Quick Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

I was lucky enough to receive Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1, a.k.a. The Island Level for free when I wrote a comprehensive article on grammar programs for home/school/life magazine. Being able to see a full curriculum before buying it is a luxury most homeschoolers don’t have, and for that reason, I was so grateful. This is not a cheap curriculum, and I never would have bought it without seeing it first.

Over that year, I read all the books to my boys, but I didn’t have them work through the Practice Books, which are essentially the worksheets that reinforce the teaching. Also at that time, I picked IEW’s Fix it! The Nose Tree as my eldest son’s grammar program because it just worked better for him then. While I didn’t feel he needed to work through the MCT workbook at the same time, I did think that reading Grammar Island and Sentence Island helped him understand what he was doing in The Nose Tree better.

Also, I fell in love with these books. I am not exaggerating when I say they are beautiful. These books incorporate beautiful artwork and large, easy-on-the-eyes fonts. I think using a beautiful textbook makes a world of difference when trying to teach youngsters, and it made a world of difference to my adult eyes, which can get quite weary trying to read small text in the cluttered books of other curriculum.

This year I bought part of Level 2 because I have ditched the Fix It! series, and I’m going to continue on with MCT. However, I can’t afford to buy it all at once. I have bought only Grammar Town (teacher’s manual) and Paragraph Town (teacher’s manual). As much as I would like to buy the student books, I have to save money. So I use the teacher’s manuals, and I type and print the exercises on my computer for him to work through. Grammar Town worked really well for my son, and I’m very pleased with it. We’ll be working in Paragraph Town this coming year.

As for my younger son, we are going back and re-reading the Island Level this year, and he will be using the practice workbooks with this program – so they will not go to waste! (And I should mention that he loved the Mud trilogy, which he read this past year.)

I would love to buy Caesar’s English I (teacher and student books) and the next book on poetry, Building Poems (teacher’s manual), but it’s just not in the budget right now. My priority will be getting through the grammar and writing textbooks of this wonderful curriculum, and I’ll buy those as I we need them.

I should mention the one flaw with this program is that is doesn’t teach much punctuation! Kind of strange, don’t you think? However, this is easily remedied. I purchased a punctuation workbook on Amazon that I’ll have my son work through this year, and I’m pretty good at punctuation, so I can help him with that as he continues to work on his writing skills.

11 thoughts on “Quick Review: Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts Program, Level 1 and Part of Level 2

  1. MCT’s books are gorgeous beyond words. I had to let our daughter play with them for a while before she’d even allow us to dive into them. She spent about an hour before our first lesson just trying to imitate the artwork in Grammar Island. It’s hard to imagine a child falling in love with a grammar book, but there it is. We have started learning Latin separately, so the fact that the books dwell so much on the roots of language is a huge plus. It’s interdisciplinary in an effortless way.

    One of the design aspects of these books that I think is excellent is the lack of clutter on the pages. It’s something I would have not thought to much about that before we started using MCT. The friendly fonts and uncrowded pages make it so easy for kids to read the text themselves (again – effortlessly interdisciplinary – they are practicing their reading while they study other subjects) and to feel like they are making easy progress, which builds their self-esteem and makes them want to keep going. I wish there were books for other subjects with these design features and conversational tone.

    I would not have bought the books if I had not read about them on your blog first, so many thanks for that. They are an investment, but definitely worth every penny. We plan to stick with this program across future years. Our daughter would have a fit if we switched to something else.

    Royal Fireworks Press has some good Latin books, but they are not good (IMO) as stand-alone texts. If you pair Song School Latin with Ecce Caecilia as a first text for the very young to translate (applying what they learn in SSL at the end), it works brilliantly, however. And being able to translate a foreign language is so empowering. They also have gorgeous pictures of Roman life and famous landmarks every cultured individual should be familiar with, so it’s kind of like MCT in that respect.


  2. Thank you for this posting! I am trying to decide whether to spend the hundreds of dollars it takes for grammar island. Knowing that I can just purchase the teacher’s manual is a huge blessing. I don’t mind typing the remaining portions!


    1. You’re so welcome! I’m glad this information was helpful to you, and I completely agree about the money. The books ARE worth the money; however, it’s a lot for us homeschoolers. But the teacher’s manual has the student’s book in it. So it works! Also, it depends on what you want to focus on too. You may only need Grammar Island and Sentence Island and that’s it. Then you could add to that as you are able. Cheers!


  3. Hi! I have been looking at both Fix It and MCT. My children are both very fast learners, highly creative, and frustrated by repetition or busy work. I like the idea of the 15 minute lessons in Fix It, but MCT looks so rich and beautiful. How long do lessons in MCT take? What led you to make the switch from Fix It to MCT, and are you still liking it? Thanks!!


    1. Hello,

      Yes, MCT and Fix it! are great programs, but they are very different. After using both with my two boys, I have come to realize that what has worked best for them is to use the first Fix it! book (only) and MCT. I’ll try to explain why.

      The MCT books move pretty quickly. You could read the Level 1 books in less than a month for each. However, you could also take your time and go more slowly. You don’t have to use all the books, but they are all good. The core books would be Grammar Island and Sentence Island. As you move into Level 2 Paragraph Town, I recommend getting the teacher’s manual because there are assignments in the instructor’s section of that book that you can pick and choose from. As your kids pause to do the assignments, it’ll go slower. As you move into more MCT books, it’s more of a writing program, but it continues to review parts of speech/parts of sentence throughout all the books. (So there is repetition, but it goes quickly.) Punctuation doesn’t come immediately, and you’ve got to have the teacher’s manuals for that. For my eldest son, I supplemented with a simple punctuation workbook I bought on Amazon because I wanted him to get some basic punctuation sooner (aside from what he learned in early elementary). (But keep in mind I started the MCT books with him when he was older than the recommended ages. Considering these books are geared toward gifted kids, it’s been a good fit at his age. Now in the 8th grade, he’s working through Level 3 Essay Voyage.)

      My younger son uses the Practice books too, which gives him one sentence a day to work on similar to Fix it! and he likes it, but I decided to have him do the first book of Fix it! because I felt there were a few things that Fix it! explained better, most particularly with prepositions. I love that he has a card from Fix it! with the list of prepositions that he also refers to when he’s using Practice Island. My eldest son did the first Fix it! book and for him, I didn’t feel like he needed to also do Practice Island or the other practice books bc the worksheets within the main MCT books seem to be enough for him. So it depends on how quickly your kids get it. My younger son is using MCT at a younger age than my eldest son used them, if that makes sense, so he’s needed some extra practice. (Plus he just likes it better.)

      I tried using the second book of the Fix it! program with my eldest son, but half way through it, I abandoned it. The second book was frustrating for him because the story of Robin Hood uses some archaic language, and I didn’t feel like a grammar program was the place for that. (The story in Book 1, The Nose Tree, is an original story, so it used a more common everyday language that we’re used to.) There were other things in general that I don’t like about Fix it! such as that this program makes up a few of their own terms (trying to make it easier for kids). For example, instead of using “subordinating conjunction” they say “clause starter.” While I understand what they are trying to do, I much prefer the MCT philosophy of not underestimating kids’ abilities to learn the real terms, and I think teaching them unique terms that are only used in this program could do more harm in the long term. They need to know the proper terms! However, I felt the first book was still worth it, and it helped both my boys understand the MCT books, which talks about grammar in story form.

      Note: Fix it! calls the articles “a, an,” & “the” “articles,” and MCT calls them adjectives, which they are, but since they are very often called articles, this was one instance where I was glad my sons were taught both terms. (MCT does mention that they are called articles at one point, but they are always labeled as adjectives in the practice sentences.)

      Another thing I liked about using the first book of Fix it! is that it gave my boys a chance to use a dictionary on a regular basis because they needed to look up vocabulary words. (I only had them look up the words they didn’t already know.) After the first book, I felt they had all the dictionary practice they needed, though. MCT has a separate vocabulary program, and you don’t have to use a dictionary for it. All the MCT books are integrated, so they will come across the vocabulary words in the other books, etc.

      Fix it! is pretty much all grammar and punctuation (IEW has a separate writing program), but they try to show kids what “strong words” are when writing. This can be subjective, though, so I much prefer the MCT method of having students read short passages from literature and historical essays to show what strong writing is, and if you use MCT’s vocabulary program, your kids will learn a robust vocabulary too. Although, we do not use the literature trilogies that MCT recommends to use with their program because I don’t like all the book selections. I want my boys to read a diverse set of authors and literature, and I think that this is a weakness of MCT. However, it’s very easy to not use the MCT literature and pick my own…but I digress.

      Overall, I think both programs are good, and you just have to try them to see what your preference is. I hope my experience has helped offer some insight, but I think it comes down to what a kid likes. Both programs are quick-moving, and they aren’t boring, IMO. They both have strengths and weaknesses, but overall, I think that MCT is just so wonderful and beautiful, and it’s a whole language arts program, including writing instruction. It’s easy to add a punctuation workbook and then assign your own literature, etc., if you feel like you need it. So you might not even need Fix it!, but I did like the first book for reasons I explained above, and I felt like together, my boys got the practice and instruction they needed. Hearing it explained in two different ways was helpful for them.

      Another note about the MCT vocabulary program: it’s a little more complicated than the grammar books, and some kids might not like it. Others might just need to start it when they’re older. If your kids love learning stems and roots and generally like language arts, it might be a good fit. I wish I had tried it sooner with my eldest son because he’s working through them now, and he likes it. I wonder if he would have liked it when he was younger, but I’m not sure. I’m going to start the first vocabulary book with my younger son soon and see what he thinks. If it’s too hard for him, I’ll just hang onto it for awhile and try again later.

      Hope this helps! Cheers!


  4. Hi!!
    I’m looking for advice for Grammar Island. For a schedule of what one should do each day to progress through it in a timely manner.


    1. Hi Jacqueline…I’m sorry I haven’t responded sooner! I’ve been out of town and away from my computer. When you purchase a level of the MCT, they will also send you something with a recommendation on what order to use to the books. Grammar Island can be finished very quickly. Maybe a month or so? It’s meant to be used in correlation with the other books in the series. I wouldn’t rush through it, though, and I would use the Practice Island book, which is the workbook, to help reinforce what’s being taught. I can’t remember too well, but the teacher’s manual may have some additional directions in it as well.


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