TL: DR – Charlotte Mason Grammar and Composition, Grades 4-6

composition IX charlotte mason on grammarThis is part IX,  the summary of what we’ve covered on Miss Mason’s approach to grammar and composition for grades 4-6, along with some practical tools.

-For composition, see these posts;

What Not To Do

Composition, Form II (grades 4-6)

And remember that Miss Mason’s methods are a tapestry, several things woven together, and for the language arts, that tapestry includes regular copywork from real, living books (not the child’s own writing), reading real living books (not twaddle), and in grade four, regular studied dictation.  In addition:

  • You don’t *teach* composition at all at this stage.  When you start asking the children to write, their narrations are their compositions. You can also ask them to write about things like a nature walk they took, a field trip, a visit to the art museum- concrete things they know and have experienced. Do not assign compositions to grade schoolers on abstract things like ‘truth.’
  • You begin to add written narrations in grade 4. To begin with they may write part of a narration and orally narrate the rest.
  • Written or oral narration daily after each lesson.
  • Stories from the assigned reading. Children who cannot write easily may narrate part.
  • Subscribe to a children’s magazine if you can find one,  and send a contribution in verse or prose.  Perhaps your local homeschool group could do a newsletter with things written by the children.

For grades 5 and 6, add these sorts of writing assignments:

  • Written or oral narration daily after each lesson.Stories from
        the assigned reading in Literature and History or Citizenship
        events of the day, etc., from well-written papers.Each term, choose a different focus, e.g.,
    1.    Letters with family news or letters to friends describing visits to places of interest

    2.    Accounts of things of interest seen in the holidays or
        accounts of visits made to museums and galleries

    3.    Invitations and answers to invitation

    4.    Descriptions of vacations taken.
    5.    Poems on summer scenes in the meter of one of their previous poems.



There’s been a lot of information to soak in, so to sum up what I think Miss Mason did for grammar for years 4-6 briefly:

  • Continue daily copywork, weekly dictation, daily narrations, both written and oral.
  • Teach the parts of speech- and with Miss Mason’s method, that must be done largely in context, that is, in the context of sentences and paragraphs.
  • Have the children regularly find the parts of speech they’ve learned and are currently learning in their daily reading and copywork.
  • Teach the children to identify the subjects and predicates of a sentence.
  • Do grammar in small bites, but steadily, consistently, regularly.  In one of her programmes, Miss Mason has this note at the end:

N.B. 1. – In grammar (English and foreign) and in mathematics there must be no gaps. Children must go on from where they left off, but they will be handicapped in the future unless they can do the work set for this Form.

The frustrating thing about that is that neither grammar nor composition happen to be listed on that programme, however, I believe this to be an oversight, not proof that the children did not grammar.  We have the exams given for form II in that term as well, so we can know something about what they did (remember that ‘B’ is the 4th graders, and A is the 5-6 grades):

English Grammar.
      A wind came up out of the sea,
      And said, “Oh mists, make room for me.”
      It hailed the ships and cried, “Sail on,
      Ye mariners, the night is gone.”
A    1. Analyse, parsing words in italics.
B    2. Pick out Subjects and Predicates, and say what part of speech each word is in line 1.
A    3. Make sentences to show the use of each kind of adverb.
      2. Use the following words, each as two different parts of speech,–above, after, before, but, as.
B    2. Use, in sentences, the word,–in, on, with, at, against, and say what parts of speech they join.

Remember that ‘parsing’ is not diagramming.  It’s just identifying the words in a sentence and saying what part of speech they are in the context of that sentence.  For instance, recently my son used this paragraph from John Muir’s Our National Parks for his copywork:

“Glacier meadows and beaver meadows are out-spread with charming effect along the banks of the streams, parklike expanses in the woods, and innumerable small gardens in rocky recesses of the mountains, some of them containing more petals than leaves, while the whole wilderness is enlivened with happy animals.”

I asked him to identify some of the various parts of speech.  Glacier and beaver are typically nouns, but in this passage they are adjectives, describing or identifying the specific types of meadows.

Application– if you want more help, more specific ideas about what to do, there is a free online program using CM’s approach to teach grammar here.  I like the looks of it.

I suggest that you get a good English handbook for your own reference. The older grammar books are fun to look at it (well, I think so, anyway), and you can get some useful ideas for what sorts of exercises to do from them, but for grammar and writing specifics, you really need something up to date. Rules and terminology change over time, and you don’t want to handicap your student by giving him antiquated rules for grammar that will hinder his ability to communicate effectively (or get good grades in college). I consider one or two of these among the most useful:

learning grammar through writing

Learning Grammar Through Writing– this one is so basic and so simple, your fourth grader could use it alone. It’s kind of like a dictionary of grammar terms, and the definitions are very straightforward. This will not be all you ever need for grammar, but it is a great first book.

Rod and Staff English HandbookRod and Staff English Handbook I suggest this one because I think it is pretty basic and straightforward, and easier for somebody who is shaky on their grammar to understand. Because it’s Rod and Staff, it’s solid, but also a little old-fashioned. If your student is heading to college or a career in writing for others (ie, journalism, or writing user’s manuals, that kind of thing), you probably want something more modern, but if your student is more interested in one of the trades, this is fine. The difference is largely in matters of style and some level of detail. Using the wrong gendered pronoun in a news article or college paper matters more than being old fashioned in your writing elsewhere. My stylistic use of Miss Mason, rather than merely ‘Mason,’ is quite out of date, for example, and were I writing for an academic publication I’d really need to fix it.

Writers INC: A Student Handbook for Writing and Learning (Write Source)– This is more thorough than the one above, and it’s probably more up to date.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation– for Mom, and for older students. This is hilarious, and who knew punctuation could be so much fun?

For working with the parts of speech, you also should really read the beautiful Heller books (try your library):

Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns (Explore!)

Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives (Explore!)

Behind the Mask: A Book about Prepositions (World of Language)

Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs (Explore!)

Mine, All Mine!: A Book About Pronouns (Explore!)

A Cache of Jewels (World of Language)

Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal!: A Book About Interjections and Conjunctions (Explore!)

Up, Up and Away (World of Language)

(Those are affiliate links)

There may be other, better grammar books, and probably the best one is the one you already own. I haven’t looked at every book out there. These are just books I’ve seen and have used myself.



Previous posts in this series:

Part I is here
Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V: Upper Years, What Not To Do

Part VI: Composition, Form II (grades 4-6)– learning by doing

The ‘Umbrella’ Composition Book, Mason’s Horrible Warning

Part VII: Grammar, Form IIB (Grade 4)

Part VIII: Teaching the Parts of Speech– a grammar text Miss Mason used.

Series at a glance- see the linked TOC for the entire series


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