ILLA Blogs

Commentary and reviews by classical Lutheran education commentators.
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Tolkien, Lewis, and Disney

Disney Curriculum

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the architect of Middle-earth and the father of Narnia, once went and saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs together, according to Eric Grunhauser's April 25, 2017 article. "It's no secret that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were legendary frenemies. But while they may have sparred over fantasy and religion, they shared one little-known viewpoint: a disdain for the works of Walt Disney."

But would it be breaking the 8th Commandment if one suggested something even more serious, e.g., that Disney, Inc. has a "curriculum" which promotes feminism and homosexuality in its later productions?

Disney, Culture, and Curriculum contains sixteen balanced essays on how "Disney, Inc." works to advance a utopian happiness in all its inclusiveness. This collection is by no means written from a Biblical worldview. It seems to be a frank and fair-minded exposition produced by various academics. Each essay has copious references.

The only problem: it's difficult (or expensive) to acquire a copy - though you may be able to access it through an interlibrary loan. If you do, I think it is a read worth your while.

If not, then just try to Google groups of search terms together like "Disney Frozen Moana Feminism" or "Disney coded villains" and see whether or not you think the evaluations are equitable. In the cases I've found, it isn't that Christians are making accusations, but rather, that those who embrace those lifestyles are the ones who identify such themes in the Disney productions . . . and praise them.

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Is Genesis History?

Is Genesis History

Our family enjoys going to the movies. Before the film when the Coming Attractions are running, I've noted certain special showings promoted by FathomEvents. Besides showing opera and classic films, they occasionally screen movies of particular interest to Christians. That was the case when we went to see Is Genesis History?

Is Genesis History? gives a thoughtful response to evolutionary theory, interviewing scientists who believe the Biblical account of The Flood. I also recommend the follow up interviews, Beyond Is Genesis History? There are also other sites like BioLogos which note and supplement the film.

It is available on DVD, but also can be streamed via Amazon Prime.

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Avoiding Plagiarism Plagiarism Graphic






Students may be in a hurry to complete an assignment in which they are not interested. They may be lazy or they may simply not know what plagiarism is -- but plagiarism is serious business. It can get a student expelled from a university or cause a person to be dismissed from a significant position, as might be demonstrated in these plagiarism facts and stats.

Perhaps the best time to teach about plagiarism is the first time students are taught to write a research essay or book report -- especially if they are also taught how to do research on the internet.

Surfing the internet, one can find some helpful graphics depicting the full spectrum of plagiarism offenses. One may request a free poster on plagiarism as illustrated in this infographic.

Another helpful site with numerous free resources is sponsored by Turn It In, a subscription-based service which many university professors use to check for plagiarism in the work of their students. And at, one may find podcasts such as Teaching About Plagiarism with Help from Dr. Seuss

There are lesson plans for Teaching Students to Avoid Plagiarism, and while not specifically touted as such, I think Andrew Pudewa's Institute for the Execellence of Writing (IEW) method of summarizing articles is rather helpful in this regard.

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Print, Cut, Fold!

PCF K2PCF LanguagePCF MathPCF Science





Print, Cut, and Fold is a series of books created by Jim Holland which give teachers and students a variety of way to communicate what they have learned. They are not a substitute for writing essays and papers, but these projects can supplement student expressions of what they have learned and discovered. They also make for nice displays in the hallways or showcases of your school. Our students and parents seem to enjoy them.

Most of the projects like dioramas, cascading flip charts, and pyramids are the same from book to book. If you and your students are capable of providing your own data, you would probably only need one of the books -- but the others are helpful if you would like some curriculum-specific ideas.

These projects can be printed out for the students to modify, cut, and fold. Providing that one has the rights to do so, the projects may also be shared electronically so that students can modify them with Microsoft Office programs or with Google Docs -- after which each student may proceed to print, cut, and fold.

While the audio and video isn't ideal, here are two YouTube videos in which teachers are demonstrating the projects found in the books: PART 1   ---   PART 2

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Create Vocabulary Lists with EasyDefine and VocabGrabber

Do you have a list of words for which you'd like definitions, but would rather not have to look up each word individually? Then, the free online version of EasyDefine could be just the thing.

Have you ever taught a literature unit where the author used many words which might be unfamiliar to your students? VocabGrabber might be a big help, especially if the text is in public domain, found on such sites as Project Gutenberg.

A teacher can select and copy an entire chapter of text from the book (up to 100 pages) and paste it in VocabGrabber ( VocabGrabber will create a list of words likely to be challenging to students, and let the teacher pick from those words as to which would be saved in a list. The option exists to include the word in the sentence where it is used in the book.

Those particular features may require teachers to subscribe for about $20 a year -- and the interface isn't especially easy to cut and paste into a Word document. However, there is another free version which produces similar results found at (

Note: Teachers might also like to create spelling and vocab lists for their classes each week -- such as lists which incorporate words actually found in contemporary news items and journal articles. The subscription site also provides online testing of the various word lists. And don't forget such resources as and to help your students practice their words.


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OneLook for Many Words

I'm told that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains around 600,000 entries. While nothing can surpass the OED as an authoritative resource, the website references 18,955,870 words indexed from 1061 dictionaries.

This can be especially helpful for students working on poems and other composition exercises.

Additionally, there is even a "Reverse Dictionary" feature which can help you find the mot juste simply by describing a concept and then it returns a list of related words.

Examples of searches

bluebird                    Find definitions of bluebird
blue*                        Find words and phrases that start with blue
*bird                         Find words and phrases that end with bird
bl????rd                  Find words that start with bl, end with rd, with 4 letters in between
bl*:snow                  Find words that start with bl and have a meaning related to snow
*:snow or :snow      Find words related to snow
*:winter sport          Find words related to the concept winter sport
**winter**                Find phrases that contain the word winter
expand:nasa           Find phrases that spell out n.a.s.a.


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Resources for Teaching Literary Devices

What's the difference between synecdoche and metonymy? Where might one find examples to teach the various literary devices such as personification, hyperbole, and alliteration? Give these a try:


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Let's Get Analogous

teacherThe Wordly Wise and Vocabulary from Classical Roots workbook series are popular in many classical Lutheran schools. One feature of the chapters and tests is a section on analogies. One must match poor : money; tired : energy . . . or "Poor is to money as tired is to energy."

These analogies often proved quite challenging to my students. I started looking for ways to teach analogies which provided copious examples. One free resource I found was found here: Teaching Analogies.

I downloaded the free instructional material, worksheets and answer keys . . . and recently I have been converting them to Moodle quizzes so that students can take the quizzes online on ILLA our classical Lutheran LMS. This not only gives students the ability to have plenty of practice, but it also gives them instant feedback. I often use these once a day three or four times each week.

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Nota Bene

handwritingHearing a teacher say, "Just take notes," may leave students somewhat bewildered as to what to do. It might be helpful to teach students about note-taking -- about organizing one's thoughts on paper or recording ideas in an orderly manner. The Cornell Note-Taking System is one method which has proved to be quite sucessful for many students. (This website also has several other study-skill topics.) Note-taking need not only be limited to live lectures. It could also be used for watching educational videos and online presentations.

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Teaching Vocabulary

I've used various resources to teach vocabulary over the years such as Vocabulary from Classical Roots (noting the Greek and Latin morphologies of the English language) and Wordly Wise 3000. I've made up my own weekly assignments, sometimes letting each student pick a word from the free 5000 word SAT vocabulary list.

Lately, I've been making use of which provides pre-made lists using words from current news articles in their "This Week In Vocabulary" collections (though they also have any number of other collections ranging from World Series baseball terms to helpful poetry terms.

The website offers (for a small fee) the ability to educators of providing practice, quizzes and spelling bees for the students. While the grade-recording is a bit cumbersome, it can still help free up some time for other things a teacher must prepare and supervise.

However, as I learn the website, I found an even more impressive tool within. I've often wanted to teach vocabulary based on the literature I am having the class to read.I believe that reading literature is one of the best ways to grow a vocabulary - if one bothers to keep a dictionary close at hand while reading.

I have, in the past, slogged through chapters, underlining every word which I thought might be unintelligible to students and typed my own vocabulary lists and exercises. Very time-consuming.

But then I find that one can cut-and-paste an entire chapter into the "Create a New List" feature . . . and the site automatically creates the list for me! Marvelous! This will be especially helpful as we take up the novel Frankenstein once more. Give it a try with anything from The Scarlet Letter to Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

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Is Classical Literature "Readable"?

FahrenheitI once had a parent ask me why I had our 7th and 8th grade students reading literature which the local public high school students were reading in their sophomore year (with the implication that I was expecting too much from the students in my class). I responded by asking the parent why the high schools were using middle school texts to teach literature at the high school level.


I was not intending to be glib. The Huffington Post, for example, treated the same question in the article "American High School Students Are Reading Books at 5th-Grade-Appropriate Levels."

Can parents and teachers rely on anything more than "trial-and-error" when selecting literature which matches the reading ability of their children and students?

Some may turn to the reading lists of various classical schools and recommended curricula, but they might also ask how such lists were compiled.

Those who follow such lists may find that the literature ranges from too simplistic to too challenging only after having attempted them. If a book doesn't work out, one has to deal with wasted money and effort pursuing literature which did not satisfy. It would be nice if one could determine the readability of an appropriate text for a particular age level prior to buying the text and embarking on preparations to digest it.

Enter the world of readability metrics. In a world which approaches reading from the perspective of science rather than art -- and which imagines that statistics and data can improve everything -- it is no surprise that the act of reading has come under the digital scrutiny of measurable quantification as can be evidenced in the results of standardized testing.

If you wish to dabble in this area, you might check out this presentation given at an American Library Association (ALA) conference which explains various "online calculators" and databases for finding books. Detailed explanations of readability formulas may also be found online such as this one which describes the Flesch-Kincaid scale.

You might even consider report of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor's Association regarding Common Core's "New Research on Text Complexity."

Or if you would simply like to experiment with matching book levels to reading ability, you might try the Lexile Bookfinder or the Accelerated Reader Bookfinder. You can even find Lexile indicators on Amazon (see the left-hand column). See how Barnes and Noble has adopted and incorporated the Lexile framework.

If a child participates in such standardized tests as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) or the NWEA's Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), the teacher test coordinator can probably get the Lexile, AR, or Flesch-Kincaid reading level numbers for that child so that parents or teachers can use them.

In my own experience, the readability scales are not foolproof or entirely reliable. For example, my middle school students claim to have more difficulty reading Captains Courageous which has a Lexile score of 850L than The Trumpeter of Krakow which is rated at 1200L. (The reading levels in my current class range from 465L to 1355L which makes things interesting.)

I still make reference to such scales in an attempt to match books to readers, even though, after teaching literature over the past twenty years, I have a pretty good feel for the difficulty levels of various books for my students. The only problem is: I have not been able to quantify such feelings with statistical metrics.

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0 - HTML Blocks for School

If your school has a website maintained by someone you know, you might enjoy adding some free content using Other educational widgets are also available with a bit of "Googling."

This link has examples of what the blocks can do on the left-hand side and the HTML code in the boxes on the right. You can easily use these, for example, to look up all the words which end in "-able" and all the words ending in "-ible" to make a comparison. There are vocabulary activities and this-day-in-history resources as well.

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The Fallacy Detective

Students in my classes have responded well to Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn's The Fallacy Detective and The Thinking Toolbox.

The books are available at a discount to Christian schools -- and some of the web resources include a Short List of Fallacies and How to Use The Thinking Toolbox in a Classroom.

Catherine Duffy has a critical review here.


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4D National Geographic Puzzles!

"Wow! What's THAT?" I exlaimed to my wife (who teaches Grades 1-2). She was working on a jigsaw puzzle of a map of the Nile delta with 3D figurines of Egyptian architecture . . . and scanning them on her phone for multimedia connections!

National Geographic has produced a series of 4D cityscape puzzles (3D + time dimension) for Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome - as well as Paris and Chicago!

The 4D Cityscape puzzles are affordably-priced and might make a wonderful gift or activity for students during the summer or during the school year.

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. . . In-A-Sentence

Occasionally, when looking to give examples of vocabulary in context for SpellingCity lists (many of the example sentences there are poor) or or creating a quiz, I make use of two sites:




CAVEAT: Because these two sites have random ads on their pages, I do not recommend them for student use.

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The Writer's Handbook

I tend to take an eclectic approach to curriculum development rather than relying on any single series. I have enjoyed and grown in my teaching abilities by purchasing, working through, and adapting materials like Andrew Pudewa's Institute for the Excellence in Writing, Andrew Kern's The Lost Tools of Writing, and Classical Writing by Lene Mahler Jacqua and Tracy Gustillio.

There are also online resources such as The University of Wisconsin - Madison's Writer's Handbook and

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Word Play

Vocabulary ought not merely be associated with tedious assignments; Words are fascinating! I have grown in my vocabulary primarily by reading literature and listening to lectures, but I have also learned by playing with words: Scrabble, Crosswords, Jumble, Balderdash, and more. 

When students complete their assigned work early (and well), I encourage them to put their minds to work on something constructive. One way to do this is to make use of some online word activities. Here are a few to get you started:

Word Ladder

Word Winder

Daily Cryptogram

Mad Takes (like Mad Libs)

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Rate Speeches - Rubrics and Tools

Rate Speeches is a wonderfully practical website to use in a curriculum where students are learning to give speeches. It provides a speech timer, rubric generator, a speech evaluation form generator -- and examples of speeches from contemporary sources for the class to practice evaluating and discussing.

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Liberal Arts Curriculum or Common Core?

The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod has posted its position on Common Core here:

In contrast, we note these opening paragraphs from the Heartland Institute which relate details about how . . . "The Diocese of Marquette in Michigan is in the process of adopting a Catholic liberal arts curriculum for all of its schools, instead of using the Common Core State Standards." (The full article is worth consideration -- and note other sites such as these from the Angelicum Academy and a Thomistic View on Common Core vs. Classical Education.)

A spokesman for the diocese says the program has experienced early success.

Common Core is a set of federal standards dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level. As of 2011, 46 states and Washington, DC had adopted the standards. Since then, three  states have officially repealed the standards, and of 45 the states that joined the Common Core Consortia, an association that provides states with Common Core-aligned exams,  25 have dropped out.  Two bills to replace Common Core in Michigan are progressing through the state’s legislature.

The Diocese of Marquette, which operates 10 schools in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, previously had no set curriculum. Marquette Bishop John Doerfler said in a statement in June, “After much consideration, the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette will not adapt or adopt the Common Core State Standards which were developed for the public school system. That said, we acknowledge that there is a base of adequate secular material in the Common Core State Standards that faith-based schools could reference as part of their educational programming. While we respectfully understand that other private and Catholic schools may discern to adapt or adopt the standards for these and other reasons, we do not believe that such actions would benefit the mission, Catholic identity or academic excellence of our schools.”

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