Monday, August 15, 2011

Excavating English: A Review

I'd promised to review some of the materials we've been using this summer so here is my review of Excavating English: A Hands-on “Dig” Into the Multicultural Roots of English from 4000BC to the present. Quick disclosure: I do not profit from promoting or reviewing this curriculum on my blog!

I will begin by saying that the kiddo and I generally enjoyed our 5-month-ish experience with this curriculum. To be fair and honest, I will say that I did not read it as thoroughly as kiddo did. Also my purpose was not to study word roots as much as it was to introduce a fun history supplement for our loosey-goosey Middle Ages history studies and this curriculum fit the bill quite well. We'd previously had good experiences with one of Ellen McHenry's science curricula so I felt we couldn't go very wrong with another sold under her Basement Workshop banner.

Excavating English was written by Ruth A. Johnston and Ellen J. McHenry. It contains many of Ellen's quirky illustrations which kiddo has enjoyed in the past (a sucker for cute illustrations this boy!). It's divided into 17 chapters and according to my Homeschool Skedtrack records, it will take him just about 40 lessons to reach completion (he is supposed to work on chapter 17 this week). If you go to the link above, you'll be able to view the table of contents and sample two chapters for free. Kiddo used one day's lesson to read the notes followed by one or two days to complete the activities for an average of two lessons per chapter.

The curriculum progresses in chronological order, starting from about 4000BC to the present day and offers an entertaining overview of how much the English Language has changed, or not changed over the years.

Every chapter begins with about three pages of historical notes and anecdotes, followed by two or three pages of activities to promote understanding and retention. Although some of the activities could be described as fill-in-the-blanks in format, they are not so simple in spirit or style. There's some good, old fashioned thinking involved, especially when you're trying to classify present-day words with their origins (is this word from Danish? Old Norse? Norman? Anglo-Saxon? etc).

Kiddo checks our OED to solve a word puzzle
Kiddo didn't complete every single activity but did a good amount of them, especially the ones involving word search, crosswords and other word puzzles. Although he read them, he didn't care too much for Olde English/ pidgin etc. excerpts but if you have a learner who loves that level of linguistic detail, go for it! Ruth and Ellen have included audio tracks in a CD to go with these excerpts too (CD included in curriculum). We'd finished reading Geraldine McCaughrean's retold version of The Canterbury Tales just before beginning this study and he'd enjoyed it so he was familiar with any mention of Chaucer's work in the notes. Our foray into British history late last year and early this year also provided a good background for this curriculum.

In toto, for my specific goal, I will say I'm happy I chose this product.

Price at time of this blog post:
$28.50 for hard copy (in binder) incl. CD
$19.95 for a CD containing pdf files and audio tracks
$15.95 for instant, digital download

I must however, caution you that the curriculum has a number of typos and that the answer key has suggested answers that either do not match the question or feel counter-intuitive. I've forwarded our list of typos and possible errors to Ruth. Hopefully, they will be checked and the errata corrected in a future edition. Email me if you are interested to see the list!

ETA: It's a good idea to have a high-quality dictionary and if possible, a globe or atlas handy when using this curriculum.

1 comment:

  1. The books looks like one that I would like to use for myself! What a good choice. I'll bookmark it for use with Tiger at our next round of Middle Ages studies. Thanks again for the very useful review!


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