Review: Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts (General)

We began Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts (MCT)materials about a year ago, starting with the first level of vocabulary (Building Language) and the second level  of grammar (Grammar Town), vocabulary (Caesar’s English I) and writing (Paragraph Town).  I considered the semester a  trial run on a program I’d heard rave reviews about in the gifted homeschooling community.  Last fall, my younger started the first level while my older began the third.  They enjoy the books, I like to teach from them, and we’re all learning.

Prior to the MCT series, my older and I tried many other combinations of grammar, vocabulary, and writing instruction, none we stuck with for more than a year (and many for much less).  After a few months with MCT, we were hooked.

For those unfamiliar with the materials, I’ll run over some basics, at least for the first three levels.  Each level contains four strands:  grammar, vocabulary, composition, and poetics.  While the grammar could stand alone, the other three rely on the terminology and skills taught in the grammar book.  To a lesser extent, vocabulary walks with the composition books, but they’re not as tightly linked.  Literature isn’t formally included, although numerous references to classical literature fill the strands, familiarizing the learner with the names of authors, great works, and well-crafted sentences.  (For guiding literature choices and discussion, Thompson’s book Classics in the Classroom offers support but not specific assignments.)

Some parents find the transition to MCT difficult.  It’s not a traditional curriculum in either form or function.  A practice sentence analysis book at each level in the only workbook.  The lessons are meant to be discussed, and this where understanding grows.  Simply put, this isn’t an independent do-a-page-a-day curriculum, at least not when executed as planned by the author.  Therefore, it may be more time-consuming than traditional curriculum, and that’s been true for us.  However, it reaches deeper than any language arts program I’ve used before, and my boys appreciate that difference as much as I do.  I’ve heard of families handing the books to their children to do alone, but I can’t picture that being either as effective or enjoyable as discussion the materials together.

So how does it work?  Grammar instruction only occurs for the first few months of the year, with regular practice sentences to analyze mixed into the vocabulary and composition books and in the “Practice” book for each level.  Composition, vocabulary, and poetics begin after the grammar is complete.  This gives the learner firm foundation in the workings of our language to use for understanding the new words and ideas in those three volumes.  Different that other programs?  Certainly.  But it works. For more information on scheduling the books, refer to the Elementary Curriculum Guide.  A yahoo group, visited regularly by the Thompson and some Royal Fireworks Press staff, serves as a forum for questions about the books, errata, concerns about choosing a level, and general support.  Your feedback is appreciated by the RFP folks, and Thompson answers many questions himself.

These unique books break from traditional language arts materials in many ways.  They’re deeper and more challenging yet highly accessible for the elementary-aged child.  They incorporate the classics across the series, making authors from the last several hundred years familiar names to young learners.  Studied with a parent or other mentor, they provide discussion points around words, grammar, poetry, and writing.  Our family is hooked, and I’ll share more particulars about the first three levels in  a future post.

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14 thoughts on “Review: Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts (General)

  1. Oh, what great timing!! I’m evaluating our curriculum for next year, and I’ve been very curious about MCT. I’ve heard great things, but this is the first time I’ve seen any real detail on its workings. Not sure it’s for us, but very helpful, nevertheless.

  2. So glad to read your review! I’ve been using the materials for a few months – but not all of it. We started with Magic Lens for my 13 yoson, and then added Word Within the Word. At first, he actually said that WWW was the coolest text book he’d ever seen! But then we ran in to some problems w his writing, and the challenges became to much for him. We dropped down to Paragraph town (to address is poor paragraph formations ) and will probably do most of the voyage level next. I hope to do a review after I’ve used it for a year or two as well. I agree it is the most time intensive thing we do (as far as time together) but we both really love it.

  3. Pingback: Review: Michael C. Thompson (Grammar and Poetics) « Quarks and Quirks

  4. Sarah, you write; ‘ I’ve heard of families handing the books to their children to do alone, but I can’t picture that being either as effective or enjoyable as discussion the materials together’.
    I can’t picture that either. Not only from the point of effectiveness and discussion, also I, as a teacher, learn that there is a different way of teaching language.
    Paula

  5. Pingback: Review: Michael C. Thompson Language Arts (Vocabulary and Compostion) « Quarks and Quirks

  6. It’s great to read how you’re implementing MCTLA.
    I’ve recently received our first box of this curriculum, then started implementing it yesterday. Personally, I’m finding it such a relief to see so many bases covered at the earliest stages, and I’ll no longer be grappling to try and explain what wasn’t in any of the previous books.

    I’ll be putting up a review once we’re settled into implementing this fully. Meanwhile, it’s very encouraging to read about the success of others, so thank you!

  7. Not sure if you are still taking comments, but I am trying to decide Island or Town. My son, soon to be 11/ starting 5th grade finished Lang. Lessons 4 by SWB. He loves to read…did well with all the LL, didn’t seem to struggle with any of it. Let me know what you think.

    • Island is a very gentle start and goes quickly at any age. My concern at eleven is that your son might find it feeling young. Starting with Town at that age should be no problem at all. It’s likely my favorite level overall.

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