Lightning Lit & Comp courses from Hewitt Learning cover both literature and composition for students in grades seven through twelve. Courses for junior high are different enough from those for senior high that I have split this into two reviews. Senior high courses are reviewed here. Note that Hewitt Learning also has a series for grades one through three titled Lightning Literature and Composition, and you can read that review by clicking here. All of these courses use real books as the starting place, incorporating reading skills, literary analysis, and composition skills in a manner suitable to each level.
For junior high, there are two, year-long courses: Seventh Grade Literature and Composition and Eighth Grade Literature and Composition. The subtitle on these courses clearly states the goal: Preparing for High School Composition Skills by Responding to Great Literature.
Each course has a teacher’s guide, a student’s guide, and a workbook; all three are essential. Students should work independently through most of their coursework, although they will need to have discussions with a parent or teacher.
The student’s guide has the primary lesson material which is not repeated in the teacher’s guide. Students begin each chapter in a course by reading an introduction that is about the author of the work (or works as in the case of poetry) to be studied. They then begin reading the literary work at their own pace or following the suggested schedule from the teacher’s guide. Note that a Weekly Planning Schedule begins on page eight of each teacher’s guide. These pages are only in the teacher’s guide, but if this schedule suits you, it seems to me that you might want to provide copies of these pages for students so that they know what’s expected each day as far as reading, workbook, and composition assignments.
Student guides also have extensive vocabulary lists with brief definitions for words students will encounter in their reading. These are for reference rather than additional assignments. Next are comprehension questions. Students might answer these as they complete each chapter of a book, or they might wait till they finish the entire book. Either way, they should write out their answers. Parents or teachers can check them with answer keys in the teacher’s guide.
Once they’ve finished the questions, they will read a Literary Lesson for that chapter of the student’s guide. Literary Lessons are the primary source of instructional material, so students should read these carefully. Literary Lessons incorporate the literature the student has just completed which makes them more interesting than disconnected literary lessons.
A Mini-Lesson follows the Literary Lesson in each chapter, but these might be considered optional. Mini-Lessons teach skills such as Roman Numeral outlines, writing a limerick or a haiku, free verse and ballads, and citing sources in a paper. Parents or teachers can decide which to require or skip.
Students then tackle the workbook activities, many of which relate directly to both the reading and the Literary Lesson. There are up to twelve different workbook activities for each chapter in the course. Activities might also involve the mini-lesson, composition skills, thinking skills, grammar and mechanics, and vocabulary. A word search puzzle and a crossword puzzle for each chapter are optional, but the crossword puzzles seem useful reinforcement for lesson material.
After completing workbooks exercises, students return to the student’s guide where they will choose one of three to four writing exercises to complete.
Discussion questions in the teacher’s guides can be used to complete the study for the chapter, but they are optional. Discussion questions are designed to get students to think more deeply about both the literary work and life. Worldview and moral issues are raised by some questions in the eighth-grade course, such as, “Do you think that a good result justifies the initial action?” (Eighth Grade Teacher’s Guide, p. 34).
While parents or teachers need to check student work and evaluate compositions, the discussion questions are the only element of the course that requires interaction. The discussion questions are optional, so you can skip them if need be. However, some of these questions are fascinating and should lead to fantastic discussions that you might not have otherwise, so I would encourage you to use them.
These courses are written for use by those of all religious or non-religious persuasions, but they are especially suitable for a Christian audience.
Students can do most of their work in their workbooks. There are lined pages with space for all except the final composition. There are additional writing assignments at the end of each chapter in the student’s guide. Students will need to write or type these elsewhere. Students might prefer to type most of their compositions, even those for which there is space to write in their workbooks. To keep composition work together, you might have students use a binder.
Courses include some workbook activities on grammar and punctuation, but these are a sidelight. Students needing more work on grammar and punctuation will need to use something else.
Seventh Grade Course
For the seventh grade course, students will also need the books Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Story of My Life (Helen Keller), and All Creatures Great and Small. The publisher’s Pack for this course includes all of these books plus the teacher’s guide, student’s guide, and workbook.
This course is an excellent, age-appropriate introduction to literary analysis. It teaches students the vocabulary of literary analysis as they learn about plot lines, openings, subplots, poetry, rhyme, creative writing, dialogue, autobiography, poetic elements (repetition, alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia), and characterization.
The seventh-grade course is a gentle introduction to various types of writing. Students are sometimes given outlines or groups of keywords and phrases from which they will write their compositions. In one assignment, they write three letters on the same topic but to three different people, changing the tone to suit each audience. In another, they rewrite nursery rhymes. While author Elizabeth Kamath provides prompts and material to help students get started and acquire skills, students gradually write more on their own. The final composition is a short story, but Kamath still provides some prompts to get them going rather than leaving them to come up with it entirely on their own. There are writing assignments at the end of each of the eight chapters, and more-frequent written work in the workbook.
Along the way, students are learning how to brainstorm, plot a story, narrow their topic, outline, compose poetry, write short stories, write letters, write dialogue, and experiment with words to achieve the effects they want.
Eighth Grade Course
The eighth-grade course requires the books Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children, Treasure Island, A Day of Pleasure, A Christmas Carol, The Hobbit, My Family and Other Animals, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The reading load is a bit heavier than in the seventh-grade course. Among topics covered in this course are the author’s purpose, setting, mood, character development, vivid imagery in poetry, how different cultures are revealed through literature, details in writing, figurative language, conflict, foreshadowing, conflict, symbolism, humor, irony, meter in poetry, and literary analysis.
Composition assignments for eighth grade still provide some guidance and prompts for students, but less so than for seventh grade. Students will write different types of paragraphs, practice taking notes from sources, write (or rewrite) from notes, write poetry with vivid imagery, write free verse, compose an opening stanza for a ballad, practice adding details to paragraphs, develop characterizations, and write five-paragraph essays (expository, narrative, and persuasive).
While these courses require lots of reading and a significant amount of writing, they should be manageable for most students who are working on grade level. Homeschoolers looking for independent study courses should find these easy to work with.
Any course that uses entire books for most of its reading content necessarily restricts student exposure to a wider variety of genres. However, the selected books for these courses were carefully chosen to provide exposure to a number of genres, and the use of shorter pieces from Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children in both courses allows for even more variety. Overall, I think the literary selections are excellent.
I also think that Kamath has done a fine job of building composition skills by using literature as a springboard. In addition, the use of exercises leading up to the composition assignments provides a comfortable “on ramp” for young writers. Parents or teachers can select or skip assignments as they think best, allowing for some customization to fit different students. All in all, I think this is an excellent implementation of the use of real books along with instruction in both literary analysis and composition skills.