Using Manipulatives to Teach Grammar: English on a Roll {Review}

Although basic letter lessons are always a hit with my preschooler, I've now been challenging him with moving on to the next level by learning spelling and basic sentence structure. My goal is to help him build proficiency in both reading and writing. Since he is still young, I try and make sure that our lessons are both fun and engaging, so I'm always on the look out for products that can help me with this. I was recently introduced to the English Grammar Teaching Method from English on a Roll–a product that puts a new twist on teaching the English language.

English on a Roll is an exceptional type of learning program that actually offers a Multisensory Structured Language (MLS) method to teaching grammar and parts of speech. The English Grammar Teaching Method consists of one set of forty word cubes that come in a plastic case (for up to six students), along with the Book One Instructors' Manual. Thirty-seven of the cubes are engraved with color-coded words, one on each side, to total 222 words in the set. There is one cube that contains your basic punctuation symbols, such as a period, comma, question mark, etc. Two additional cubes are left completely blank. A strip of white labels are also included to use with the blank cubes in order to create words that may not already be included in the set.

Now you may be wondering why the words are color-coded. You see, each color represents a basic rule of the English language. For instance, all pronouns are color-coded in blue, while verbs are shown in red. This actually helps students learn the basics of the English language in a more structured way, in turn, allowing the lessons to flow into each other. When students are in a particular lesson, it'll also be easier for them to seek out the cubes they'll need in order to complete a task.

Here is a full breakdown of each type of basic pattern:
  • Pronouns are blue
  • Questions Words are green
  • Nouns, Articles, and Prepositions are dark blue
  • Verbs are red
  • Adverbs are orange
  • Adjectives are purple
  • Punctuations and Conjunctions are black

The color-coded system is a huge plus for me. While I had originally thought we were going to use this to learn spelling and sight reading, we can now dive into the actual rules of grammar and proper sentence structure. The beginning of the instructors' manual also has a Cube Guide that conveniently lists each rule of grammar, the colors that they are coded with, which words are engraved on each cube, and their particular function.

The neat part about using English on a Roll is that it's suited for multiple styles of learning. So whether you are teaching an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (tactile) learner, this product will work for them. I'm still trying to figure out what kind of learner I have, since he takes to all three styles. With that being said, having the option to incorporate the cubes into his lessons is definitely the highlight for him. Since he's engaging in hands-on learning, he is able to have fun with it. We like to treat it like a game, and in some ways it can actually be used as a game–an educational one at that!

This set is so versatile, not only does it work for a variety of different learning styles, but it was created for students ages five all the way up through adulthood. I can attest that it's also really helpful for teaching preschool age children, since there are so many possibilities in how it can be used and who can use it.

English on a Roll can be used by therapists, homeschoolers, and even in a traditional classroom setting. It has been successful in teaching:

  • Beginning and intermediate students (classroom and homeschool)
  • Beginning/early readers (basic literacy)
  • Special education students
  • Students with autism or other special needs
  • Students with dyslexia
  • Adult Basic Education (ABE)
  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESO)
  • English Language Learners (ELL)
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

The instructors' manual contains thirty-seven detailed lesson plans. One of the first things that I noticed is that it's extremely organized and broken down into different sections:

  • Prep
  • Notes
  • Vocabulary
  • Teach the Concepts
  • Games/Conversations
  • Written Exercises


The first three sections are put together in a gray shaded box at the start each lesson. This area is where the instructor can read about main teaching points in order to plan their lessons, accordingly. The fact that it stands out from the rest of the text on the page is a huge bonus, since it makes things so much more efficient for lesson planning. The Prep area tells me which cubes we'll be using that day, along with any other tools or supplies that will be used for that lesson. A lot of these supplies are basic things that you may already find laying around your home like pens, paper, sticky notes, etc. Both the Notes and Vocabulary areas offer general tips for the instructor, as well as new vocabulary ideas to go over.

The fourth section, Teach the Concepts, offers detailed introductions on what you'll be teaching in that lesson. The last two sections, Games/Conversations and Written Exercises, offer a variety of activities and writing assignments that can be done by the student. The layout of each lesson is consistent from one to the next, which is really nice, since there are no surprises and I can quickly plan each lesson.

Although the illustrations in the manual are very minimal, there are still a few objects 
and stick figure drawings that serve as a basic visual in certain lessons. 

Because this set can be used with such a broad age group, there's a possibility that several lesson activities may not fit in with your individual child's learning level, and that is totally fine. The wonderful thing about it is that this set is made to adapt to your child's level of learning. Since I'm using this with my preschooler, we skipped some of the writing exercise. Of course, we can always go back to them when he's good and ready. This set goes beyond basic CVC words, so it can challenge him as he graduates to more advanced lessons.

We started using English on a Roll at a slow and steady pace by going over basic sight words and having my son engage in a variety of different spelling activities. This also involved a lot of reciting and repeating of the words he read on the cubes. Some days we keep to a more structured lesson plan, using the instructor's manual. On other days, I allow some flexibility in how we use the cubes. We even play word games with them. I'll have my son roll a cube and speak out the letters that he sees in the word that's facing up. Once he recites the letters, I tell him what the word is (if he doesn't already know it), making sure to enhance the enunciation as I say it, even repeating the word a few more times, afterwards. He then repeats the word, and I ask him to spell and say the word one or two more times. Every so often we'll engage in a storytelling exercise with the cubes, which is also a lot of fun.


When we got to lesson four, we began focusing on putting together sentences. Since he is still quite young, I use these lessons as an opportunity to practice syntactic development, as well as reading comprehension. If you have an older student, these lessons will really challenge them to rearrange their sentences based off of the color-coded language structure. What's nice is that the lessons in the instructors' manual offer a systematic approach, where they progress as you go on. Students will learn new words, and then have the opportunity to use them with previous words that they've learned, in order to build sentences with variable outcomes.

Special copyright permissions also allow the instructor to print off extra copies 
of the assignment pages for use with multiple students.

The two blank cubes are particularly helpful in adding new words that may not already be included the set. The extra blank labels are really convenient, but I decided to put my label maker to some good use with several basics like mother, father, and son. Unfortunately, I ran out of blue labels to match these with the other noun cubes, and already had red installed in my label maker. On the plus side, two of those words can also be used as verbs, which the set already notates in red.

It's truly amazing what can be accomplished with using English on a Roll's English Grammar Teaching Method. There's something to be said about a learning tool that not only accommodates a variety of different age groups, but also multiple learning levels, and even types. I personally found it to be a great tool to help my son with his preschool literacy activities. He really gets excited about using these. Incorporating manipulatives offers a nice multisensory approach to my son's lessons. If you think about it, the cubes actually resemble small blocks (especially nice for kinesthetic learners), which also really helps with his fine motor skills. Plus, the hands-on learning experience allows him to retain the information that he learns. 

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English on a Roll {Reviews}

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