a Roll includes a sturdy plastic box full of forty color-coded cubes and a teaching manual. The cubes are stunning and attractive. They measure 1” per side and have words engraved on most of them; a couple cubes are left blank and can be customized with stickers. As soon as I opened the box of cubes, children from all around my house seemed to appear wanting to touch and play with them, bigger kids making sentences and little ones stacking the cubes like blocks. Amazingly, quite a bit of the English language fits on these 40 cubes!
The 142-page teaching manual is comprehensive, with clean, organized, easy-to-read instructions and charts. Familiarizing oneself with the Cube Guide on the first pages of the teacher’s manual is essential for the success of the program. Here Ms. Koran explains in simple detail what the 40 cubes are and how they are used. In the very helpful introduction of the teacher’s guide, Ms. Koran explains the overall philosophy behind her product, including what current research has revealed about the benefits of using manipulatives in learning, what makes English on a Roll special, and several ways to utilize the program.
The instructor’s manual is designed to be very easy for the educator to use; one does not need to have experience in tutoring English to be able to teach from this book. Lessons are carefully planned out and scripted, each following the same format of Prep (showing which cubes and other materials are needed), Notes and Vocabulary (providing teaching tips and new words), Teach the Concepts (the main lesson or script to follow), Games/Conversation (one or more ways to “play” with the cubes for practice), and Written Exercises (pen and paper practice). The cubes are designed for up to 6 students to use at a time; more sets are needed for larger groups.
English on a Roll includes grammar and syntax concepts such as subject pronouns, when to use the articles “a” or “an” with various nouns and adjectives, using “be” verbs in a myriad of ways, possessive adjectives, prepositional phrases, and how to ask various types of questions. It provides instruction on how to easily converse using several verb tenses, including simple present (every day), present progressive (right now), simple future (tomorrow), and simple past (yesterday). These concepts are interacted with in a fully hands-on manner throughout the lessons, familiarizing the student with the English language. The set of cubes and instructor’s manual can be purchased from the company’s website for $89.
I became interested in English on a Roll particularly for 2 of my sons, a 13 year old with serious learning disabilities and a 14 year old with auditory processing disorder. Both of these boys have struggled with English grammar and enjoy learning with manipulatives. When we first received this curriculum, we decided to attempt to go through the lessons prescribed in the teacher’s manual. These lessons, while incredibly easy to follow and use, did not fit very well with my students’ levels of learning. Much of English language is “caught, not taught”; therefore, because my children are native speakers and had been speaking English fluently for several years, the first several lessons were too easy for them. (Although, I did catch a few gaps in their learning – I had not realized that neither of my sons remembered when to use “a” or “an”!) I also tried the first few lessons from the instructor’s manual on my 5 year old nephew who is a fluent-reader. Although he also enjoyed the putting together of sentences using the cubes, some of the concepts from the lessons were too difficult for him (for example, he was able to maneuver the cubes and make sense of them easily, but the lessons on nominative pronouns and “be” verbs were too abstract). Whether with my sons or my nephew, there seemed to be an odd mix of too easy/too hard with the prescribed lessons. The lessons assume a certain level of cognitive ability while assuming a lower level of familiarity with syntax (or simply knowing what “sounds right” in the English language). Using the lessons as-written was a constant reminder to me that this program was created for, and most likely works best for, older students learning English as a second language.
Next, we decided to try just using the Conversation/Games sections from each lesson plan. English on a Roll fit much better with our family when used this way. I still received the benefit of having the Prep section laid out for me, telling me which cubes to have prepared ahead of time so that we could easily play with the English language. I personally read through the Teach the Concepts part of each lesson before we began to make certain I understood what was being taught in the games before we engaged in play. Here are a few examples of games from the instructor’s manual:
Lesson 8 is titled “Regular, Irregular, and Noncount Nouns.” The Prep section asks the teacher to pull out the article cube, the regular noun cube (student, students, teacher, teachers, car, cars), the irregular noun cube (child, children, man, men, woman, women), and the noncount noun cube (food, fruit, help, money, water, work). The Conversation/Games section suggests having students roll each of these cubes (one at a time), say the word aloud, tell whether it is singular or plural, and make a sentence for each using a “be” verb. For example, the student might roll the first cube and have the cube land with the word “cars” face up. The student would read the word aloud, note that it is plural, and use it in a sentence such as “Cars are fast.” The parent would use this game to point out the differences in the types of nouns and remind students of proper noun-verb agreement in speaking or writing. The Games section also suggests creating custom cubes to further demonstrate these rules. (Custom cubes are made with the included white stickers placed on blank cubes. We also tried vis-a-vis markers to custom make cubes, but the writing smudged pretty easily and would stain the cubes.)
Lesson 20 is entitled, “Simple Present of ‘Be.’” 4 cubes are required for games: one with subject pronouns (I, you, he/she, it, we, they), a “be” verb cube (am, are, is, was, were, and be), one with several adverbs (every day, yesterday, tomorrow, right now, if, and for). and a custom cube with (I’m, you’re, he’s/she’s, it’s, we’re, they’re) written on it. The games in this section involve making sentences with pronouns and “be” verbs and then trading out these two cubes for the proper one-cube contraction. It was an enjoyable, hands-on way to see what exactly contractions do.
The final way we used English on a Roll was to complement our own English grammar studies. In the grammar program we currently use (Classical Conversations’ Essentials of the English Language), one son is to take apart and analyze a sentence every day. We used these cubes to be able to “touch” these sentences. For example, one day our homework gave us the sentence “Tom jumped.” Since those words were not already on my English on a Roll cubes, I could have customized the blank cubes if I wanted to. Instead, I choose to simply use “He looked.” as a similarly-structured sentence. I asked my student to build that sentence out of cubes, including punctuation. One of the tasks in this student’s regular grammar homework is for him to change the purpose of the daily sentence, practicing making new sentences with each of the 4 purposes. Once this son identified that the sentence he had built was declarative in purpose, I asked him to make it exclamatory (“Tom jumped!”), interrogative (“Did Tom jump?” or “Who jumped?”), and imperative (“Jump.”). Having these manipulatives took away the struggle he had been having with changing the purposes of his sentences. Looking ahead in our particular grammar lessons, the sentences provided will soon become too complex to be able to use the English on a Roll cubes alongside them, but they will be nice to pull out when one of my students gets stuck on a grammatical concept or we need to review.
My students and I have enjoyed the English on a Roll cubes. I am still amazed by the beauty of the cubes and the ingenuity of their creator. I am surprised that so wide a breadth of types of words can fit on only 40 cubes! My special needs children enjoyed touching the sentences they made and literally playing with words. Although the actual lesson plans in the instructor’s manual felt cumbersome to us, the cubes themselves have been a delight and have aided in my children’s grasp of English grammar and syntax. Used as manipulatives, English on a Roll cubes could be enjoyed by those of the various educational philosophies, including classical, Charlotte Mason, textbook, and unschooling.
The English on a Roll teaching manual did not work well as a homeschool grammar program for the levels of students I have. (The folks over at English on a Roll have provided the first 10 chapters of the teaching manual as a free download on their website. Please look over these chapters yourself to see if they just might work better for your family than they did mine.) I envision the lesson plans working quite well for 2nd or 3rd grade students, for special education students who struggle with vocalizing well put-together sentences, or for those learning English as a non-native language. The scope and sequence of the teaching manual is different from a typical homeschooling grammar program and might not satisfy a homeschooler’s grammar needs or desires. I would love to see Ms. Koran either write or collaborate with another author on a teacher’s manual or a book of games made with homeschoolers in mind. English on a Roll cubes are fascinating and fun; and, I do think with a little tweaking, there would be a market for them with homeschooling families.
— Product review by Deborah Burt, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October, 2016
Deborah Burt reviewed English on a Roll for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. She uses English on a Roll to tutor two of her sons, aged 13 and 14, in English grammar. One son has serious learning disabilities, and the other has an auditory processing disorder. Both have struggled with English grammar and enjoy learning with manipulatives. Here is what Deborah has to say about English on a Roll:
English on a Roll is a unique multisensory English grammar and syntax program. Originally designed to teach the English language to non-native speakers, English on