By Lee Binz
How to Teach English Without Panicking
Homeschool parents may need a primer on teaching high school English. American history is filled with great elementary primers that taught kids basic English skills. American history is filled with great elementary primers that taught kids basic English skills. The New England Primer of the 17th century and the McGuffey Readers of the 19th century were tools parents and teachers relied on to drill the basics into their students. But it isn’t only children who benefit from primers. With so many great choices available, understanding the critical core of high school English will help cut through the confusion.
When you are homeschooling high school, you want to ensure your student is competent in the core English skills. Make sure your child can get into a college if that’s what they decide to pursue. To achieve this goal, it is essential to provide an English credit for every year of high school. Let’s talk about how to simplify your approach to English, so you get maximum results.
What is an English Credit?
Colleges expect to see one English credit for each year of high school. English is a subject that combines communication skills: reading, writing, and speaking. In general, a high school credit includes reading and writing every day. When you buy an English curriculum, it may tell you how many high school credits it is worth. If not, count or estimate hours. An English credit is 120 to 180 hours per year. Estimate the number of hours spent on instruction, practice, and the work of reading and writing.
One English credit includes 30 to 60 minutes of writing activities each day. This may include writing, worksheets, vocabulary workbooks, writing in a journal, spelling, or grammar.
In general, a high school credit includes 30 to 60 minutes of reading every day. It doesn't matter how many books they read. Children might read 6 to 60 books per year. There is a lot of variability. Reading can include books that are fun, classics on a college bound reading list, popular literature, and non-fiction.
Check out these reading lists:
In high school, not all kids continue with skills workbooks. For example, if they already spell reasonably well, spelling may be dropped and English becomes more about writing. Your approach to vocabulary development may also change. You can use games and activities to Play Your Way to a Great Vocabulary. In addition, Rummy Roots and More Rummy Roots can help build vocabulary skills.
Consider a literature based curriculum that blends English and history together. I used Sonlight Curriculum, and here are some others to choose from.
If you buy a curriculum that focuses on reading, remember to include writing. If you buy a curriculum that focuses on writing, remember to include some books. Your homeschool English class should include both. But be careful not to overwork your child using multiple programs, unless it’s something your child loves and wants to do.
Writing is Required
Whatever your child does in the future, they will need writing skills. Teach your child to write a short essay, so they can use this skill on the job or in college. They don’t have to write with perfect penmanship; your job is to create a competent writer. Teaching short essay skills has a huge payoff. Children use these skills in the SAT or ACT essay, on AP exams, in college tests, on the job, and in their home life as adults. I know plenty of parents who face the blank page, trying to write a course description, wishing they would have learned to write a quick essay efficiently.
Only you know the best fit for your children, but for a starting point, look at these choices for writing curriculum:
Beyond a standard curriculum, you could use a delight directed approach with Learn to Write the Novel Way. Or branch out with fun topics such as a year of poetry study, memorization, and writing. You can focus on English skills needed for the SAT essay by using writing prompts found in Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam by Princeton Review. Or, your child can learn essay skills that will help them apply for scholarships, so you can defray the cost of college. I teach this concept in "College Scholarships for High School Credit" (Online Training). If you focus on reading, perhaps your child merely needs daily writing practice, using the book, 501 Writing Prompts.
High school English can include so many things that it can be overwhelming!
You can teach … spelling, grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, communication skills, penmanship, composition reports, poetry, prose, reading skills, reading for pleasure, classical literature, non-fiction, reading aloud, speed reading, comprehension, public speaking, speech and debate, American literature, British literature, Great Books, literary analysis, essay writing, research, proofreading, timed essays, sentence structure, paragraph outline, mythology, fables, capitalization, punctuation, parts of speech, dialogue, word choice, editing, novel writing, short stories, lyrics, iambic pentameter, haiku, expository writing, narrative writing, summarizing, creative writing, note taking, persuasive writing, literature appreciation, bibliography, biography, themes, Shakespeare, irony, listening skills, comprehension, character, setting, rhetoric, and Socratic dialog.
When I considered all my options, it felt like an avalanche of guilt, weighing me down, and draining my love of homeschooling. That's because my thinking contained a fatal flaw. I felt like I should be doing all these subjects every single year of high school. Wrong! You can’t do everything. And you certainly can’t do it all in one year.
Focus on what is important: reading and writing. There are many ways to get there, not everything needs to be covered by all children, and there are many paths to get you where you need to go. So relax! Instead of teaching a rigorous grammar curriculum every year, maybe you’ll see that Winston Grammar is all your child needs. Instead of using Spelling Power, All About Spelling, and Sequential Spelling, maybe your child doesn’t need spelling at all in high school.
Literary Analysis Not Required
Literary analysis is not a high school requirement. I thought great homeschools had to include Socratic dialog. After reading books, these mythical homeschoolers enjoy deep and rich conversations about the nuances of great works of literature. They share meaningful discussions about historical perspectives and relevant insights within classical and modern literature.
Meanwhile, I got comments like, “Great book, mom ... what’s next?” I admire parents who include literary analysis, but I simply wasn’t capable. I used a literature based curriculum, so it seems strange to say it, but I hate literary analysis. We preferred to read books all the time.
The truth is, I always felt guilty about not including literary analysis. Every homeschool mom has her “thing” that keeps her awake at night, and literary analysis was a struggle for me. On tests and worksheets my children seemed to have terrible reading comprehension, yet they were reading all the time. They read all day long and late into the night. They laughed and cried and gasped when they read silently to themselves. They begged me to continue when I read aloud to them. How could they do so poorly on reading comprehension questions when they seemed to understand while they were reading?
How do you know when you have succeeded in teaching your child English? When I was homeschooling, I was so stressed out about literary analysis. Every year, I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at Progeny Press, Learning Language Arts Through Literature, and other curriculum. Why was I failing? Why couldn’t I teach literary analysis? Every time I asked my kids, “How did you like the book?” I never got any insightful dialog about the deeper meaning of the literature.
I finally decided that my goal for literature would be the same as my goal for Bible study. My goal when teaching the Bible was for my kids to love their Bible, not analyze their Bible. Therefore I would teach them to love literature instead of analyze it. I didn’t want to “beat the love of books out of them” by making them analyze everything.
In retrospect, it all ended up great. Ironically, they both ended up in a “Great Books” honors program, analyzing literature at a college level by their own choice! They were able to do college level literary analysis in their honors class without a problem, getting great grades. Their only frustration with the class was reading the occasional book synopsis. “I would rather read the whole thing – they miss the best parts!”
As one mother wrote,
"Honest, good, hard-working homeschooling moms are doing the right thing when they don't tear, claw, dissect, and shred books the children used to love. You know, I thought 'classic' meant 'boring' until I was about 30. Suddenly it struck me that 'classic' means that thousands of avid readers made a list of books they loved and highly recommend."
I may have lost the literary analysis battle, but I won the war. I was stressed out when they were in high school, but I can honestly say that I achieved my goal: they love reading. Keeping the focus on “love of learning” is so difficult, though, when you are faced with a kid who may only answer “fine” when you ask them about their reading. Ultimately, it is the love of reading that matters.
Encourage Reluctant Readers
Your goal is to have your child read 6 to 60 books per year. For reluctant readers, reading the minimum number of books can be a challenge. Allow books below their reading level, so they increase their speed and fluency and gain confidence. Consider reading the first chapter aloud to get them interested in the story and understanding how to pronounce the character names before starting to read the book independently.
You want them to read at least 6 books a year with their own eyeballs, but mix in some audio books to increase the number of books they consume, without overwhelming them. Consider using an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, which will mask the size of the book from your child and allow you to use a larger font, so it seems like an easier book. For active learners, find books with an active main character, so your child can relate to what they are reading.
Choose short classics when possible. There are many great literary works that are remarkably short, and by simply choosing the short ones, your child is more likely to be successful. Read The Red Badge of Courage (146 pages) instead of War and Peace (1024 pages), The Scarlet Letter (148 pages) instead of Sense and Sensibility (368 pages) , or Old Man and the Sea (128 pages) instead of Moby Dick (486 pages). Other short classics include The Call of the Wild, Frankenstein, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl.
When you create your transcript, be specific about class titles. Avoid broad class titles such as “English 9” or “Language Arts.” Instead, remember that reading means “Literature” and writing means “Composition.” So you could call a class “Literature and Composition” if you teach reading and writing. If you emphasized American authors, then consider “American Literature and Composition.”
Keep a high school reading list that includes all books read for school or for pleasure. The reading list can include everything that is considered literature. You can include classic literature, historical reading, popular novels, biographies, and any reading for fun. I usually exclude anything that seems like curriculum. Anthologies are collections of literature excerpts, and can be a little harder to place. When a reading list is already quite long, I suggest leaving the anthology as curriculum, either in the English course description or the history course description (or both!) but not on the reading list.
The reading list is not only for high school subjects - it consists of what your child reads each year. It can include literature they read for school subjects, especially when you use a literature based curriculum. Course descriptions do not include reading for fun, but might include books that are assigned for school and that happen to be fun to read.
Create course descriptions that describe your class, the curriculum you used, a description of how you graded, and the books your child read. When you use a literature based curriculum, the boundaries between English course descriptions, history course descriptions, and reading lists get blurry! Instead of thinking you need to divide books between them all, think of it like a Venn diagram.
Books to add only in the English course description include textbooks, workbooks, and curriculum, such as Sonlight Core 100, Spelling Power, Wordly Wise, or Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive. In the history course description, include textbooks, workbooks, and curriculum, such as Sonlight Core 100, Mapping the World By Heart, or A History of US by Joy Hakim.
And there are books that go in both the English course description and the reading list, such as literature read for school. For example, The Red Badge of Courage, or The Call of the Wild. There are books that go in both the history course description and the reading list, such as biographies and historical fiction read for school. For example: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin or Farewell to Manzanar. If books fit in both the history course description and the English course description, I would put the autobiographies in history and the historical novels in English, even though they help the child learn about both subjects.
Because homeschoolers who use a literature based curriculum have so many books in the reading list (and always will, no doubt), I'd be tempted to remove the more schoolish books (such as Famous Men of Greece) and put them only in the course description, rather than on the reading list. But you know, this is only a preference. Most public high school kids read 5 to 10 books a year, so there is no need to include everything, and these completely overlap! Although my son, Alex, read Jane Austen's books for fun and should have had those books on his reading list, the same books were also on Kevin’s reading list, even though he didn't think it was much fun at all!
Focus on What’s Important
Teaching English in high school is easy if you keep your focus on what is important – encouraging your child to love books and write competently. Of these two goals, the first, in my opinion, is the most important. A passion for reading will stay with a child through college and into adulthood. In addition, someone who loves literature – especially excellent literature – will learn to write better naturally, simply by having the voice of the author in their head.
A Parent’s Primer for Teaching High School English
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school . Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.
Easy English for Simple Homeschooling: How to Teach, Assess, and Document High School English
(Coffee Break Book) [Paperback or Kindle Edition]
How do you feel about English? For us, it was a little scary, difficult to teach, and intimidating. Other people say that it feels overwhelming. Some people think it takes thousands of hours with buckets of tears. And for a few people, it is unending joy!
If English seems overwhelming to you, “Easy English for Simple Homeschooling: How to Teach, Assess and Document High School English ” will be a welcome resource! Written in plain English, it offers encouragement and tips for teaching writing, determining what makes an English credit, how to determine grades, tips for unique learners, and more.
There’s nothing more stressful to parents than college admission and scholarships. Many parents question whether it’s even possible to find a college that is satisfying to both parent and child, a college that will love their student and offer them scholarships to attend. “The HomeScholar Guide to College Admission and Scholarships” puts these concerns soundly to rest. Author Lee Binz shares the principles she followed to help her own students achieve admission and full tuition scholarships to their first-choice universities.
College Scholarships for High School Credit
Most parents stay busy with the usual elements of life - kids, work, spouse, house... the list can sometimes seem endless! That's why it's important to combine things when you can, and kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. A great place to apply this concept is when your high school student is pursing college scholarships. In this class, you will learn how to find, filter, format, and follow through with scholarship applications that can count for high school credit.
Finding scholarships isn't easy and takes a lot of time, but when you consider the cost of college today, it's definitely worth it. Finding scholarships is just the tip of the iceberg because after you find them, you need to filter them down to those your child is eligible for. After filtering, it's helpful to format the scholarships you want to apply to, so you can keep track of due dates and requirements. Finally, and perhaps the most difficult part, is helping your student follow through with the application.