulary. Thank you.

    Reply
    • If they do not have a strong foundation in grammar, I would strongly consider starting both of them in First Language Lessons Level 4. Click on the sample button at that link and you will see the topics covered; GftWTM assumes knowledge of these topics. Starting in 7th does not mean he will necessarily be going through the books all through high school (although I would expect him to probably need a year or two past middle school). The workbooks are not sequential, and the student works to mastery. Different Ways to Use GftWTM can show you what that might look like.

      We recommend different texts for each part of language arts, because most students are not going to be at the exact same level in grammar, writing, and spelling. Spelling Workout is a good choice for most typical students (we don’t sell this).

      For writing, your 6th-grader should be able to start with Writing with Skill, Level 1. For the 4th-grader, look at Writing with Ease, which does have evaluations to help with placement.

      Reply
  21. My almost 6 year old is halfway through kindergarten. We pulled him out of distant learning to homeschool him. He’s just learning to read and is practicing site words. Would now be an appropriate time to start him on First Language Lessons?

    Reply
    • We recommend starting First Language Lessons in first grade. The student should be an emerging reader who is able to sound out multi-syllable words, and should have practiced penmanship enough to be able to copy names, words, and short sentences. Starting in first grade gives you plenty of time to complete all levels of FLL in elementary and move on to Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind in the middle grades.

      Reply
  22. My daughter completed First Language Lessons Level 2 this year. She is in second grade. I see that Level 3 assumes no previous instruction. Does that mean I should skip to Level 4 after Level 2, or should I do Level 3 in third grade as a review of all she previously Learned? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Probably not, because Level 3 also introduces diagramming, starting in Lesson 11 and going throughout the book. By the end, students are diagramming sentences with compound subjects and verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, interjections – pretty complex stuff for third-graders!

      Level 4 does review the prior three levels, but at a pretty good fourth-grade pace, and the diagramming is a lot of information. I would go with Level 3, and then she’s nicely situated to begin middle school grammar in fifth grade (which is a tough go for most kids in fourth).

      Each level has extensive samples on the product page (sample button is under product illustration), so you can review that for more information as well.

      Reply
  23. My son is in fifth grade and we just finished First Language Lessons, Level Four. Which Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind workbook should we begin with? And just to clarify, will I need an instructor’s guide, workbook, as well as a workbook key?

    Reply
    • That’s correct: for GFTWTM, you need the Core instructor text, which you buy once…it is then used for all 4 years of the curriculum. And then for each year you need one Workbook and one Key. You can begin with any of them (Blue, red, or purple) since you’ll be doing all of them eventually. The order isn’t important. For a 5th grader, we often recommend going at a slower pace and only doing the first half of the book in one year, instead of going through an entire workbook in one year. Here’s a video about it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbbOQyxUUgs

      Reply

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