Category Archives: Language

Why Christians Should Read Shakespeare

Some people might wonder why we, as Christians, share Shakespeare’s plays with our children, when lots of other Christian homeschoolers avoid his plays like the plague.

First, let me start with a quote from Reverend Ralph Allan Smith (who has a much better article about why to read Shakespeare!).  “Next to the Bible, he [Shakespeare] is perhaps the most important textbook for Christian young people who are seeking wisdom to live for the glory of God.”  I agree with these words.

Reading Shakespeare gives us the opportunity to live lives that are not our own and to experience and ponder the consequences of different choices – the good, the bad and the ugly.  This experience is available in a lot of quality, older literature, but never so much as in Shakespeare’s stories.  Children need this experience of examining the sinful choices of others in light of God’s truth and wisdom, as much as they need to be familiar with good choices.

Shakespeare’s writing also presents us with a realistic image of fallen humanity and it’s not often a pretty picture.  Each character struggles with sin in the same way that we do and, at the end of most plays, the characters are judged accordingly.   Too often the characters I’ve found in Christian children’s literature are simply too ‘good’ to be relatable and able to teach.  Near perfect characters suggest to children that, in comparison, they are failures in their walk with Christ.

Shakespeare sets a high standard of literature for his readers, a standard not seen in modern books and rarely in books marketed for teens and young adults.  The vocabulary is impressive.  Shakespeare created numerous words and expressions that we still use today.  The written expression is beautiful.  The language is lofty, much like the language of the King James Bible which was written around the same time.  (There’s even a pondering among scholars that Shakespeare may have been involved in its writing).  Certainly, Shakespeare was a favoured writer in the court of King James at that time.

Finally, God’s truth, beauty and wisdom can be found in books other than the Bible and Christian literature.  Even pagan literature can contain God’s truth; the pagans just didn’t realise the value of what they held.  It’s not unlike when a baby gets hold of a book and mistakes it for a chew thing or a place to draw.  Their use of it doesn’t depreciate the value of the book in the right hands.  We just have to take it back from them.  Augustine referred to this as ‘plundering the Egyptians’.  Christians can find things of value in books that are written by non-Christians.  Shakespeare, however, was a practising Christian who knew his Bible better than most people.   Did you know that Shakespeare’s plays contain at least 1200 Biblical references and that many people believe it’s more than double that number?

Sadly, most people have only experienced Shakespeare’s plays in the classroom where they are too often torn apart and analysed piece by painful piece.  Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be experienced at the theatre.  If you’ve avoided his plays because you didn’t enjoy them at school, then you need to attend a family oriented performance of one of his plays.  Shakespeare’s plots are brilliant.

Winston Churchill said “The Bible and Shakespeare stand alone on the highest platform”.  I agree with Winston, as I agree with a number of America’s founding fathers.   “Jefferson was more struck by the moral truths he found in Shakespeare’s plays than by their linguistic skill. These plays, he was convinced, like all the great works of fiction, help “fix us in the principles and practices of virtue” and in “an abhorrence” of vice”.  Many a great Christian man read and loved Shakespeare.

If I was only permitted to own two books (heaven forbid!!), then I would definitely choose the Bible and a complete volume of Shakespeare’s writings.

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Posted by on December 4, 2017 in Homeschooling Thoughts, Language, My Library


Our New Writing Program

This year, we have moved away from using IEW and have switched to “The Lost Tools of Writing” (LTW).  Not because we didn’t like IEW (we love IEW), but because we had a different writing goal this year.  IEW has been instrumental in teaching my boys how to structure and improve their writing and now we need to focus on content and thought and that’s what I think LTW does well.

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There are three components to LTW curriculum: there’s a teacher’s guide, a student book and streamed videos.  For almost all of the 9 essays, there are three videos, streamed through Vimeo, intended for the teacher, not the student.  The way I use the program is to watch the three videos for the essay I’m teaching and then read through the detailed lesson information in the teacher’s guide.  I do all of this on the weekend prior to teaching the new essay.  I love the amount of support that the LTW curriculum gives the instructor.

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I also love the amount of freedom that the program allows.  While the teaching is structured, the teacher and the student are given the freedom to chose what they will write about.  I appreciate this as it allows our writing to be related to what we are learning in other subject areas.

The persuasive essay is the genre that LTW teaches.  Prior to starting the curriculum, I thought I knew most of what there was to know about the persuasive genre.  I mean, I’m a qualified teacher and I’ve taught this genre a number of times, even for the infamous Naplan tests.  But LTW has taught me so much that I now know how little I actually knew about the persuasive essay.  I was on the right track, but I was only just scrapping at the surface.  LTW has opened a door I didn’t even know to look for.  I’d never heard of things like exordiums and amplifications.  I’m so glad I chose a writing program to help me teach my boys.

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The main reason I chose LTW for this stage of writing instruction is its focus on invention, or creation of ideas.  IEW taught my boys to structure their writing well but they needed more work on creation of ideas.  They preferred report writing, retelling what they knew after some research.  But, when asked for their thoughts on a topic, they were uncomfortable with identifying and expressing their own ideas.  LTW teaches students how to draw forth those thoughts and how to organise them.  In the ‘invention’ stage of writing, an often overlooked stage of writing, the students are taught five common topics: comparison, definition, circumstance, relation and testimony.   These five common topics lead to powerful questions that help students gather their ideas and thoughts.  Invention (or thinking) is a critical part of the LTW writing process and given equal importance with the outlining, drafting and editing processes.

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The ideas and thoughts that the students form and discover are collected on an ANI chart.  (This ANI chart is a brilliant device.  I can think of so many uses for it).  In LTW, after devising a thesis, the students’ thoughts are organised into: ideas that affirm the thesis, ideas that negate the thesis and ideas that are merely interesting to the topic but perhaps not yet relevant.  I particularly appreciate that the student is required to consider both sides of an argument, not merely their own.   This is an important skill if we are to teach our children to critically think through issues.

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Next, the students are moved into the arrangement stage of writing.  Here the students are taught to sort and group their ideas within their ANI chart in order to transfer them to an essay outline.  LTW does not overwhelm the students in this stage of writing, consequently, the initial essays are very rudimentary.  Do not be disturbed by the simplicity of the first couple of essays.  It’s part of the process and I assure you that the students will be writing good quality essays before long.

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In their student books, the students are supported with leading questions and prompts while transferring information from their organised ANI charts to an outline.  Then the students transcribe their outline onto their own page, using the template provided in their student books.  At first, this process seemed cumbersome to my boys but LTW has quickly taught them to appreciate the process that creates a high quality outline.  Writing from such an outline makes writing so much easier.

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Next, the students are given lessons in ‘elocution’, quality language expression.   I liken this stage to IEW’s dress-ups.  With each new LTW essay, the students are given skills to improve their written expression.  Some of the skills in LTW’s level 1 include parallelism, similes, alliteration and assonance.  I tend to teach these lessons after my students have drafted their essay so that they can edit their own writing to include the new element.

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With a little preparation each week, the program is very easy to use and incredibly supportive of both teacher and student.  Because of this support and the freedom to select our own writing topics, the writing skills we are learning should be easy to continue to use once we have finished the program.  My boys have just finished essay five in LTW and I’m already declaring the merits of this program high and low, and far and wide.  As evidence of why I’m falling in love with LTW, I’d like to leave you with the introduction paragraph of one of my sons’ essays.  For him, writing this paragraph was as easy as following the advice of the Lost Tools of Writing.

“One Small Step”

On the moon, Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” but was he actually on the moon when he said this?  The truth is important to both sides of the argument.  One side believes that man walked on the moon and the other believes that the moon walk and landing were all just a hoax.  Evidence, however, indicates that man did walk on the moon in 1969.  There are five prominent reasons to believe that man went to the moon.  The Apollo astronauts themselves were eyewitnesses, who documented their experiences on the moon through photos and videos.  They also returned to Earth with a large number of moon rocks and soil samples to study.  The Apollo missions were not just tracked by NASA and other American organisations; they were also tracked by third-parties around the world.  Science has also explained the anomalies that the conspiracy theorists use as evidence against a moon landing.  In recent years, unmanned missions have been sent to the moon and have photographed the landing sites of the Apollo missions and the equipment they left behind.  With this clear evidence, it can safely be said that Neil Armstrong did walk on the moon.



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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Language, Resources and Organising


Shakespeare’s Globe Dvds

Do you know about the “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds?

I recently stumbled upon them

and have to share.

We purchased a box set

to start our collection

(that seemed the most economical way)

and hoped we were onto a good thing.

Then, last week, we sat down to watch “Twelfth Night”,

the first in our collection

(and a play we would also see performed on stage).

Well, let me tell you,

it was the very best Shakespeare performance

we had EVER seen!

(And we’ve seen a few now – on dvd and performed live).

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The dvd is a professional video of a live performance

from the Globe in London.

So, of course, the performers were the very best.

While you are watching, you also get to see the Globe

in all its glory.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to attend a live performance.

I think I’d pay for a seated ticket though.

The “Twelfth Night” was three hours long!

I couldn’t imagine standing in one place for that long.

Thankfully, we were watching on dvd,

and could choose to spread the play over three nights.

This particular play uses male actors for the female roles.

At first, it was a bit awkward,

but, once we got used to it, we loved it!

The male ‘females’  added to the hilarity of the play.

Gosh, we laughed hard throughout this play.

A simple gesture or a look from the actors had us in stitches.

And don’t worry about being confused by the Shakespearean language.

The dvds have captions, which is a brilliant idea,

and the actors are so talented that you just fall into the story

and become engrossed.

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After watching the “Twelfth Night”,

I order another box set that included the play “As You Like It”

(the next play we’ll see performed live

– even with a brilliant dvd,

there is still something special and not-to-be-missed about a live performance).

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But, then, after talking to Hubby about the brilliance of these “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds,

we found an even bigger collection of “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds.

This collection includes 19 plays

for a fraction of the price of ordering 19 plays.

So we jumped and bought it.

(Shop around.  Prices really vary.  We found ours on Fishpond.)

We’re excitedly waiting for their delivery.

The plan is to watch our way through the plays we’ve already attended on stage.

Then we’ll wait until live performance opportunities arise, before watching the others.

Watching these dvds is an excellent way to prepare for a live performance.

And if you can’t attend a live performance,

these are an excellent substitute.

I’m just amazed that it took us so long to hear about these dvds.

(And, no, this isn’t a compensated review.

We just love these dvds and didn’t want you to miss them.)


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Posted by on September 3, 2016 in Language


Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Have you ever read “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”?

Okay, well my overseas readers probably haven’t

but what about my aussie readers?

I hadn’t read it

…until this week.

It just didn’t seem like the kind of book I’d like

and as a kid it just never crossed my path.

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But since we are off to see a performance of it,

we had to pick up the book and read it.

Well, let me tell you…

I loved this story

(and the boys enjoy it too).

It is such a lovely, sweet story.

It’s a not-to-be-missed story.

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Snugglepot and Cuddlepie actually have three adventures

in three separate stories

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but our book has all of them in the same gorgeous volume.

We’ve only read the first story so far

but are eager to dive into the other two.

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If you are planning to read these stories

you need to get hold of a copy that has illustrations.

The story without the illustrations

would lose a huge chunk of its appeal.

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Just look at these darling pictures.

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Even the villains are appealing!

(This is a Banksia Man.)

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At the end of our book version,

there is a section all about May Gibbs,

her life and work.

We’ve already had a flick through

because we couldn’t help ourselves.

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After this book,

I might need to acquire a copy of some of the other Australian classics

that I never read as a child and consequently my boys haven’t read either

– books like “Blinky Bill” and “Dot and the Kangaroo”.

Any recommendations on which to read first?

Are there any others?

Goodness, so many big glaring literature gaps to fill

but what a glorious way to fill the coming years

– reading Australian classics.



Posted by on June 11, 2016 in Language, My Library