When I was a child, my younger sisters studied grammar differently than I did. They learned something mysterious called ‘diagramming’ and had very interesting textbooks.
Many years later a friend of mine was selling some books, and in the pile I found Rod and Staff grammar texts. Exactly what my sisters had studied! Of course I bought them. We were ready for a formal grammar program.
Following Charlotte Mason’s ideas, we did not do grammar for the first few years, but my oldest was certainly old enough by this time. We had tried Simply Grammar, but it did not have enough practice for the children and required too much of my time. We tried Grammar Songs, but did not appreciate the music. We had a little grocery store diagramming booklet, but that wasn’t enough. Daily Grams had been a good introduction, but we were ready to move on, and the accompanying Easy Grammar was not as thorough as I wished. Christian Liberty Press Grammar had been a huge disappointment because it did not teach in a way that worked for us.
So we were eager to try something else. It turned out that the Building Christian English series from Rod and Staff Publishers was the answer. This is a rigorous, thorough, well-organized, clear, Christian, mom-friendly, multi-year grammar program, with good answer keys and tests. It also includes significant lessons on writing and communication.
About Building Christian English Levels 4-8:
- Each hard cover student text contains about eleven chapters, comprising approximately 120 lessons, and is illustrated with simple black and white drawings.
- The lessons contain clear explanations and examples, with important concepts in boxes.
- After some oral drill questions, the lessons end with written practice and occasionally a review section. Every chapter also ends with an entire review lesson.
- Interspersed through the grammar teaching are writing exercises which are clearly labeled in the table of contents as well as in the text itself.
- The index is clear and thorough.
- In each of these volumes, poetry appreciation and sentence diagramming are taught.
- Exercises and examples often relate to the Bible, nature, or everyday Mennonite life.
The Teacher’s Manual contains the entire student text, with teaching notes and answers printed in large, colored margins. Answers to the worksheets, the chapter tests, and the exams (for higher levels only) are in the back of the book. The worksheets, tests, and exams come in 8×11 inch paperback booklets.
Building With Diligence, 4
This book begins with an overview of the text itself and then moves on to simple studies of subjects and predicates; sentences; nouns; verbs; pronouns; adjectives; adverbs; punctuation; prepositions and conjunctions; and capitalization and dictionary use. Composition lessons include instruction about sentences, paragraphs, unity and order in paragraphs, poetry, reports, stories, and letters. Each chapter begins with a relevant rhyme and has worksheets and a test.
Following the Plan, 5
This level begins with review and covers the previous year’s topics in greater depth—topics such as compound sentences; appositives; outlining; kinds of pronouns; direct, indirect, and divided quotations; conversation in stories; using a concordance; and more. Chapters begin with picture discussions of the subject matter.
Progressing with Courage, 6
Topics range from perfect tenses to diagramming appositive adjectives, from courtesy in conversation to using subordinate conjunctions, and from complex sentences to writing a report. Each chapter begins with a grammar definition and a Bible text. A final test finishes up the year.
Building Securely, 7
This book teaches paragraph coherence, taking notes, oral reports, poetry, and stories. It also refines the student’s understanding of complex sentences, verbals, pronouns, conjunctions and much more.
Preparing for Usefulness, 8
Originally the final volume in the series, this book deepens a student’s ability to prepare paragraphs, letters, reports, outlines, stories, poetry, directions, and summaries. It also reviews and enhances grammar concepts such as compound complex sentences, dashes and parentheses, and verbal phrases.
We are beginning the level 9&10 books, Communicating Effectively, this summer. The two books at this level do not follow each other but can be studied independently. They involve more writing, editing, and speaking skills and less grammar. At this level our children are learning a lot of grammar in their foreign language studies, so I think we will really appreciate the focus on communication.
How We Used It
After a bit of fumbling about with my oldest, who was the patient guinea pig in our search for a grammar program, we discovered a great way to use the Rod and Staff grammar series. Since it only goes to level 9&10, and since it is quite rigorous, we decided to study each volume two years later than recommended. So, in grade 6 our children begin with the level 4 text, and so on.
This works well because by this age our children can study largely on their own. They do not want me to sit down and explain each concept; that is much too slow for them. The writing involved in level 4 is not too overwhelming for a child in grade 6. By the time the child is in grade 7, working on the level 5 book, he or she is able to absorb much of the content without doing all the exercises. I’ll mark whatever a child chooses to do, and then the child takes the test. If the test score is below 80%, the child has to repeat the chapter, doing all the work in order to learn the material. In this way our children develop maturity and are allowed to take charge of their own learning. At the same time, they acquire a thorough and rigorous knowledge of grammar which is helpful in their writing and their foreign language studies.
By starting with the level 4 book, we miss the content of the earlier textbooks. That is not a problem, because by grade 6 our children have learned a lot of grammar concepts from their language lesson programs. Through the years we also casually discuss parts of speech, often in relation to a foreign language.
Obviously, the children need to do their work in scribblers. They write the tests on loose leaf, though this requires creativity with some of the proofreading exercises. For those, the children usually copy down the word or words that need correction. Although this takes some extra time, it works well for us. Of course, you can always buy a test booklet for each child.
We are eager to begin the level 9/10 program for grade 12 next year. I think we will be able to do both texts in one year if we use the content of other courses as topics for the writing exercises.
The Building Christian English program from Rod and Staff Publishers is rigorous but not overwhelming. It is suitable for independent study, and has a very helpful and thorough answer key for the grammar lessons. Unfortunately there are no marking rubrics for the writing assignments. The tests are thorough, balanced, and have clear answer keys.
Even though we do not agree with every idea presented, I love the fact that many of the examples and exercises reflect the Bible and Christian living. A non-Christian family might find the religious content overwhelming; for us it is part of the program’s appeal.
If you want a thorough, well-organized, Christian grammar program, you should check out the Building Christian English series from Rod and Staff Publishers. Although this Mennonite publishing company has no website, there are two related sites that sell this grammar series: Rod and Staff Books and More (sample lessons available) and Anabaptist Bookstore. The series is also available from some homeschool suppliers.
Disclosure: This review is of a textbook series we have used and loved for years. We already had the products and received no compensation for this review.
-Written by Annie Kate, a Christian homeschooling mom of five great children, who blogs at Tea Time With Annie Kate.