Curriculum Review: Primary and Intermediate Language Lessons Workbooks by Cynthia Albright

Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons were books written in the 1900s by Emma Serl to teach English language skills, and are often used by Charlotte Mason style homeschoolers.

The reviewers at Sandbox to Socrates have had the opportunity to use Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons workbooks created from these original texts. These workbooks have updated language, and an easier-to-use format than the original books.

See what our reviewers had to say!

Caitilin – “I have been familiar with and a big fan of Intermediate Language Lessons for at least five years. Imagine my pleasure upon receiving this new workbook…” click here for full review.

Tammy – “My sixth-grade son had just finished two semesters of rigorous writing and grammar study, but I didn’t want him to lose the knowledge…” click here for full review.

Briana – “My children are wonderful writers, and I fully give credit to Emma Serl’s books…” click here for full review.

Emma – “We had already been using the original book, so the material wasn’t new to us, but I have loved having the glossary, vocabulary section, teacher helps, resource list and updated lessons…” click here for full review.

Amy D“I have been intrigued by Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons for quite some time. Originally published in 1911, Primary Language Lessons incorporates poetry, memorization, narration, dictation, grammar, composition, and picture study…” click here for full review.

Amy R – “I love Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl. I used it with my older children so I know how gentle, thorough, and effective this book can be…” click here for full review.

Review: Intermediate Language Lessons Level 3/Grade 6, by Tammy


My sixth-grade son had just finished two semesters of rigorous writing and grammar study, but I didn’t want him to lose the knowledge he’d gained over the summer. Intermediate Language Lessons Level 3 by Emma Serl seemed like a good way to review without feeling like hard work. Grounded in the Charlotte Mason method of teaching, ILL is gentle, yet thorough, instruction in writing and grammar. Cynthia Albright has reformatted ILL into a printable workbook for the child to write in, instead of copying the entire lesson by hand. For my pencil-phobic boy, this was a godsend.

Intermediate Language Lessons includes nature study, poetry, vocabulary, art study, grammar and usage lessons, and more. The lessons are short but effective. Mrs. Albright has included lined pages to be printed for dictation exercises. Because ILL was originally  printed in the Victorian era, Mrs. Albright has updated the postal codes and state abbreviations in the pertinent places. The one drawback, from my point of view, is that there is no teacher instruction available from the original printing. Mrs. Albright indicates that she is working on one (and has written teacher’s guides for Levels One and Two). When the teacher’s guide for Level 3 is finished, I will gladly buy it.

Like many boys, my son is not a fan of writing. The PDF format is ideal for him because we can print what’s needed – i.e. the dictation pages – and use the other pages on our iPad using the Notability app*. The app allows him to write on the “page” and delete errors, and then leave it for Mom to check. This saves on printer paper and ink, erasers, and frustration.

ILL Part 3 on iPad


  • Charlotte Mason method – narration, copywork, dictation, grammar
  • PDF – print all at once or as needed
  • Multi-pronged approach to language arts – nature/art study, grammar, writing


  • No teacher guide/answer key for Level 3 — if the parent isn’t familiar with CM-type instruction, this program is more difficult to implement (not impossible; just more difficult)
  • Vintage pictures – my ultra-modern son had to learn to look past the pictures

Verdict: If your heart is drawn to the gentle yet thorough instruction of the Charlotte Mason method, I highly recommend Intermediate Language Lessons Level 3 for sixth grade. This PDF program will be a blessing to your homeschool.

*There are other apps that allow you to annotate a PDF on the iPad. Notability is the one I’m most familiar with.

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

Tammy lives in the desert southwest where antelope play in her front yard, grazing among the rattlers and scorpions. She enjoys reading, scrapbooking, and crochet. She currently  homeschools one son.

Review: Intermediate Language Lessons Reformatted by C. Albright, Level 2/Grade 5, by Amy Rose


I love Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl. I used it with my older children so I know how gentle, thorough, and effective this book can be! The book includes art study, classic poetry and literature, vocabulary, grammar and usage lessons, composition, and  more. Whenever I meet younger homeschooling families who are struggling with language arts, I always want to recommend ILL. Sometimes I do recommend it, but usually I don’t, because there’s one problem with this book: The teacher has to know what she’s doing to make it work. No instructor’s guide is included; no answer key was saved from the Victorian era when this book was written…the modern teacher is on her own. Novice home educators sometimes lack the grammar background to teach effectively with Intermediate Language Lessons. I’ve often thought that someone should make this book more accessible to everyone by reformatting and updating it and creating a teacher’s guide.

Well, Cynthia Albright stepped forward as the “someone” to do the work that I was unwilling to do! She has created a reformatted workbook edition of Intermediate Language Lessons, including a teacher’s guide and many other aids that make learning with ILL possible for every family. I am privileged to be able to review this edition for Sandbox to Socrates.

I tried out Level Two in my home, along with the Instructor Guide for Level Two. This level is intended for fifth graders but can be adjusted to accommodate slightly older or younger students. I used it with my nine-year-old, and we studied these lessons for six weeks. The materials, which are PDF downloads, can be purchased at The Level Two Workbook costs $8.95 and the Level Two Instructor Guide is $4.50. Permission is given to make as many copies as needed for the purchaser’s own family.

Professional and Beautiful Appearance

The style and artwork are classically attractive, almost vintage-looking, but my child did not find them to be dated or off-putting. He thought the style was very nice, and he was proud to add his own penmanship and coloring to the pages! Each page includes plenty of white space as well as ample room to write answers.



Clear Instruction

The Instructor Guide plainly states the objective of each lesson and the exact method for teaching it. There is no “education-ese” or lengthy jargon, rather a simple repeating of Emma Serl’s original instructions along with some explanation of what Serl meant by them, and what exactly we are to look for in the child’s work. The Instructor Guide includes an answer key and sample answers for writing assignments that will naturally vary. The instructions to the child within the workbook are also briefly and plainly stated. My son was able to understand perfectly in most cases, and the guide was there to help me when he didn’t.

Charlotte Mason Style

Mrs. Albright created a workbook for the child to write in, instead of copying the entire lesson by hand, but she did not lose the heart of the Charlotte Mason method at all in the process. The child still must do the work of understanding and composing. Narration was not abandoned for multiple choice or short answer questions! Copywork, dictation, and grammar studies are all still there. The rigor and effectiveness remain intact in this version. I compared my nine-year-old’s work with his elder brothers’ work that they did with the original whole book (years ago), and his is not lacking in any way. Yet he prefers the workbook style and I think it includes less “pencil work” that is so fatiguing for some children.


I am very pleased with this product. I will continue to use Mrs. Albright’s workbook format of Emma Serl’s book with my nine-year-old, and I will certainly recommend it without hesitation to newer homeschoolers. I think these materials are very appropriate in a classical home education setting, because Emma Serl’s original work contains classic literature, poetry, grammar lessons, and classical art; and Mrs. Albright’s workbook instructs children in copywork, narration, dictation, composition, and picture study.

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review on the Sandbox to Socrates blog. Opinions expressed in this review are the opinions of myself or my family and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sandbox to Socrates blog. I received no compensation for this review, nor was I required to write a positive review. This disclosure is in accordance with the FTC Regulations.


Amy R12211601494_8a0a5dcb15ose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

Teaching Physics With an 8th Grader (and a Few More), by Jane-Emily

Middle School Science


This year, we are studying Physics.  I have used the four-year science/history cycle described in The Well-Trained Mind for eight years now; this is the end of our second cycle (which goes Biology, Earth Science/Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics).  Recently, I wrote about our Chemistry studies last year, and now I’d like to tell you what we’re doing in Physics–and what I would change if I were starting over.

My goal was to have a really solid year of Physics at the 8th-grade level.  Clearly, however, an 8th-grader taking her first year of Algebra is not going to be able to do a traditional Physics course with all that complex math!  What I wanted was a good grounding in the ideas of Physics, but without very much math at all.  After quite a bit of poking around for textbooks, I figured out that what I was after is called Conceptual Physics.

There are only a few textbooks in Conceptual Physics.  I ended up choosing the textbook by the guy who thought up the idea of a math-light physics course in the first place: Conceptual Physics by Paul G. Hewitt.  The one I got is the current 11th edition and it is a college textbook.  My daughter has not found it to be too difficult for her–I think a good reader wouldn’t really have a problem–but I found out later on that there is a high school textbook. If I’d realized that I probably would have gone with it.  (Although maybe not; I was able to preview a lot of the college text online which helped me decide, and she really is doing fine and enjoying the textbook.)

Conceptual Physics is my spine, and I designed everything else around that.  I figured that since physics is both complex and very hands-on, it might be good to have a lecture series to watch on TV to reinforce the material and help do examples.  I looked through The Teaching Company’s offerings (otherwise known as The Great Courses), and chose a DVD series called Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works, taught by Professor Richard Wolfson.  The course description says that “it doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry.”  More on that below.  During my planning, I arranged the DVD lectures so that they would match the textbook chapters.  This came out to usually doing two 30-minute lectures per week, but not always.

I also wanted lots of lab activities.  Some I came up with on my own; I ordered fancy magnets, ferrofluid (look it up; it’s amazing), the world’s longest Slinky, and other fun things.  I also got eScience Labs Introductory Physics (version 3.2), a boxed set that is supposed to have a full year of lab activities.  It comes with a CD-ROM that gives instructions for each lab and questions for students to answer.  It is mid-high-school level; not serious Physics, but enough questions to make it fairly hard work.  However, you can also just do the activities to illustrate the principles, and that is fun for any age!  I figured out a schedule for labs to match my textbook.

We have been doing all this work with a group.  Last year, we had one extra student for chemistry, and that was quite fun–plus it was good for me, because I had to plan those labs and make them happen!  I could never put it off and think we could do it next week.  That student is not homeschooling this year, but all of a sudden several of my friends are homeschooling their kids, and before I knew it I had a group that included three high school students, three middle schoolers, and five elementary-age children!  Students age 12+ come to the lectures and read the textbook; the rest of them use Real Science 4 Kids Physics and only come to the labs.  (At first I thought the 12-year-old was too young to use the college text, but he turns out to be a natural engineer.  He got the textbook late, caught up, and is loving it.)

As if this is not enough, I chose some supplementary books for the older students to read if they felt so inclined.  These are not required, but they are great resources:

Lastly, in order to keep all these students informed, I started a Facebook page.  They aren’t all on Facebook, but their parents are!  I post information, announcements, and neat videos or images, and our syllabus is available there for reference.

And how has all this turned out?

The textbook is fine.  Although I wonder if I would have been better off with the high-school text, everyone is reading and understanding just fine, and my daughter–who was not really excited about Physics in September–tackles her chapter first thing every Monday morning and says she really enjoys it.  I feel pretty good about it.

The DVD course is pretty interesting and has some good examples, as I hoped.  It also turns out to have a different definition of “doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry” than I do.  When the math comes up on the screen, we all stare at it in despair.  After that happened a couple of times, I started fast-forwarding when the math starts.  Later on in the course, some of the lectures get pretty advanced.  If I could choose again, I might go with a more conceptual course by the same instructor, Physics In Your Life, though then I would probably worry that it was not rigorous enough!  On the whole this has worked out fine, though.  My students are still showing up regularly for lectures, so I guess we are doing OK.

Hosting labs is always fun.  The box set tends to draw lessons from very simple activities, and sometimes I wish I had something on a bigger scale, but for the most part it is going fine.  The kids enjoy the activities, and I try to tell them the principles behind what we are doing.  Labs also give me a great opportunity to talk about science in everyday life, and using our knowledge to think about what we see around us.  We have had some good conversations on why we should understand scientific principles and how to avoid expensive (yet completely unsound) products.  The very best days are when my husband, who is a true Physics aficionado, is able to be present and talk with the students.  He is much more eloquent than I am, and would be a better teacher, but sadly he has to earn a living.

The Facebook page was a good idea.  It’s easier than emailing everyone, and the videos get a good response.  There are some amazing Physics videos out there!  We have especially enjoyed some of Veritasium’s videos; our favorite was the giant Slinky. 

It’s a bit early yet to declare this a good year for science, but I think we are well on our way to being able to say that.  So far it’s been fun, and everyone is learning.

Featured photo: Iron filings and a magnet. The filings are in a jar of oil so they can be easily observed. The magnet is in a test tube so it will stay clean.

Jane-Ejane-emilymily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.

How I Taught 7th Grade Chemistry, by Jane-Emily

Middle School Day


Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)


Lego chemistry: I found this to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.

I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry. Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

This is a reprint of an article we ran in October 2013.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

Real Science 4 Kids, Focus on Middle School: Astronomy Review

Middle School Day

by Jen W.

Real Science 4 Kids (RS4K) is a wonderful science curriculum designed by a scientist and homeschool mom, Dr. Rebecca Keller. As of this writing, there are 5 complete subject areas to study in Elementary and Middle School levels: Biology, Astronomy, Geology, Physics and Chemistry. There is also a course in High School level Chemistry. Each book and corresponding lab book is designed to take a semester to complete. However, each book is presented in a  well organized fashion that makes them easy to beef up and extend for a full year, if desired. Homeschoolers following the four year science cycle of life science/earth science/physics/chemistry will find it easy to plug these books into their homeschool plans.

If you are starting science late or have recently pulled your child out of school and feel their science education has been lacking, then you will be glad to note that Gravitas Press offers several alternate sequences on their website (found under their FAQ). Homeschoolers may also appreciate the fact that the books seek to take a “neutral worldview” and specifically mention that some scientists disagree over scientific facts such as the age of the earth. Due to this fact, many parents will want to fill in the blanks a bit using other resources.

Middle School Astronomy (previously titled Astronomy Level One) is a book that appealed to me because astronomy is a subject that is often given the short shrift, considering its importance to science as a whole. The book first discusses what astronomy is, then expands its topics from earth to the moon and sun, to other planets and so forth until it investigates galaxies other than our own. The language is simple enough for middle school students, but the concepts are solid and complex. There are colorful pictures and diagrams that help keep students engaged. The labs are mostly easy to complete with household items, but truly help students grasp the concepts presented within the text. The lab book makes it easy for students to learn how to record their science experiments.


Gravitas Press offers their own supplemental materials such as the “study folders,” which would particularly appeal to people using these books in co-op settings who are looking for engaging material that is easy to expand for multiple students. Downloadable quizzes and lectures via CD-ROM are also offered for this course, which can help a busy homeschool parent or co-op teacher. The “Kogs” workbooks are designed to help students make inter-disciplinary connections between science, history and other areas, which is something that might particularly appeal to parents with students with strong interests in other areas to help pique their interest in a subject less naturally appealing to them.

If you were to use this book along with Geology in order to study one year of Earth Science, then you would only need a basic science encyclopedia to fill in some blanks and expand the reading. Parents who wanted to use Middle School Astronomy for a full year’s worth of science would need to supplement a bit and can find a list of suggested resources at the end of the article.

Sample of Middle School Astronomy

FAQ on the Gravitas Press website

Dr. Keller discussing the issue of world view and her books.

Purchase the text and lab book here:

Focus on Middle School Astronomy Text

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Workbook

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Teacher Book

Suggested Additional Texts:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Suggested resources for expanding the course into a year long course:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Janice VanCleave’s Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work (Science for Every Kid Series)

How the Universe Works

Science in a Nutshell, Destination Moon

Science in a Nutshell, Planets and Stars

Helpful YouTube Channels:

NASA Spitzer (includes the series “Ask an Astronomer”)


National Geographic

PBS Astronomy videos

Ohio State University Department of Astronomy

Khan Academy

Audible books:

Don’t Know Much About the Universe: Everything You Need to Know About the Cosmos

iPad apps:





List of NASA apps

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

I Don't Do Dissections…But My Kids Do! by Nakia

Dissection Day


I am a nurse.

And I don’t dissect.

I made it through advanced biology classes in high school and nursing school without participating in dissections. I will admit that I am squeamish about it and don’t plan to let homeschooling change that.

My girls, on the other hand, were so excited to dissect last year! My oldest daughter spent a year studying Life Science with my younger two tagging along for the hands-on parts. We ordered a dissection kit that included an earthworm, a starfish, a grasshopper, a clam, a fish, and a frog along with a tray and the tools needed for dissection. The kit also included detailed instructions for dissecting each specimen.

Since I didn’t plan to actually dissect with them, I found YouTube videos that the girls could watch prior to dissecting each specimen. We also watched some virtual dissections online. Our next step was to talk about dissecting tool safety. When we first started, only Anna was allowed to do any cutting, but by the time we got to the frog, Emma and Cora were comfortable and skillful with all of the tools. It was also very important to me that the girls showed respect for the animals that they were dissecting, and they really did a great job with that.


Anna’s science book included a list of things to look for in each specimen. Armed with that list and the dissection instructions, they were able to start small (with the cricket) and work all the way up to the frog. Most of the dissecting was done right at our kitchen table. They actually ended up dissecting the starfish on the back porch. That shows you can dissect anywhere! For the frog, we got together with two other homeschool families. We had all ages that day – from my seven-year-old up to a 17-year-old, along with the moms. I stayed back and took pictures.

I’m pretty sure they will always remember dissecting at home! And I think they’re ready for more as we plan to study biology in the fall.

Naknakiaia–Nakia is a Southern girl, born and raised in North Carolina. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is in her 9th year of homeschooling her three wonderful daughters. She works part time as a nurse and loves photography, thrift shopping, baking, and autumn in the mountains.