Trivium Pursuit

Using Webster

How do you use the Noah Webster spelling book to teach spelling and grammar? I have borrowed the book from a friend because I have heard it spoken of so highly, but can’t figure out exactly how to use it. I think the biggest problem I am having is understanding where to find rules for my son to write in his spelling notebook.
L.G.

If you go into an old book store you’ll find several old spelling books, but Noah Webster’s speller was probably one of the first ones written for Americans, and it was certainly the most popular. Long ago it was used to teach both reading and spelling. What made Webster’s so popular were his sentences. They are beautiful masterpieces. Webster had a way with language that you’ll never find in any textbook written in this century. These sentences are good examples of writing that you will love your children to imitate by copywork, dictation, diagramming, and narration.

Nobody really knows exactly how parents and school teachers used this speller in their daily teaching of reading and spelling. We can only guess and improvise. It is my belief that Webster’s speller can be used to teach not only spelling, but also English grammar, vocabulary, and handwriting. I never used it with my children to teach reading, but I would love to hear from mothers who did.

I think the best candidate to use the speller is the person who likes old books, is not afraid to improvise and invent, has a basic understanding of spelling and English grammar, has 20-30 minutes (depending on the ages of your children) each day to devote to these subjects, and is interested in saving money. If you are just beginning homeschooling, have forgotten all you learned about grammar and spelling while in school (which happens to most of us) and feeling a bit overwhelmed, it might be advisable to use a different curriculum for English grammar and spelling for a year or two to get your feet wet and then take on Webster’s. You see, Webster’s doesn’t teach spelling or grammar or reading. It just provides the lists of words, sentences, and paragraphs for you to use when you teach the child. In addition there are some spelling rules along with some rules for punctuation and capitalization included in the speller.

I used Webster’s speller along with my Bob Jones English Handbook and our Handy English Encoder Decoder. The English handbook will help refresh your mind with the grammar rules and show you how to diagram sentences, and the Encoder Decoder will provide you with the spelling and phonics rules. I see that Bob Jones Press has now replaced the English Handbook with The Writer’s Toolbox.

In our book Teaching the Trivium and at Don Potter’s web site you will find an article which describes how we used Webster’s speller.

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