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Building Blocks

Open To: Grades 3 and 4
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required 
Challenge Level: Middle school
Course Format: Session Based. See calendar for session dates and application deadlines.
Recommended School Credit: One-quarter academic year
Course Length: 10 weeks (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Spring); 12 weeks (Early Summer); or 5 weeks (intensive Late Summer)
Course Code: IRUL

Course Description

A deep understanding of grammatical structure allows students to make informed choices about style. Students examine the rules of Standard Written English and adapt these rules to develop a personal style. Working in an online collaborative community, students write analytically about grammatical usage and then apply the analysis to their own creative writing. Students emerge from these short courses understanding how their grammatical choices can affect the quality of their prose style.

In this course, students study language building blocks by exploring parts of speech and components of sentences. Students focus on making their writing more vivid, improving accuracy, and creating effective and interesting sentence combinations.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Students may be invited to interact in CTY community spaces that include students and instructors and potentially specially invited guests that are not enrolled in their course. Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations.

Grammar Note

Skilled, careful writers follow the conventions of Standard Written English, but writing is much more than mere adherence to convention. Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning. Writing courses are not remedial. Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English.

Materials Needed

Students are not required to purchase any additional materials or texts for this course.

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

Lesson 1: Nouns

This lesson discusses the distinctions between concrete and abstract nouns, count nouns and non-count nouns, and how to tell if a word in a sentence is a noun or another part of speech. Students will practice replacing general nouns with more specific nouns in order to write more vividly.

Lesson 2: Verbs

Topics include transitive and intransitive verbs, action verbs and verbs of state. Students learn syntactic features of verbs and apply tests to determine whether the word in a sentence is a verb or another part of speech. Students practice replacing general verbs with more specific verbs in order to make their sentences more dynamic.

Lesson 3: Modifiers

As in lessons 1 and 2, this lesson discusses the complexities of these parts of speech, applying tests to determine features of each part of speech. As with verbs, a key topic will be how to replace general modifiers (like “good”) with more specific modifiers that create more effective descriptions. Adverbial and adjectival phrases will also be covered.

Lesson 4: Sentence Parts

This lesson focuses on the distinction between parts of speech and parts of sentences. Students transition from distinguishing classes of words to studying the roles that subjects, predicates, and phrases play in the construction of sentences. Students also examine the role prepositional phrases play in determining subject/verb agreement. A deeper understanding of sentence parts prepares students for further practice with complex sentence patterns.

Lesson 5: Sentence Patterns

The lesson discusses the structure of simple, compound and complex sentences. Students practice punctuating sentences correctly while focusing on using a variety of sentence patterns and rhythms in their writing.

Time Required

  • 3 hours weekly for 10-week or 12-week sessions (Fall, Winter, Spring, Early Summer)
  • 2 hours daily Monday - Friday during the intensive 5-week session (Late Summer)

Sample First Assignment


Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.


"Before this course, I hated writing. Now, after the course, I love to write!"

"I think these CTY online courses are a great idea. The course really helped me understand and learn more about the subject I was studying: Language.
What I really liked about the course was that you get to share your opinions about other people's work and also meet new people. I have a strong feeling that this is really going to help me in school."

"I enjoyed doing this Language Course with Mrs. S___. When I needed help, she was available. I hope, if I do Language at CTY again, that Mrs. S___ will be my teacher!"

"User friendly, easy to follow course."

"The course was strenuous and challenging which as a parent what I expected and desired from CTY Online Programs. The instructor had a very high expectations and pushed the student to work hard."

"We were very pleased with the course and the content in the material. It was a lot of work though, more than we thought it would be. Our son enjoyed it and really did learn a lot."

"This course was very organized, very challenging, and increased my son's interest in writing."

"Wow ... what a learning experience our whole family had! My daughter was challenged and is now lightyears ahead of where she was with grammar. As a parent, I, of course, made it my business to read all the materials and sharpen up my own skills in grammar after my daughter would go to bed. I have to say I was challenged as well! My daughter and I are now having a great time copying pages from classics, and highlighting modifiers, verbs, phrases, etc. We discuss how the writer used grammar to convey a story, and what a different story it would be without that style. My hats off to Mrs. S___. Her comments were thoughtful, helpful and always encouraging."

"Mrs. B___ was a wonderful instructor. We truly appreciated the personalized critiques and encouragement she shared with M___. Even though this was an online course, she personalized instruction and really got to know our son as a writer. Establishing this type of rapport with M___ made him more receptive to his learning experiences. He really enjoyed this course and learned a lot."

"This class was excellent. It started out with an opportunity to write a nonsense sentence. My son had so much fun, it spilled over to the rest of the semester. This is a lot to say for a math kid. Thank you so much for the infectious enthusiasm and encouragement that was modeled by the instructor."