Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is the first in a projected series of four high school level literature courses for Christian students. Courses can be used by a single student or a group class.
Students will read eight, full-length books, all based on a theme of colliding worlds. Author Sharon Watson explains on page eight of the student text, “The books in this year’s list were chosen because of their collisions—physical, political, extraterrestrial, racial, spiritual, and philosophical.” These collisions set up conflicts in the plot of each book which the student will study from both literary and philosophical perspectives.
The books for the course are Pudd’nhead Wilson, The War of the Worlds, The Friendly Persuasion, Peter Pan, Warriors Don’t Cry, A Tale of Two Cities, Fahrenheit 451, and The Screwtape Letters.
Watson requires students to use the recommended version of each book so they can easily follow along by page numbers. (Watson has selected inexpensive versions of the books as much as possible.) However, if a student is proficient with the use of a tablet and can quickly search for the correct spot, they can read the books on their devices.
The course dedicates a unit for each book to be read, and each unit is divided into a number of lessons. The first lesson of each unit introduces students to the book they will be reading over the next month. Usually, Watson sets the scene with background information about the book itself, but she often presents the information in a creative, thought-provoking way. For example, the introduction to The War of the Worlds asks students to envision how they would feel if someone suddenly stormed into their room, tore it apart, burned all their belongings, and then introduced himself as their new parent who was now “running the show.” It likens this experience to what many people experienced in Europe in the 1940s, then introduces The War of the Worlds which deals with the possibility of this happening on a global scale. Watson’s lively and encouraging writing style both here and throughout the lessons should keep students’ attention even if they work primarily on their own.
After the introduction, students continue reading and completing lessons in their text. “Imitate!” sections highlight a passage from the book that demonstrate a literary device or skill then asks students to write in a way that imitates the author or plays with the literary device in some way. In other lessons, students meet the author through a list of chronological facts. They might read “Fun Facts” related to the book or author. They learn about genres and settings as well as point of view, mood, tone, symbols, motifs, euphemisms, hyperbole, and other literary devices. “Vocabulary Quizzolas” helps students master some of the vocabulary words used in each book.
After students have read the book, they are directed to the quizzes and a survey. One quiz checks to make sure students have actually read the book. Another quizzes them on literary terms. The opinion survey has no correct answers, but it is designed to give students a chance to state their opinion about the book and to encourage them to think about issues raised in the story. Watson has created website pages where students can take all of the quizzes and surveys for the course for free. A report is sent to the student’s email address showing the original questions, student answers, correct answers, and a score. If you would rather have printed quizzes, you can buy the Quiz and Answer Manual for the course.
Quiz questions require simple answers for the most part. Questions in the textbook are more demanding. Answers to some of the lesson questions can be written directly in the textbook. Other questions are posed for discussion, but their answers might be written out instead. Parents or teachers might choose to use these questions as they wish, but this is where you will find some of the most interesting and thought provoking questions that deal with controversial issues and worldviews. So I highly recommend discussion for at least some of them. Questions presume a Christian audience and support a Christian worldview.
Students will also be maintaining a Novel Notebook where they will record interesting passages from the book, complete creative writing assignments, and record other information as directed in the lessons. Watson provides access to free printable pages for the student’s Novel Notebook. While students can create their Novel Notebook without these pages, the pre-printed pages are attractively designed and have the questions and assignment headings already printed.
At the conclusion of each unit on a book, students choose only one from a number of activities to complete. Parents or teachers might want to have some input so that there is a balance of activities over the year. Choices might include activities such as conducting an interview, watching a movie version of a book and writing a movie review, researching a related topic and writing an essay, creating a timeline, painting or drawing a scene from a book, writing a short story, cooking dishes referenced in the book, writing a letter to an author or character, and playing, singing, or writing a song that relates to the story.
The course can be used for students working independently as well as by students working in groups. Group classes can meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly—whatever works best for you. Students working independently will still need to have occasional discussions with a parent or teacher, especially for the final set of questions in each unit.
The teacher’s guide reprints much (but not all) of the same material that is in the student text but in a slightly smaller font. (It is still easy to read.) The teacher’s guide has some information not included in the student text: objectives, discussion suggestions, answers to vocabulary exercises, and suggested responses to questions, as well as other suggestions for those teaching a group class. It also has suggestions for discussion prompts to post if a group teacher chooses to create an online discussion group.
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide is a challenging literature course that teaches both the works themselves as well as literary analysis and writing techniques from a Christian worldview. The selection of end-of-unit activities will determine how many lengthy writing projects students might tackle, and these selections can easily be tailored to each student. This flexibility coupled with the design of the course make it very user-friendly and unintimidating—amazing considering that the course takes students through eight complete books! I will be looking forward to seeing future courses in this series.