Skills for Literary Analysis introduces students to literary analysis and critical thinking while also teaching them how to write either literary analysis or critical essays. While junior high is author James Stobaugh’s stated audience, he considers that to include ninth grade. I think many homeschoolers will find ninth grade the ideal time to use this course, and tenth graders should also find it a profitable way to begin their study of literary analysis if they have not yet done so.
The course has a teacher guide and a student book, both of which are essential. It consists of 34 chapters each of which should take about one week to complete. You might take longer with each chapter if necessary, but there are five lessons per chapter, and the lessons are already laid out in a format reflecting daily assignments.
This is a literature-based course, and students will be required to read 15 literary works, all of which are used along with the lessons. (Students would do well to begin reading many of the books during the summer prior to the course to keep their reading load manageable.) Required literary works need to be acquired on your own. These are The Call of the Wild, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Idylls of the King, Treasure Island, How Green Was My Valley, Alice in Wonderland, The Screwtape Letters, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Silas Marner, “The Religious Life of the Negro,” Anne of Green Gables, Ivanhoe, Shane, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A list of additional recommended reading begins on page 376 in the student book.
Along with a sizeable amount of reading, students will also complete many more written assignments than one typically finds in a junior high literature course. Students will write from one to three two-page essays per week along with short compositions in response to “Warm-ups” at the beginning of four of the lessons each week. The fifth lesson in each chapter is a test that always includes an essay assignment and often includes some objective questions as well. In addition, Stobaugh encourages students to write in a prayer journal at least three days per week. A template that might be followed for prayer journal entries is on page 373 of the student book.
The number of essays to be written each week can be adapted to fit your situation. Students must write the test essay. They might write complete essays for some of the Warm-up topics or they might be allowed to write briefer, less-polished pieces. Students will need a writing journal of some sort in which they will write their Warm-up compositions. (I expect that many students will write on a computer and print the results.) Ten pages at the back of the teacher’s guide offer “Optional Writing Assignments.” For each chapter, two or three optional essay topics are presented under the categories of literary analysis, biblical application, and challenge. The appendices include writing tips that might help students with the writing process from prewriting through outlining, writing, and rewriting their essays. Outline templates are included for various types of essays.
In addition to reading the literature and writing essays and reading the lesson material in their books, students will complete “Concept Builders” for lessons for Mondays through Thursdays. Concept Builders focus on particular concepts or skills for literary analysis. These might have instruction followed by questions, a chart to be completed, or some other response format. Concept Builders sometimes tie in with the literary work being studied that week, but not always.
Occasional “Grammar Reviews” target specific grammatical concepts that are especially important in compositions. For example, a Grammar Review on page 31 teaches about the use of active and passive voices, and the Grammar Review on page 67 explains five rules for the usage of commas.
Literary terms and introduced and explained throughout the course, and they are in glossary at the end of the student book. Students are also instructed (on page 6) to create vocabulary cards for unfamiliar vocabulary words.
You can see from the variety of activities that Skills for Literary Analysis is more comprehensive that most junior high literature courses. It might be your only text for language arts, replacing separate grammar, vocabulary, or composition coursework since it is all included here. However, students with weak grammar skills might need additional work in that area from another resource.
The teacher’s guide is an abbreviated version of the student book, but with answers overprinted. The teacher’s guide does not include instructional information and sample student essays that are in the student book. The course was designed for students to work independently for the most part, so teachers need not read through all of the course material. The teacher’s guide comes as a packet of three-hole punched, loose-leaf pages for insertion into your own binder.
Tests are included at the back of the teacher’s guide, but you can also print them from the publisher’s website. Answers and suggested responses for the tests are included with the weekly lessons in the teacher’s guide.
Students are instructed to create a portfolio as a final project, but they will actually construct the elements of the portfolio as they work through the course. The portfolio will contain their corrected essays, literary reviews they write about books they have read, their writing journal pages, vocabulary cards, and any other evidence of work completed in the course.
Skills for Literary Analysis was written for Christian students. The second chapter introduces the connection between worldviews and literature. Subsequently, worldview issues are brought up frequently throughout the course, and they are addressed from a Christian perspective.
The course seems a little confusing when you first look at it since it is not very clear which essay assignments are to be used when. To help clarify, students might start to write their test essays earlier in the week, polishing them and turning them in on Fridays. However, some test essays should be brief enough that students should write them as tests in one sitting. Optional essays should be worked on throughout the week. Since the reading component requires a good deal of time, I want to repeat Stobaugh’s recommendation that students try to complete some of the reading before starting the course. To assist you further, in this review I’ve included page numbers for some of the course elements that might be easily overlooked.
Skills for Literary Analysis is a demanding course, but it should prepare students with sophisticated skills in literary analysis and essay writing that will serve them well through high school and college.