Does the subject of English in a homeschool need to look like the traditional school studies? For our family, we have NOT wanted the “typical English” program and so, over the years, we’ve tried to cover the four English courses at a secondary level in a more palatable, less boring manner!
First, I will say that encouragement to “self-design” courses to meet individual interests and needs largely came when we heard about the flexibility offered from the North Atlantic Regional High School (NARHS) organization. I explain more about this specific school/organization in my post about how to obtain high school credits at this link.
Secondly, I should likely also write here that, in high school, I often was a top student in English; in other words, I did academically very well with the “typical” courses in the public education system. (Sure, I still make writing/grammar errors sometimes, even on this website or in my published books, but I generally do try to remember what I learned. I do ignore some grammar rules for informal writing though, and simply write the way I would speak as a mom or “friend-to-friend”.) While I appreciated my teachers, I did not, however, often enjoy most assignments. I tended to dislike the literary selections and felt that the assignments for frequent analysis/debate/conversation were often not matching with skills I’d find useful for “real life”.
While I could read/recite Shakespeare with a dramatic flair, dissect classics to refute troubling themes, I’d rather read literature which was more uplifting, conveying useful knowledge, or having a genuine good-humor to it and “bid adieu” to much of the rest. I did enjoy writing stories, independent reading choices (fiction), research projects (non-fiction), and found grammar and business English lessons helpful. You can imagine my frustration when, as a homeschool mom, I found that typical homeschool English resources included a heavy emphasis on literary analysis, with some titles even being ones I had rejected inwardly when I had been a student. Since homeschooling was about offering choices and flexibility, we were determined to see “what else” we could do in English so that time would be better spent with more fun and practical content!
So here are 8 of my favourite options for English programs in the upper levels of homeschooling!
- GRAMMAR – I think it’s very important that students learn how to express themselves in a written manner which fits with correct grammar, in formal language (e.g. essays, research reports) and in informal language (e.g. curriculum design for home environments, letters, blogging). (Note: We don’t find a real life purpose in “diagramming sentences” or “schwa sounds” and so do not worry about those topics in our homeschooling.) One whole English course, sometime during the high school years for our family, has its main focus on grammar – to repeat and expand the practical skills learned back in elementary so that these skills are solid.
- Resources I like to provide for GRAMMAR are: Copies of summary sheet hand-outs from teachers in my high school days plus a Canadian textbook entitled, “The Bare Essentials: Form B” by Sarah Norton and Brian Green (- we use the 7th edition, black cover with a big “B” on it). Students generally complete “every other question” for most grammar chapters over the duration of one semester of work. To avoid making an entire grade all about “only grammar”, I also ask them to write and illustrate a children’s storybook and/or participate in a family newspaper assignment and/or read/listen to and discuss some poetry or music lyrics (e.g. Canadian folksongs).
- NOTETAKING – Outlining and learning how to take notes with short-forms, colour-coding, and symbols (e.g. a circle can indicate a definition) – oh, notetaking skills are very practical! Ideas I’ve found helpful to me are shared and they can come up with more ideas themselves; also, the student listens to things of interest (e.g. online lectures) to practice note-taking skills.
- (When we went to school, we used to be given a “notebook mark” for how well-organized, comprehensive, and neat it looked. This skill fits within business English skills and when I was in high school, it also included a form of fun shorthand.)
- READING /LITERATURE – NARHS suggests that for one of the high school levels of English courses, a student could choose 12 pieces of literature and writes “something” as a result of understanding each one. (Then those 12 writing pieces are marked for analytical and writing skills.) The level of literature is at a high school level but there is freedom as to “what” to read.
- When our students have done this for a semester, they have chosen a variety of Canadian novels, some fiction, some non-fiction, and some from other countries in the world. Then, these have been followed by a variety of essays, book reports, creative writing projects. So far, none has been a piece of poetry or drama to express one’s thoughts about a piece of literature but that would be a possibility, depending on the interest of the student.
- We’ve also spent a bit of time learning the definitions of literary terms, poetry terms, and literary techniques. Definitions of knowing what these things are can help if a student has a standardized test to do in the future (e.g. ACT, SAT). Simply knowing “what” the terms are, with a few examples to show it in a piece of familiar literature or media, I feel is fairly sufficient. I don’t have them pick all sorts of examples of these out of several novels. (This is because I’ve thought, “How much is actually enough for understanding a particular literacy term or theme? How many examples are truly needed, or is it just busywork to keep writing short answers through a novel study booklet?” When we’ve tried a novel study booklet with those sorts of questions, it has been very boring and tedious to go through. When our teens study a specific novel, they make charts or lists instead.)
- (My e-book curriculum for literature studies/upper-level reading comprehension skills for the junior/senior elementary levels is not finalized as of this point in time but if/when it is published, it will include the high school levels of comprehension (e.g. literary terms with examples) in it.)
- WRITING – Often I like to include at least one written story assignment which they can read to a younger sibling. We make a number of these storybooks with dental floss like this but for the high school level, the expectation for a more complex plot and vivid vocabulary with literary techniques is higher compared to the elementary level.
- When I wrote the writing curriculum for the upper elementary levels, I also included in it, the worksheets and tips that I use for the high school levels. (The curriculum is self-paced and starts at a level of “wherever a student is at” in his/her written skills, as long as the older student has already grasped the foundation of composing sentences and paragraphs.) This curriculum gives the student some fun and solid direction for “how to write well”. It’s called “Writing Stories, Letters, Reports, Essays, and Speeches” and you can check it out here at this link in our online shop! 😊
- I like to include at least one “creative writing” assignment for each English course. One of them this year was for my teens to take a few weeks to learn about blogging techniques and then write a couple of example blogs in the recommended styling about topics of their choice. (It’s true that I don’t usually care about following the recommended structure of business blogs but I still want my teens to know of it in case they ever end up with a website themselves someday. One of the resources I pointed them to for direction on blog structure is Jenny Rose Spaudo at this (non-affiliate) link. She offers a free downloadable booklet as a blogging guide from her main page.) My guess is that this next generation will compose more blogs in comparison to formal essays.
- Non-fiction research or technical writing – I didn’t do a lot of this style of writing as a high school student. But I wish it had been included for the skills of reading abstracts and scientific journals which I learned in post-secondary. Again, my guess is that research articles to read or write or present about will be a more prevalent activity in the “real world” in comparison to writing literary or persuasive essays. So it’s my aim to include learning about the basics of this sort of writing in our high school level English. One of the resources/references useful for teaching about non-fiction writing (and might be available in a library to look at for a bit) is: “Writing in the Life Sciences – A Critical Thinking Approach” by Laurence Greene, Oxford University Press, 2010.
- (For sure, knowing how to properly write a variety of essays is important. I’m just would like to see a better balance between the amount of essays and other forms of writing.)
- ORAL LANGUAGE – Every once in a while, I like to give an assignment for a 3-5 minute speech (on a topic of own choice or based on a topic within their history or science topics). I encourage the use of visuals; perhaps the student might make a complimentary poster, dress in costume, or use a puppet or visual aid. Designing a slide presentation is also possible, since that also helps them to practice useful computer skills. Vocal music is frequent in our home outside of “school hours” but such could also be included as relating to speech skills (e.g. clarity, accents, syllabication, voice strength). These oral presentation skills can be very helpful in their future work and ministry opportunities. And they can have fun with these presentations too!
- COMMUNICATION – Related to oral language skills is the idea of teaching students how to be effective teachers and communicators. A favourite resource for this (which can take a few weeks to go through and discuss) is “Teaching to Change Lives” by Dr. Howard Hendricks. (There is a DVD series available here or here that supplements the book; this series is good too. But the book by itself is also excellent!) Again, this is a fun and practical English skill to learn in the teen years! And it can help people learn how to be better spouses and parents too! 😊😊
- MEDIA STUDIES – There have been various assignments over the years… Example 1 – a student researched the history and influence of radio in worldwide evangelism. Example 2 – a student learned about social media advantages and disadvantages and watched as I read through the fine print of setting up an account. Example 3 – a student could learn more about a favourite comic strip artist/author or compilation of humorous sayings, noting the puns and double-meanings. Example 4 – a pair of students used simple recording equipment to record friends and family for a Christmas audio CD, edited it on the computer, created the cover with credits, understood permissions/copyright issues, communicated with all involved. The time spent on such a project I feel is worthy of counting it as part of an English course.
- LINGUISTICS and HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE – We have almost completed our unit study with “Excavating English” by Ruth A. Johnston. This homeschool curriculum introduces students to basic linguistics (how phonetic sounds are made by the mouth and throat) and the history of the English language. It provides links for supplemental videos online plus activities (with an answer key) for puzzlers, language charts, reading examples to decipher, and other interesting activities to understand each chapter. I have especially liked the overview of British history which comes alongside such a study and so we have taken an extra “rabbit trail” to watch more than just the two “The Story of English” video clips from Ellen McHenry’s playlist for this curriculum. (So far, we’ve watch episodes 2-4 from this link.) I have found it suitable for multi-level studies, interest-levels grades 5-12, however, the younger children often play quietly nearby (e.g. with play dough). If you are interested in this unit study of “Excavating English, here is my AFFLILIATE LINK. (That means I can receive compensation for recommending this curriculum to you if you click on this link and purchase from The Basement Workshop’s website. The curriculum is downloadable and printable in black/white, making it quick and easy for Canadian homeschooling families to begin.)
There you have it – that’s basically how we arrange English studies for the high school years in homeschooling!