Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching with Total Language Plus at a co-op

This last year I've been able to use Total Language Plus to easily and effectively teach Language Arts in a co-op setting.  It is easy teacher prep and gives me lots of flexibility.  Just this week I had a couple people over to help create their plan for teaching The Courage of Sarah Noble in our co-op this year and I had a phone call from a customer asking how you use the guides in a co-op, so I thought I'd share that information.

First of all, I do want to point out that Total Language Plus does have a private school version that would work well for larger co-op's or co-op's where you run the same classes year after year.  If that is the situation you are in you may want to check out the information on the website regarding that option.
Lex with her Animal Notebook we bound in class

What I'm focusing on here is the "typical" homeschool co-op.  I know, nothing is typical, especially with homeschooling, talking with many people at conventions over the years I've found some commonality amoung homeschool co-ops.  For one the class sizes are small, I hear usually between 5-15 for class sizes.  Also, most of them chose different books each year and don't often repeat (or at least don't know if they will anytime soon.)  If this is your situation using the regular Total Language Plus workbook is probably best for you.

In our co-op we require a syllabus.  I highly recommend you do this even if the co-op does not require it.  This gives you a way to clearly show what is required of the students each week and gives parents an idea of the expectations.  Our co-op runs on 9 week sessions which works nicely for most of the Total Language Plus guides as they are typically between 6-9 units.  If they are 6-7 units we typically plan a break week in the middle where we focus on one of the "projects" or "pen and paper" assignments in class and take the last week as a "fun" week to do some of the lighter project suggestions together like artwork or acting out scenes.

Here's a couple of the past syllabi I've done to give you an idea.

Courage of Sarah Noble syllabi

My Side of the Mountain syllabi

Hobbit syllabi

All of the fill in the blank type pages the students do at home.  We focus in class on discussion, games, writing and other projects.  Basically, I try to do the things in class that are geared toward more people like discussion or oral presentations, whatever the guide suggestions are along those lines.

A typical class would consist of the first 15-20 minutes discussing the Personal Thinking Questions from the guide.  These are they critical thinking questions.  With the younger grades I do sometimes hit a few of the comprehension questions too but not as much with the older students.  Once we have discussed we start brainstorming for writing our paragraph or paragraphs which we call PTP's (Personal Thinking Paragraphs.)  Depending on the age of the class we'll form our Topic Sentence together on the board and then they start writing.  We take maybe 10-15 minutes for this.  It depends again on the age and for many of the older classes if we do this I give it as homework after the discussion and brainstorming on the board.

After discussion and writing we might focus for 10 minutes or so on instruction or presentation of any projects we're working on.  This may or may not be every week depending on what we're doing.  An example here would be having each student share what they found in their metaphor and simile notebooks they were keeping as we went along in Island of the Blue Dolphins or sharing what we found for our Animal Notebooks with My Side of the Mountain.

The last 10 minutes or so of class we try to do games.  We do sometimes run out of time but often if we have a "off" week in the middle where a unit is not assigned we'll have extra game time or the last week of class we may spend more time as well.  The kids love the games!

Some of the games we do:
  • Hangman with the Spelling Words (I don't let them look at their workbooks while doing this one)
  • 20 questions with Vocabulary words- This is the classic where they ask up to 20 questions that can be answered yes or no to figure out the word the person has chosen.
  • For the younger classes we use the matches games which are right in the guides.  We either partner or sometimes we do a whole table full for a giant memory match type game.  (Instructions for these are right in the 3rd and 4th grade guides.)
  • Sparkle- This is the definite favorite of the 3rd-6th grade set and it's so easy to do.  You have all the students stand up and you give a spelling word, the first person says the first letter, second person the second letter and so on.  If someone says the wrong letter they must sit down and are out.  When you come to the end of the word the person after the last letter has to say "sparkle" and then the next person is automatically out.  Everyone who isn't out stays standing and you continue with words until one person is left standing.
  • Jeopardy- The older kids (6th+)love this but it does take a little preparation.  My students loved it so much they volunteered to take turns and to set it up.  Basically they would come up with categories for the vocabulary words, like people, character traits, locations, descriptive words etc..  We only did 3-4 categories at a time.  They would then assign words to those categories and the clues would be the synonyms listed in the workbook.  We did allow the students to use their workbook for this one.  One jeopardy game would be carried over several weeks typically and the student running that one would keep track in their notebook of which categories were used already.  I wrote the categories on the board with the point values underneath and crossed out as we went.  It just took me a minute to rewrite it up the next week.
The last class I always try to make fun.  With the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we acted out scenes from the story and did a giant memory match game.  When we did the High King we spent the last class doing artwork and "tapestries" of our lives.  Each book is different but there's always many suggestions you can use to make the last class a fun event!
Of course, there are so many possibilities for using Total Language Plus in a co-op but hopefully this article will give you some encouragement to give it a try!


  1. Thank you! I am going to give it a try next semester!

    1. Great Tatana, let me know how it goes!