With its clear instructional style, structured approach, fun and memorable jingles and effective use of repetition and review, Shurley English can make developing and retaining key language skills a lot easier for all involved.
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What is Shurley English?
Shurley English is an English language arts curriculum for elementary students that teaches grammar, composition and more.
The program makes use of systematic and structured lessons, worksheets, writing assignments, activities and games, as well as a series of catchy and memorable jingles to help students learn key grammar rules and concepts.
What Ages Or Grades Is The Program Intended For?
Shurley English is written for elementary school language arts students, i.e. those in grades 1-8.
The main program is, accordingly, split into six levels, each roughly corresponding to a particular grade.
For grades 7 and 8, the program changes a bit.
It is called the Shurley Method, uses slightly different learning material but remains connected to and largely builds upon the skills developed in the first 6 levels of Shurley English.
While the program does follow a typical grade progression, as a homeschooling program its books and materials can of course be used by students who are more advanced or who are a bit behind in their language skills.
In fact, the program’s use of “levels” rather than grades can make it a lot less embarrassing for students working at a lower level, which is always something we appreciate in a homeschool curriculum.
One thing parents should be aware of is the fact that Shurley English, although a bit more advanced and in-depth than a typical ELA curriculum, doesn’t really offer a placement test.
The company instead recommends that homeschoolers switching into the program start at their intended grade level.
While this should be fine for most parents and students, it can be something of an issue for students who are significantly above or below grade level.
Parents of such students will probably need to study the program’s scope and sequence and use their best judgement, something that can take a bit more time and effort for those new to homeschooling.
What’s Needed to Teach Shurley English?
As might be expected from a language arts curriculum, each level of Shurley English can have a few components to it that parents will have to buy, including both core and optional items.
Core materials for the program include a teacher’s manual, student workbook (for grades 1-6), student textbook (grades 7 and 8) and a CD containing the Shurley English jingles.
The Shurley English teacher’s manual essentially forms the core of the curriculum, containing pretty much everything a parent needs to start teaching grammar and composition.
The books contain an overview of the program methodology, direct instruction, lesson objectives, teaching tips, exercises, answers to assignments and tests and more.
The manuals are black and white softcovers and, at around 3-400 pages apiece and containing quite a bit of instructional text, are pretty weighty and can be a little intimidating at first glance for first time users.
They are, however, quite straightforward and are heavily scripted, clearly guiding parents through each lesson in a step-by-step manner and even providing them with a complete dialogue to follow.
This scripting can be very useful for many parents, particularly those new to homeschooling and those unsure of their own ability to teach English language arts.
The amount of scripting may, however, feel a bit restrictive to some, more experienced homeschooling parents who may instead prefer a broad outline to which they can add their own personal touch or style.
That said, as Shurley English tends to use a more specific and structured approach to teaching grammar and composition, one that often relies on a certain way of doing things that may be unfamiliar to many parents, this scripting can make things a little simpler and less likely to cause problems down the road, even if it isn’t always to a parent’s taste.
Shurley’s student workbooks are where students in levels 1-6 follow along and do most of their work during lessons.
The books are divided into different sections, each corresponding to a different task required by the student, such as jingle lyrics, reference guides for learned materials, practice exercises, assessments and so on.
The student books are black and white soft cover books that are non-reproducible, which is something that homeschools and microschools with multiple students need to keep in mind.
For the most part the workbooks are consumable, as well, and students can do a fair amount of their work in the workbooks themselves, particularly when it comes to things like analyzing sentences, grouping or ordering items, matching definitions, and testing.
When it comes to journaling and written exercises, however, students will typically need more room and will probably need to work in a dedicated notebook.
One thing parents should note is that the student workbooks are usually pretty plain looking.
While they certainly convey essential information and help students practice their skills, they contain mostly texts and charts and very little in the way of colorful illustrations.
While this can make them less distracting to use and may not be an issue for older students, younger ones may find the books a bit boring to look at and use for extended periods.
When it comes to students in grades 7 and 8, the program forgoes the student workbooks in favor of a student textbook.
Much like the workbooks, these textbooks are divided into different sections but are a bit more advanced, which is appropriate given the greater maturity and capability of the students they’re aimed at.
Sections might include, for example, skill practice exercises, chapter skill tests, cumulative tests, reference sections, writing samples and various writing assignments.
Also like the workbooks, the student textbooks are non-reproducible and consumable black and white softcovers that can be quite text-heavy, although at the upper elementary grade level this should be less of a concern.
Shurley English helps students learn key rules and concepts in English grammar using short songs or jingles, which are contained on a CD.
As with the workbooks and the teacher’s manual, each jingle CD is aimed at a different grade level and printed versions of its lyrics are provided to both students and parents for revision and review purposes.
Although they are largely just audio and lack any animations or special effects, the jingles are pretty catchy and can help students remember their content, something we will discuss a little later on.
The use of a CD may seem a bit odd in today’s digital age and may require some families to go out and find a CD player, but it works well enough and does provide a physical medium that families can use away from a computer or smart device, which some families might appreciate.
Optional components largely include a practice booklet and CD and a book entitled Vocabulary Madness.
Practice Books and CDs
Part of teaching Shurley English sentence analysis and classification involves parents writing out select sentences from the teacher’s manual on a board or a piece of paper and having students work through them in a particular manner, identifying particular parts of speech as they do so.
Perhaps realizing that not all homeschools can dedicate quite this much time and effort to each lesson, or perhaps recognizing that some parents prefer to encourage independent learning, Shurley English offers these practice sentences in its dedicated practice books (and associated CDs).
These contain all the practice sentences in the teacher’s manual and typically provide enough room for students to work directly in them.
The CDs, in the meantime, read these sentences and their proper classifications aloud, making them something of an audio answer key.
While perhaps not strictly necessary to teach Shurley English, these practice books can be a decent time saver and can allow parents to simply hand out classification work, rather than having to write them individually by hand.
That said, they can be a little bit of an added cost, at around $30 or so for both book and CD.
In addition to the practice books, parents can also pick up a grade-specific activity book called Vocabulary Madness.
These short books (about 25 or so pages each) contain a variety of fun and topically-related activities that parents can add into lessons, such as crosswords, scrambles and wordsearches.
Much like those found in other programs such as Wordly Wise 3000, these activities can make vocabulary lessons a little more engaging and fun, which in turn can help prevent students from zoning out.
That said, they are really designed to go along with the public school version of Shurley English, which means that while the vocabulary lists they offer are grade-leveled, they don’t necessarily correspond to the specific vocabulary provided by a given level of Shurley English.
Shurley English Approach to Language Arts Instruction
Shurley English tends to approach grammar and writing instruction in a very systematic and methodical manner.
Throughout the program, students are directly and explicitly taught grammar rules and logic and gradually learn how to break apart sentences using a particular framework called the Question and Answer Flow.
This method of analysis involves students asking very focused questions with the goal of identifying various parts of speech and labeling them with particular abbreviations (e.g. ADV – adverb, CSN – compound subject noun, CPA – compound predicate adjective, and so on).
At the same time, students also learn to identify and then classify sentences according to patterns, that is learning to group and better understand various sentences by 8 or so common structural traits.
For example, a student might learn:
- Subject noun, verb as pattern 1
- Subject noun, verb-transitive, direct object as pattern 2
- Subject noun, linking verb, predicate adjective being pattern 5
- and so on.
Writing, too, is approached in a very methodical manner with Shurley English.
Rather than practice creative or free writing, students learn particular frameworks and formulas for writing different types of compositions (different sentence types, essays and so on).
Throughout the series, students learn how to structure sentences with and paragraphs with blueprints and writing scaffolds and learn particular ways of organizing, structuring, and editing their work using organizers, planners and checklists.
While this systematic approach might not be ideal for homeschooling families who like to more freely explore the English language or who prefer to learn more naturally (from literature, for example), seeming somewhat formulaic and rigid at times, it can be very helpful for those who struggle with these skills, providing them with a clear set of tools and rules-based understanding of English that they can fall back on when faced with a challenging problem.
Shurley English lessons are also fairly multisensory, at times including dialogues, jingles, chanting, body movements and more.
Lessons can even include hands-on games and activities, such as making paper bags, drawing things, going outdoors, making noun “soup” or even some bible-based games.
This multisensory approach can actually be very beneficial for students.
Not only does it make lessons a little more interesting and fun, but it also helps them be more suitable for students with different learning styles who may not be thrilled with lesson after lesson of board-work and diagramming exercises.
In fact, multisensory teaching has also been recognized as being able to improve a student’s ability to retain and retrieve information in the long term.
Use of jingles
Linked to its multisensory teaching, is Shurley English’s use of jingles to teach students things like sentence construction, grammar rules and parts of speech.
As part of a general introduction to and demonstration of a concept, Shurley English lessons often include a short song that students will listen to at the start.
While nothing too fancy, as can be seen in the example above, these jingles can be somewhat catchy, which in turn makes them fairly memorable.
After listening to this jingle, students will be (sometimes periodically) prompted to recite them along with their parents using lyrics found in the teacher’s manual and student workbooks.
In this way, students further strengthen the underlying message and help it “stick” in their head a little better, a process that can be useful for students who have a harder time retaining information without a lot of repetition.
That said, while we think they are kind of fun, these jingles are a matter of taste and not every student (or parent) will really enjoy listening to or reciting them, even if they are a key component of the program.
Throughout its lessons, Shurley English includes a good amount of revision of concepts.
In fact, its lessons have something of a spiral, frequently reviewing and then building upon previously learned materials.
As a result, students have a good deal of opportunity to go over concepts, which in turn helps strengthen their understanding in the long term.
In fact, concepts and methodologies are frequently revisited in different levels of the program, which makes it easy for students to jump into the program at their approximate grade without having to purchase earlier levels of the series and without missing key methods and approaches that would otherwise make studying the program a little tougher for newcomers.
That said, students who pick concepts up and retain them quickly and reliably may get a little frustrated with the amount of repetition and review, feeling it to be a bit much at times.
How it Works
Each level of Shurley English is designed to provide around 35-36 weeks of language arts study on a 5 day a week schedule, with lessons typically taking about 30-60 minutes to complete depending on the individual student’s skill and pace of learning.
The books are divided into approximately 30+ chapters, with each chapter containing 5 lessons.
The program is parent-led and taught, with parents guiding students through each step of the lesson using the teacher’s manual, leading chants and discussions and periodically writing down sentences on a board or paper for analysis and classification.
Students, in the meantime, follow along in their workbooks where they will find lyrics to the various jingles, concept reviews, practice exercises, writing prompts, and test questions, which they will work on or look at as directed by the parent.
The lessons themselves follow a fairly consistent format.
Most start off with “Jingle Time,” where grammar rules and concepts are introduced through catchy and memorable songs.
Students and parents both listen to these and typically recite them a few times in sort of a memory-reinforcing chant.
Following this, most lessons then move on to “Grammar Time.”
Here, concepts are more thoroughly explored using a fairly long and very detailed script that parents read aloud, with sample sentences and examples being provided along the way.
This information is usually summarized in the student book reference sections, so older students can follow along as parents read aloud, which can be helpful.
It is during this Grammar Time that students learn to analyze and classify sentences using the Shurley English Question and Answer Flow method.
As mentioned previously, rather than diagramming sentences, students learn to identify parts of speech and types of sentences using a series of focused, leading questions that students ask and answer themselves.
For example, a student might get a sentence such as:
Two white dogs walked nicely today
They would then ask themselves the following questions, providing the answer and then marking each part of speech with an abbreviation or classification code on the paper, board or in their workbook:
- What walked nicely today? Dogs – (Subject noun – SN)
- What did the dogs do? They walked. (Verb –V)
- How did they walk? Nicely. (Adverb – ADV)
- When did they walk? Today. (Adverb – ADV)
Later on, the students may even learn to classify the sentence based on its structure, identifying it as one of eight patterns that students learn about, which in turn helps hone a student’s ability to discern correct sentence structure and, eventually, improve their own writing.
For example, in Shurley English, a student would learn that the sentence
Is made of a subject noun (SN) and a verb (V), and so follows what they call pattern 1 – SN V.
Later on, they might learn that a sentence such as
Hippopotamuses are slow.
Is made of a subject noun (SN), linking verb (LN) and predicate adjective (PA) and so is classified as pattern 5 – SN LN PA.
Generally speaking, these Q&A Flows are designed to be boardwork, with parents writing sentences out on a whiteboard or on a piece of paper and with the expectation that students will work through them in that way.
As mentioned previously, however, the company does offer practice books, which can then be handed to the student instead, which can simplify the process somewhat.
Depending on the lesson, Shurley English may also introduce other activities, such as Writing Time, Activity Time, Practice Time, Vocabulary Time and an assessment block towards the end that comprises Study Time, Test Time and Check Time.
Writing Time is an opportunity for students to work on their writing skills.
As with its grammar, Shurley English’s method of teaching writing is fairly structured and teaches students to write using checklists, formulas, graphic organizers, templates, transitional phrases and sentences and so on and is, in our opinion, somewhat similar to systematic writing programs such as IEW and others.
Activity Time, meanwhile, introduces a variety of skill-reinforcing assignments that students can complete, such as various games, crafts, writing assignments, bible challenges or even whole body movements and physical activities, such as going the whole day without using some part of speech to demonstrate their importance and use.
Vocabulary Time is another activity that is usually included a couple times per chapter.
A fairly brief vocabulary instruction component, students are usually given a few words (4 or so), often a couple antonyms and synonyms, to look up, define and use in their student journal.
While perhaps not a comprehensive vocabulary curriculum on its own, it is a nice addition to the learning that can reinforce learning, particularly if a student is using Shurley English alongside a dedicated vocab program.
Practice Time, as the name implies, helps students work on their skills through various exercises. These can include oral recitation work with the parent or any number of exercises in the student workbook that drill what they are learning.
The assessment components (Study/Test/Check) come towards the end of a chapter, usually before the writing component, and largely carry students through a cumulative test of what they’ve learned.
As their names imply, these guide students through studying what they’ve learned, the testing itself and a discussion of their responses with the parent.
By and large we feel that Shurley English is a very systematic, yet fairly straightforward, way of learning grammar and composition.
Although its materials seem intimidating at first glance, they are surprisingly easy to use and open and go, offering very clear, sequential guidance and a completely scripted dialogue that parents read aloud.
As a result, there isn’t much of a need for parents to have any real experience in teaching or even a great deal of ELA knowledge themselves in order to use the program.
They simply need a willingness to familiarize themselves with the overall methodology.
Shurley’s approach is quite systematic and structured.
It explicitly teaches students proper grammar and mechanics, teaching students to approach and analyze the sentences they come across using a rather interesting question and answer approach and then to classify them according to one of eight or so structural patterns.
Writing, too, is taught very systematically, with students learning to organize, write and edit their work in a particular manner.
This very structured approach to language arts, while perhaps not always the most exciting, does provide students with an extremely thorough grounding in grammar and writing rules and it can give students a framework that they can fall back on should they ever encounter a difficult or unusual text or if they draw a blank during a writing exercise.
We also liked the fact that Shurley English introduces its grammar rules and concepts through a series of catchy jingles.
Other than making an otherwise dry English lesson a little more fun, we found that they can actually be quite memorable, especially if parents and students do the required chanting and repetition during lessons.
In fact, a number of users online have actually mentioned being able to recall and even recite many of these little songs well into their adult years, which we suppose is something of an ultimate test of their efficacy.
Finally, as we mentioned previously, Shurley English includes a lot of repetition and review.
Whether it’s through jingle chants, revision of previously learned materials, dedicated Study Times or just a quick in-lesson review, students have a lot of opportunity to go over what they are learning.
As a result, information is often better encoded in memory and the program can be of great help to students who struggle with learning language arts rules and formulas.
On the downside, we should mention that Shurley English is extremely parent intensive.
Even with the practice books, the lessons are parent-led and parents are involved at steps of the process, from teaching to leading chants to directing students to their exercises and even being required to participate in various activities.
As a result, the program can be a little tough for busier homeschooling parents to manage.
Similarly, lessons in Shurley English can be a little long at times, often taking up to an hour or more to complete, depending on the student and their abilities.
Given that a good portion of the lesson involves direct parental instruction and sentence analysis, it can be a little hard for students to stay focused without breaks.
Finally, although Shurley English’s systematic and structured approach can give students a strong, thorough and pretty deep understanding of grammar and composition, it’s not always the most open to parental tinkering and creativity and its methods can seem a bit rigid, repetitive and formulaic to some parents and students.
Is Shurley English A Secular Language Arts Program?
By and large, Shurley English is a pretty secular program, focusing mostly on teaching English grammar rules and concepts and really doesn’t discuss much in the way of religion or belief.
As a result, most homeschools shouldn’t have a problem using it.
That said, we can’t say its homeschool materials are strictly secular, either, as some of the sample exercises in certain levels can have some religious tones or themes and there are optional bible exercises that parents can include.
While these are few and far between and are optional, they can be an issue for homeschools that prefer to have no religious content in their curricula whatsoever.
Pros And Cons
With complete year’s kits costing well under $100, Shurley English is a lot more affordable to buy and use than many other ELA programs out there, which can cost well into the hundreds of dollars per year.
Very thorough grammar instruction
Shurley English directly and explicitly teaches students important grammar rules and concepts, as well as writing strategies and formulas, and does so in a fair amount of depth, ensuring that students develop a strong grounding in English that will help them later on.
Jingles and activities
Shurley English includes a wide variety of jingles and activities that it uses to introduce and reinforce various rules and concepts.
Aside from making lessons more engaging, they also help make the program far more multisensory.
Shurley English’s structured approach makes sentence construction and writing very clear and understandable, providing students with tools and skills they can fall back on when faced with unusual or difficult problems or writing tasks.
Q&A Flow is very interesting, effective
Shurley English uses an interesting question and answer method of analyzing and then classifying parts of speech and even sentences, which is not only easy to learn and intuitive, but can also be of great help in building a greater understanding of sentence construction and the function of the words they use.
Easy, open and go curriculum
Although its weighty and text-heavy teacher’s manuals can seem a bit intimidating at times, Shurley English lessons are very well structured and provide parents with a complete dialogue to use.
As a result, there is very little prep work required on the part of parents beyond getting familiar with the programs overall method.
Lots of review
Shurley English provides students with ample opportunities to review and revisit previously learned concepts during lessons and from level to level, which can help prevent the formation of critical skill and knowledge gaps.
Very Parent Intensive
Shurley English is a parent-led program that requires their participation and involvement throughout lessons and can require a good deal of time and effort.
Can feel a little too structured for some
Shurley English’s systematic and structured approach to teaching grammar and composition, as well as its lesson scripting, doesn’t always leave a ton of room for homeschooling parents to easily put their own spin on things.
Who Is Shurley English Ideal For?
With its use of read-aloud instruction, informative jingles and oral recitation, Shurley English can be very effective for students who learn and remember best by hearing and listening to lessons.
Those looking for an open and go language arts program
Shurley English requires very little prep work on the part of parents, providing them with straightforward, sequential and highly scripted lessons to read from and use.
Parents who enjoy spending time directly teaching and discussing things with students
From direct instruction, through dialogues, chanting, oral recitation and various activities and games, there is a lot of good and intensive parent-student interaction with Shurley English, which can be very attractive for many homeschooling parents.
Those looking for thorough, effective grammar instruction
With its explicit and direct instruction, analytical approach and memorable/informative jingles, Shurley English can provide students a fairly strong grounding in English grammar and mechanics.
Those looking for systematic and structured composition instruction
While some parents and students prefer a more creative, freewheeling approach to writing, others can be more reluctant writers who struggle with the process.
By providing students with reliable and specific methods and frameworks to follow, Shurley English can make writing a little easier and understandable for these students.
Students who benefit from lots of repetition
As there is a good deal of review in Shurley English, in terms of spiral learning, recitations, chants and more, it can be a great option for students who struggle remembering all the rules and peculiarities of English.
Who Is It Not Ideal For?
Busy homeschooling parents
As Shurley English is a very parent-intensive program whose lessons aren’t extremely short, it may not be the best option for busy parents (and students) who can’t dedicate the necessary time to it.
Parents looking to teach their own way
Shurley English has a very structured approach to learning English grammar and writing and its lessons incorporate detailed and thorough scripts to help parents do so.
It may not be the best option, therefore, for parents looking for a simple framework that they can adapt to their own style and teaching method.
Students who hate repetition
While some students do well and learn best with a good amount of review and revision, others may pick up concepts the first time around and not need much more.
For these latter students, Shurley English may feel overly repetitive at times.
Note: All prices are correct as of writing. All prices in USD.
Shurley English levels are often sold to homeschoolers as a kit, which tends to include the program’s core materials – a teacher’s manual, student workbook and jingle CD.
These homeschooling kits can usually be purchased for around $75.
In addition, parents can pick up:
Shurley English Practice Set – $30
Extra jingle CD – $15
Extra student workbook – $13
As always, however, parents should check out the program’s latest prices, and keep an eye out for any deals or specials that may apply.
Is It Worth The Price?
With homeschool kits for a year’s ELA learning coming in at less than $100, compared to many other language arts programs out there, Shurley English can be considered a fairly affordable curriculum.
Yet, we still feel it can provide a lot of value for the right homeschooling families.
Throughout its series of books, Shurley English provides thorough and systematic grammar and composition instruction that can give students a very solid grounding in English mechanics.
At the same time, the program uses a variety of hands-on activities and fun jingles that not only make lessons more fun and memorable, but also multisensory and more appropriate and useful for students with different styles.
Finally, with its scripted and detailed lesson plans, Shurley English is easy to teach and surprisingly open and go, requiring very little prep work or knowledge of ELA teaching once parents get the hang of its methods.
For some students, learning grammar and composition can be an intimidating and even frustrating experience.
With its clear instructional style, structured approach, fun and memorable jingles and effective use of repetition and review, Shurley English can make developing and retaining key language skills a lot easier for all involved.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.