Monday, December 21, 2020

Business Letters Block & The Dragon Grammar Book

As with every other topic, Waldorf takes its time with composition skills.

Although you are constantly doing the writing process every single day as you work on the main lesson books (double-spaced rough draft on loose paper, editing meeting with an adult, final version in MLB), there are other kinds of writing besides just explanatory!

Personal Narratives are commonly done in 4th Grade. Steiner never mentioned Friendly Letters but I like to put them in 5th Grade. Having pen pals is handy when you are doing U.S. Geography. Steiner was VERY big on writing Business Letters in 6th Grade. In 7th Grade, children get into Creative Writing (this is the block called Wish, Wonder, and Surprise) and in 8th Grade they tackle Persuasive Writing, Essay Writing, and Speeches.

Some folks combine Sixth Grade's Business Math block in with Business Letters, which is an obvious pairing. You could also give Business Math (which Jamie York characterizes as review of operations with Decimals from 5th grade plus Percents, Formulas & Graphs) its own block and use Business Letters as a time for Keyboarding and a review of Grammar with an eye towards being absolutely correct when you write in a formal way. Personally, this is the way I would do it. For Keyboarding, we like Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor, which my girls affectionately called Typing Viking.

Waldorf introduces Grammar in 3rd grade (some people even bring it in as part of the Old Testament, when Adam was naming the animals). We did the parts of speech in 3rd grade in the Montessori way, with the Montessori Grammar Stencil and the colored pencils, using the symbols to mark the job of each word in the sentence. Waldorf then gives room for another whole Grammar block in 4th grade, where we again used the Montessori materials and did Sentence Analysis as well as a look at more complex punctuation.

With this good foundation, I highly recommend The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom by Diane Mae Robinson as the "textbook" for your Business Letters block, ensuring that your middle school child is crystal clear on how to recognize and straighten out some of the common grammar mistakes and pitfalls.

If you are just starting with this book and didn't use any of the Montessori materials beforehand, I would consider incorporating them, since the color coding and hands-on components are really helpful for kids! We use the

    Grammar Stencil
    from Waseca Biomes, $5.00, beautifully made of wood

    Grammar Symbol Poster
    from Montessori Research & Development, $14.00

    "Making Sense of Sentence Analysis" Curriculum
    from Mandala Classroom Resources, $55.00

    For the Grammar Stencil you will need colored pencils:
    black - noun
    dark blue - adjective
    light blue - article
    purple - pronoun
    red - verb
    orange - adverb
    green - preposition
    pink - conjunction
    gold - interjection

example of a symbolized sentence using the Grammar stencil

For a noun phrase, like "slippery elm tree," I have now started underlining the entire phrase to show that it goes together. If all the words in the phrase are by one another, I just put one big black triangle. If the phrase wraps around and goes from one line to the next, I would do two, as I did above.

For a verb phrase, like "was riding," I would underline the entire phrase and give it just one big red ball. If there was an adverb in between, like "was happily riding," I would do the big red ball above both "was" and "riding" but I would underline each word to show that they go together. I have found this makes it easier for children.

I made my own Sentence Analysis wooden pieces by dyeing some laser cut wood scraps using food coloring:

The color coding used in the Grammar Symbols is carried forward into the Sentence Analysis.

To create a Business Letters block that incoporates The Dragon Grammar Book, I would suggest the following pacing:

Adult Preparation

if you're getting any Montessori materials, buy them and practice using them

read the Grammar Terminology section of the Dragon book

collect examples of Grammar errors you find in real life which you can refer back to later (here's my post on Dangling Modifiers: A List of Examples)

figure out some businesses you would like to write letters to which would be authentic (we once had a class write a letter to a company selling a decorate-your-own-mug kit with fine print in the instruction manual that said the mug was not safe to use for any beverages; another time we had a class write to our school's trash company to urgently ask about their recycling program since they appeared to be dumping the recycling in with the trash... we ended up writing again to cancel their contract)

Week One

Chapter 1: Confusing Words

The speed at which you go through this chapter -- and the whole book -- will really depend on your child.

I think the best way to go through this chapter is to write her sample Dragon sentences and use the Grammar Stencil to symbolize them. A lot of time the confusion becomes clearer when you can actually see how words which seems similar act differently in sentences, and usually this is due to being different parts of speech! "Good" vs. "Well" is a perfect example of this.

If you haven't symbolized any sentences before, start with a few to practice using the Grammar Stencil before diving into Chapter 1. A good way to do this is to choose simple sentences from any picture or chapter book you have on hand. Keep them simple!

If your child struggles with run-on sentences, symbolizing the parts of speech is helpful. I tell children that a conjunction is a "handshake" word, and when I introduce the symbol I wrap a pink silk scarf around the hands and wrists of two children who are shaking hands so that it looks like the pink bar. If your child has a run-on sentence, have him or her read it aloud and stop and physically shake hands with you at every single conjunction. After a while, it is abundantly clear when there are too many!

A dictionary is incredibly helpful for looking up the part of speech for a word you are not sure about (better than Google), so if you haven't done a lot with helping your child practice looking words up the dictionary, spend some time on this too. You may find you need to review alphabetizing.

If your child still gets confused with contractions, try writing the words out on slips of paper and then actually cutting the paper and removing the letters which are being contracted. The apostrophe goes where the paper is cut. For example, "you are" becomes "you're" and "he is" and "he was" both contract to "he's".

Chapter 2: "Are" and "Is" in Verb Agreement

The best way to practice this is also by writing sentences on slips of paper and cutting them apart. We do this in Sentence Analysis with the working charts. Here are lots of notes from our lessons. The first question is always "What is the action?" That cues children to find the verb. The second question is "Who _____ " (fill in the verb). That cues children to find the subject. You can cut the rest of the sentence out. Just cut it out. Put the subject and the verb beside each other and look to see if they match. You can do this with her sample Dragon sentences.

With the working charts, we cut up the sentences into bits of paper and put the noun that is the subject on top of the big black circle and the verb that is the action on top of the big red circle.

Week Two

Chapter 3: "Which" or "That"

Chapter 4: Who Did What to Whom?

Again, Sentence Analysis really shines here. Who refers to the subject. Whom refers to the object.

After the first question "What is the action?" and the second question "Who _____ ," Sentence Analysis gives us two more questions. They are "What _____ " and "To Whom? For Whom? To What? For What?"

The third question gives us the direct object and the fourth question gives us the indirect object.

Joe gave delicious chocolate brownies to the tired old man.

What is the action? gave

Who gave? Joe

What was given? brownies

To whom? man

If you look at the picture again of working chart III, you can see the other black circles, the questions you ask to help you figure out which word is which, and the blue triangles for any slips of paper with adjectives modifying the nouns. There is also another chart (Chart IV) which gives you spaces for slips of paper with adverbs modifying the verb.

Chapter 5: Comma Confusion

Commas are super-fun to teach because you can Google "punctuation matters," "commas matter," or "commas save lives," and find so many images of hilarious cartoons which Language Arts teachers have created.

I am a fan of the one with the graduation speech, "I'd like to thank my parents, Tiffany and God." Yes, I think the Oxford comma matters!

Week Three

For all of these advanced punctuation lessons, you can also look at my Personal Narratives webpage. At the bottom of the page there are links to worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers that are useful for extra practice.

Chapter 6: Ellipsis, Brackets, Braces

Chapter 7: Quotation Marks

Chapter 8: Em-Dash, En-Dash, Colon, Semicolon, Hyphen

Week Four

Chapter 9: Dangling, Misplaced, and Squinting Things

To help with dangling prepositions, you can return to the Grammar Stencil and review that a preposition is always part of a prepositional phrase. In fact, one of the ways to be sure something is a preposition is to look for that nice predictable pattern of a green crescent followed by a big black triangle, sometimes with a little light blue triangle or a medium-sized medium blue triangle in between.

For fun, my class always likes to put on a Preposition Circus Act (FREE on TpT). I recommend it if your child has trouble recognizing prepositions.

Chapter 10: Clauses, Objects, Subjects

Level 1 Dragon Grammar Skill Test

Level 2 Dragon Grammar Skill Test

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