Prentice-Hall Writing & Grammar Homeschool Bundles

It's gratifying to see a major textbook supplier provide quality materials - and in user-friendly combinations - to the homeschool market. Prentice Hall has given us a solid writing and grammar program - one that walks the student through each step of the writing process; one that gives guided writing instruction; one that doesn't overlook grammar, usage, and mechanics mastery; and even one that has an eye for skills that are useful in the real-world. Perhaps most unexpected, it's one that includes "Critical Viewing" elements that ask questions like "Use the noun clause what I wouldn't like in a sentence about this picture." - Shades of Charlotte Mason!

Each course starts by looking at the general qualities of good writing, then a chapter on the writing process as well as a chapter on sentence, paragraph, and essay writing. These, of course, are grade specific and feature both a review and an increasing depth of instruction. Then follow chapters on specific forms of writing (these vary with the grade level). Grade 6 covers autobiographical and short story (both narration); description; a persuasive essay; comparison/contrast, cause/effect, and how-to essays (all exposition); a research report; response to literature; and writing for assessment. Grade 11 covers all of these plus advertisement (persuasion), problem/solution essay (exposition), documented essay (research), research paper; and workplace writing. Each of these chapters follows a specific assignment through the writing process. Assignments are broken down into bite-size pieces with targeted instruction in specific skills. For instance, in a 6th grade section on Drafting (in Description), the student is encouraged to provide elaboration by combining details from different senses and shown a technique called "depth-charging" to help her do so. Chapters feature classic artwork (for student response prompts), student writing examples, and sections that focus on specific grammar usage.

Part 2 provides the grammar chapters which start with a diagnostic test followed by specific review and instruction (key concepts), and then exercises. Sections on "Grammar in Literature" require the student to analyze grammar usage in particular passages. Section Reviews are interspersed within each chapter and are in addition to practice exercises. There is significant grade level specificity in these chapters with lower levels focusing on basic parts of speech, usage, and mechanics while upper levels focus on effective usage, phrases/clauses, and agreement. The chapters in Part 3 focus on application - things like speaking and listening, reading skills, study and test-taking skills, and in the upper levels, workplace skills.

A collection of resources is included at the back of each Student Text. These are grade level related but include a sentence diagramming workshop, a test preparation handbook, lists of commonly overused and misspelled words, and proofreading symbols. There appears to be online material available as well. The text provides a code and indicates the availability of online videos, quizzes, tests, etc., but I wasn't able to thoroughly research these possibilities and found only some of the "other material" - extra grammar exercises and references.

The Teacher's Edition is wraparound and goes well beyond an answer key (but all answers to exercises from the Student Text are provided). Detailed specific lesson plans are available in two forms - a standard five-day weekly format and an accelerated two-day schedule. I found the two-day option particularly appealing as I imagine this option will streamline a mom's teaching responsibilities. All sorts of teacher-y stuff is also here - ongoing assessments, differentiated instruction (for students with different abilities), talking points (helpful at upper levels), step-by-step teaching guide, timed-writing prompts, and a chart showing the correlation of various chapters to the Six Traits writing model.

The Homeschool Bundles include a hardcopy Handbook Edition Student Text (more about this later but all information cited above is from this edition) and a hardcopy wraparound Teacher's Edition. By the way, both of these have a sturdy, no-nonsense, yet still attractive appearance with four-color photos/illustrations, accent colors, iconic sidebar information, and color-coded organization. The Student Text is a "Handbook Edition as opposed to the "Full Student Edition." However, the Teacher's Edition features the "Full Student Edition" (reduced pages) as the basis for their wraparound. This means that all the content of the "Full" edition is available to the teacher but I suspect will never be missed by the student. Between the two student editions, most of the pages are identical but the "Full" text has added-in pages; pages that include a section called "Spotlight on the Humanities" (mostly art), a section on "Media and Technology Skills" and a "Standardized Test Preparation Workshop." It's not that these aren't valuable, it's that they are just as usable from the TE as they would be in the Student - and there's no good reason for duplication.

You might have noticed that there has been no test book nor tests mentioned so far. Well, you're not going to find any. First of all, assessments/tests are not really needed for writing and there are rubrics available to help you through the grading process there. Secondly, I'm guessing the TestBank feature available to public school teachers is a bit pricey for the homeschool and it's not really necessary. In the grammar section there are numerous section and cumulative reviews as well as beginning diagnostic tests. When you're working one-on-one with a student, these should be more than satisfactory for both your own personal satisfaction of your student's mastery as well as any documentation that might be needed. Throughout both books you will see references to other components in the program. While it might be nice to have access to these, frankly I appreciate that Prentice Hall has been willing to sift through all the products available to the school systems and pinpoint "the necessary" in order to provide a quality program at a commendable price - and thus keeping me from the temptation of purchasing products not needed in the home or tutoring situation. So, in summary: It's solid - in terms of academics and approach. It's thorough - in terms of coverage and instruction. It's attractive - in terms of layout and design. And, it's user-friendly. In short, it's a winner! ~ Janice

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