Welcome to the month-long series “Homeschool HIGH SCHOOL Made Easy,” a follow-up to the popular “Homeschool Made Easy” series (now published on kindle). I’m sharing tips from my experience as a homeschool graduate and homeschool mother, showing YOU how easy and enjoyable these high school years can be for you and your teen. Be sure to sign up for the entire series so you don’t miss a thing!
This week, we are looking at individual subjects homeschool high school students must face. How do we get them done, how do we simplify studies, and how do we help them be independent?
Yesterday, I shared with you the central focus of our homeschool: Bible and history. And I talked about how you can identify your own homeschool’s most important subjects by examining your own homeschool why.
But we have to cover more than one or two classes in homeschooling, right? So today I tackle what is likely the second most important subject after your own core subject — English. In this broad category of high school study, we find grammar, writing, literature, vocabulary, spelling, and speech. A lot of ground to cover for just one credit a year, right? How can we stay sane while making sure our student has what he needs to succeed? Can one homeschool mom possibly cover all that material adequately without making it a full-time job?
English is the one academic subject that directly influences success in every future academic and career pursuit.
Absolutely, we can. I know from experience that teens can be taught to write, they can be taught to read and analyze classic literature, they can be trained to broaden their vocabulary, the can be trained to communicate effectively. And we don’t have to make it our life’s main focus to make it happen. Even English can be made easy!
“That’s fine for you to say, Lea Ann,” you are likely thinking. “You are an author yourself, so you probably love teaching writing. And your children no doubt have your writing abilities. I’m too artsy/sciency/crafty to be an effective writing or literature teacher.” People tell me that a lot, and it makes me laugh. Because you know what? I didn’t realize I could write well until I started teaching writing to my teens.
It was actually during our years working with WriteShop that I understood that some of my instincts — and a lot of my mother’s homeschooling! — were actually part of a logic that makes writing work. I spent those middle school years and early high school years fine-tuning that logic, the system that makes writing work for essays and academic writing. So well before he graduated from high school, my science-minded mathematician could confidently turn in a writing assignment on any subject. He knew the steps to follow to succeed, and he has the confidence to apply in any situation: research papers, paragraphs, essay tests, college essays, and now college papers. Now he is successfully applying those same strategies to his college papers.
Since then, I’ve discovered Jenson’s Format Writing. Using this straightforward, no-nonsense workbook with my middle school son, we are honing in on basic skills that make paragraphs, essays, and research papers easy (or at least easier!) to write. It’s making a tremendous difference every week.
So how do we pass on the keys to English success to our students? How do we ensure our high schoolers have what it takes both to communicate effectively as adults and to evaluate what they are seeing, hearing, and reading in the world? We simply build on their language arts foundation systematically for the entirety of the high school years.
I am going to lay out this foundation in pretty broad, general terms and allow you to customize it to fit your student best. You know where your own student’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and you know your own student’s individual talents and interests best. So here’s a sample plan to tackle four years of English study at the high school level.
Note: Your graduation requirements will likely include three or four years of English. I would strongly recommend every student complete English language arts studies for the entire four years and that at least one semester each year focus on writing. This is the one academic subject that directly influences success in every future academic and career pursuit. Remember, “people do judge you by the words you use,” as an advertisement frequently reminded me throughout my childhood. Every hour spent on writing is an investment in the student’s future.
Homeschool High School English Made Easy
Your goal before graduation is to train your student so he can . . .
- read and comprehend what he read, whether it’s a textbook, novel, instruction manual, or persuasive essay,
- communicate effectively his understanding of what he read or heard,
- produce paragraphs and essays that demonstrate both his knowledge of a subject and his command of the English language, and
- recognize errors in sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation and remedy those mistakes himself.
If he can do all four of the above, your student will score well on college entrance exams, produce an effective college essay, impress his first employer, and meet the challenges of his first college courses. You can help him achieve those goals.
Ok, here’s a general guideline or benchmark to make the most of these high school English credits. Feel free to tailor these suggestions to your own child’s needs and interests. If your student has already mastered the early steps in middle school, then move on to what the student needs next. A student could be working on more than one of these areas at once (for instance, taking English grammar and literature concurrently). Regardless of the specific curriculum and goals used, students must be reading quality literature the entire four years. Students can’t recognize proper grammar and produce creative writing of their own if they aren’t regularly reading.
- Write a complete sentence (expressing a complete thought) with proper capitalization and punctuation. The student will recognize fragment and run-on sentences and fix those errors. A student can also identify the parts of speech and either label or diagram them. [course: English grammar]
- Write a strong paragraph including a topic sentence, several supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. Student will use complete sentences of varying structure and complexity while still using proper capitalization and punctuation [course: English writing]
- Read classic literature of various genres: poetry, biographies, historical fiction, literary fiction, humor, romance, etc. [course: literature or other assigned reading]
- Write longer essays and papers involving research, persuasion, documentation, and multiple drafts over a period of weeks. [course: English writing, history, literature, or other courses that require reports]
- Literary analysis. Students identify themes, characterization, motifs, and literary devices in classic works, comparing and contrasting with other writings by the same and different authors. [course: English literature]
If you view high school English as a spiral that continues from the student’s middle school years through graduation, you can see how new skills are added while the main idea — writing — is built into all of it. Just like in elementary school, your high school student must be reading and writing every week of every year. You are just going to kick it up a notch each semester, adding the skill or reinforcing the weakness that your student faces.
Simply build on the student’s language arts foundation systematically for the entirety of the high school years.
How does this look for an average student? Here’s what happened with my oldest son, the science-minded mathematician with very average English skills and no desire to ever pick up a book or a pencil. By the end of middle school, he had already completed a year of grammar and composition and one year of WriteShop I (how to write a good paragraph).
- Freshman year — He complained that he couldn’t remember the parts of speech well, so we took grammar and composition for his main text. He read 19th-century literature including Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, and Crime and Punishment as well as shorter works by authors like Twain, Melville, and Goethe.
- Sophomore year — He was ready for more writing after a year of heavy grammar, so we returned to Writeshop 2. He also enrolled in the online literature class this year, where he learned to analyze 2oth-century works like All Quiet on the Western Front, Animal Farm, and Lord of the Flies, along with many others. Besides his weekly writing assignments with me, he gave quarterly oral presentations to his class.
- Junior year — His writing was solid, his understanding of grammar clear, and his appreciation for literature growing. I enrolled him in another year of online literature, where he tackled ancient literature. I gave him writing assignments weekly or biweekly; most of these assignments were based on his work in other subjects, especially history and worldview.
- Senior year — He had, at this point, completed all his English requirements for graduation. He led literature discussion with his younger sister, teaching her the concepts and techniques he had learned in the past two years. He wrote essays at least once a week on a topic related to literature, Bible, history, or worldview.
The result? Even though he would still claim to hate reading and writing, his college placement tests put him in the highest level of freshman English in college, and he found his writing class the easiest of his first semester courses.
Did you see my strategy? I found what he needed each year (a little more writing, or help with grammar) and planned his curriculum around that. By his last two years, he was simply practicing what he already knew, developing habits that would contribute to his future academic pursuits. To hear it from his perspective, look at the end of my son’s interview here.
Here’s the point I want to make about English: give your student what he needs and continue tailoring his training to his abilities. Don’t get trapped into handing him the next workbook or signing up for the next class. Look at your student, find what he needs next, and focus on that. English will be easier for him if it’s just at his own level.
How do I help my student study independently? When we think about writing class, we think about hours and hours and pages and pages. That’s not what it looks like in our house, though! Here’s how we make it easy:
- If my student is studying grammar, I use an easy-to-follow workbook like this. My daughter is responsible for completing half of the book and the corresponding tests before Christmas, and she must complete the entire course by June. She grades her own homework once a week. I’ll answer questions if she needs to, but so far she’s doing great on her own.
- Literature must be read weekly. I’m not reading it to them!
- Once the student has learned the steps to writing, I don’t micromanage those, either. When the student is first learning how to write, I will require brainstorming sheets, rough drafts, and edits be turned in. When the student becomes more confident, all the stages are stapled together and turned in at once. But once the student has mastered the process, she can just turn in the final copy by the due date. There are clear due dates and consequences for not turning it in on time. But she can decide where and when to finish the assignment herself.
How do I hold the student accountable? English has fairly straightforward accountability.
- For grammar and vocabulary, I proctor tests. Vocabulary tests are weekly. My student can decide when to take grammar tests (my oldest would do a whole bunch at once, but my daughter is doing about one a week), but I have to proctor them and grade them.
- Literature is discussed. Online literature class gives a discussion grade, and they require pretty detailed answers to earn an A.
- I use rubrics to grade essays so my students can see where to improve next time. That gives me more confidence that I’m being consistent, too.
What about you? What is your high school student studying for English?
This article contains affiliate links to help support this site, but all recommendations are products I actually use and love. I am not a legal expert on graduation requirements in any state; please do your own research and plan accordingly.