Curriculum Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts
Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts curriculum is the sort of treat we homeschool moms and dads enjoy as much as our kids. In my experience, too few people know about this gem of a resource, and I’m excited to have the chance to share it here with you.
Thompson is no ordinary teacher, and this is not your run-of-the mill curriculum. Seeking to introduce students to English language arts in its highest forms, Thompson writes eloquently, with frequent literary references. My 11-year-old son has noticed, “This is like taking a class with a professor.”
Those looking for a secular classical resource to teach language arts will be especially appreciative of Thompson’s approach. Vocabulary lessons based on Latin and Greek stems are far more interesting than those normally found in traditional text books. Classical literature is referenced throughout the program so you’ll want to keep a pen and paper handy just to jot down all the reading suggestions. Thompson’s program might serve as launch pad that sparks your child’s interest in classical history as well.
Thompson endorses the Socratic method of teaching—asking probing questions that encourage students to unearth answers themselves. Throughout the teaching manuals, he provides tips for parents that encourage lively, organic discourse, and critical thinking skills.
For the purposes of this review, I looked at the complete set of texts for Level Two which is written for the 4th grade and up. In all, there are 4 levels:
Level 1 (for 3rd grade and up): Grammar Island, Practice Island, Building Language, The Music of the Hemispheres, Sentence Island
Level 2 (for 4th grade and up): Grammar Town, Practice Town, Caesar’s English I (or CEE 1), Building Poems, Paragraph Town
Level 3 (for 5th grade and up): Grammar Voyage, Practice Voyage, Caesar’s English II (or CEE 2), A World of Poetry, Essay Voyage
Level 4 (for 6th grade and up): Magic Lens 1, 4 Practice 1, The Word Within the Word 1, Poetry and Humanity, Advanced Academic Writing 1
Each level contains texts that can be ordered separately or, for a small savings, as a bundle. Those who purchase the full set will have a comprehensive language arts program that teaches grammar, vocabulary, writing, and poetry at an accelerated level. Thompson designed this curriculum with gifted students in mind; however, by adjusting the suggested grade levels, this program could be adapted for a wider range of motivated learners.
To better acclimate to this program’s unique style, some families might find it helpful to start at the beginning of the series. While each level could serve as a stand-alone program, the material is cumulative and diving into its middle may be difficult for learners accustomed to a more conventional curriculum.
Each student book has a separate accompanying teacher’s manual. Families wishing to save a few dollars could do so by purchasing only the teacher’s manual which includes the student text in its entirety. Much of the information for teachers appears in the back of the teaching manuals. Although text boxes for parents appear throughout the guides, they are small and unobtrusive; most students could still read the books without distraction or difficulty.
Formatting in each book is straightforward with lots of white space and stylized fonts. At first glance, the slim texts might appear to lack substance. However, upon closer inspection, most students will find the content on these pages to be generous, dense, and rich with detail. Photographs of art and important quotations are sprinkled throughout each text and form a significant portion of each lesson.
For those wishing to further enhance their child’s experience, an optional literature component can be purchased separately. Level Two takes a look at the novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wind in the Willows. Each book is reproduced to include an examination of poetic techniques, four-level analyses of interesting grammar, and a look at writing strategies. Vocabulary is reviewed at the end of each page. By working through these stories, concepts studied in Level Two’s textbooks can be reinforced in the context of compelling literature. The accompanying parent manual features commentary from Thompson about each novel, advanced vocabulary words, discussion questions, activities, and guidance to support students’ efforts practicing academic writing.
The Royal Fireworks Press website features free videos and sample readings from the books, along with other materials to support parents’ teaching efforts.
Pricing details vary depending on how items are purchased. The complete Level Two homeschool package, which does not include the literature trilogy mentioned above, is $260. If ordered on the publisher’s website, the cost is $225. The Alice, Peter, and Mole Trilogy Set and Parent Manual is an additional $40. For more pricing information, visit the Royal Fireworks Press website.
Not every student will enjoy this program. Some learners may consider the elevated, formal style of prose stuffy or pretentious and the level of detail too difficult. This is a curriculum for a family in love with language and all its complexity who wants to explore this subject in depth. If that sounds like you, this is a curriculum worth checking out. Enjoy!