Lightning Literature and Composition is a series of courses for grades one through twelve that use real books as the foundation for fairly comprehensive language arts. This review is for the courses for the elementary grades. (Click here to see my review of the Lightning Lit and Comp courses for junior high or for senior high. I reviewed only the courses for grades one through three, and I have not seen the courses for grades four through six which were published after I wrote this review.
This series can provide the core of your language arts programs, but you should add handwriting, spelling, and phonics instruction as needed.
Each course has a teacher’s guide and student workbook with lessons for 36 weeks. Lessons are planned for four days per week, although some lessons might spill over into a fifth day if needed. Extended lesson activities can be used at any time you wish or not at all.
While these courses seem very challenging at first glance, as you read the instructions, you will see that the author encourages parents and teachers to adapt lessons to fit the capabilities of their students. In the younger grades, you might have children dictate rather than write themselves. You will most likely work through the grammar lessons together rather than expecting children to work on their own. Grammar and mechanics included at these levels should be sufficient although parents or teachers might need to add additional explanation or practice from time to time.
Instructions in the student workbooks are intended to be read aloud to your children, so these courses are clearly designed to be taught interactively rather than used for independent study.
Student workbooks are printed in full color and have numerous illustrations. While students will do much of their writing directly in their workbooks, they also need a composition book in which they will write the final draft of each composition they write.
Student workbooks for these three levels each have a section of “dictionary” pages, one page for each letter. Here students can write in words they encounter in their reading, words they hear, or other interesting words. However, author Elizabeth Kamath says that use of the dictionary pages should be considered optional.
Grade 1 uses a different classic children’s picture book for each week’s lesson although one week is devoted to Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Kamath also recommends that you read from Aesop’s Fables (any version you like) one day each week as well, but this, too, can be considered optional. Hewitt Homeschooling’s pack for Grade 1 includes a teacher’s manual, a student workbook, and Aesop’s Fables for Children. The required children’s books should all be available through the library. Examples of the books to be read in Grade 1 are Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Mabela the Clever, Tikki Tikki Tembo, and Babar the King.
Grade 2 uses children’s picture books that can be read in one sitting for the first 22 weeks. Then it expands to chapter books such as The Boxcar Children and Mr. Popper’s Penguins that will be read over two or three weeks. Selections from The Random House Book of Poetry for Children by Jack Prelutsky and Arnold Lobel are used for four weeks. Instead of Aesop’s Fables, Grade 2 suggests reading from Winnie-the-Pooh and Just So Stories. While predictive questions are included for these last two books within the lesson plans, reading these books and using the questions should be considered optional. The pack for Grade 2 includes the teachers’ guide, the student workbook, and The Random House Book of Poetry for Children. Other books will need to be borrowed or purchased.
The lesson plans for Grades 1 and 2 are fairly similar. The picture books are read on Mondays and reread on Wednesdays. Chapter books (introduced later in Grade 2) and poetry are read Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Parents lead discussions that help children think about the literature but with the primary emphasis on comprehension.
Reading Journal activities in the student workbooks for Tuesdays can be considered optional. However, these seem quite useful even if students dictate their responses rather than writing them themselves. For the Reading Journal activities students will compose three sentences. One sentence will be their summary of the main idea. The second sentence will be something they thought or felt about the story. The third sentence should be their favorite sentence from the story which they will select and copy into their workbook.
Grammar and mechanics are taught and practiced on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, often using sentences from or related to the literature. Grammar activities start out gently each week, gradually becoming more challenging. Sentence diagramming is introduced in Grade 1 and taught at each level. Grammar concepts that have been taught should also be reinforced within composition assignments.
Compositions are brainstormed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The first draft is written on Wednesdays and the final draft on Thursdays. However, the last few weeks of Grade 2 allot two weeks for each composition since these might be up to five paragraphs long.
A few other lesson elements are optional. In Grade 1, Alphabet and Sentence activities on Wednesdays might be used or skipped. Similarly, in Grade 2, Sentence Puzzles and Extra Diagramming might be skipped.
Some students might need to do additional work rather than skip parts of lessons. At the end of each week’s lesson plans, “Extending the Lesson” offers one or more suggestions for additional activities. Most relate to language arts, but some stretch into other subject areas, including art.
Grade 3 uses The Random House Book of Poetry for Children for four of the weeks just as in Grade 2. Chapter books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Wheel on the School are used for the rest of the lessons with from two to seven weeks spent on each book. While you can read the books aloud, you might allow children to read on their own. Since books are used for longer periods of time, you might want to buy them. Consequently, the pack for Grade 3 includes the teacher’s guide, a student workbook, and all of the other books except The Wheel on the School which is temporarily out of print but easily available through libraries or used book stores.
In Grade 3, children explore literature at a deeper level. While they might have discussed characters, setting, conflict, and other details in the earlier courses (albeit without using those literary terms), at this level they are challenged to think beyond the comprehension level. The teacher’s guide includes specific questions to guide the literary discussion for each lesson. Suggested responses are included when appropriate, but parents will need to be familiar with the literature to guide these discussions.
Grammar and mechanics are likewise more challenging than earlier levels. Lessons cover nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions as well as their usage as subjects, predicates, modifiers, etc. Students also learn capitalization, punctuation, roots, suffixes, prefixes, direct address, contractions, synonyms, and other such topics. Some grammar and mechanics exercises have students practice editing.
For composition work, students tackle various types of writing such as creative writing, essays (e.g., descriptive, personal, comparison/contrast, and persuasive) poetry, interviews, book reports, letters, short stories, and brief research papers.
Teacher’s guides are thorough and easy to use, making it possible for parents without a strong language arts background to teach the courses. The daily lesson plans make it easy to just “open and go.” The only additional time required from parents or teachers might be reading the books if students are reading them on their own.
While these courses are secular in their approach, Christians should find nothing objectionable.
As I mentioned earlier, parents or teachers can adjust the level of work somewhat, adapting assignments, omitting assignments, or using extended activities. However, the overall level of work still seems quite challenging to me. For example, Grade 1 assumes that children starting first grade already have achieved a level of writing competence (in both handwriting and sentence structure) more likely to be achieved by the end of first grade. Additionally, in Grade 3, students are diagramming sentences with both compound subjects and compound verbs as well as adjectives and adverbs—up to the point where prepositional phrases seem the logical next step. It seems to me that any of these courses could be used a grade later and still provide the necessary challenge appropriate for the next grade level.
Many resources for homeschoolers that use real books take a lighter approach in the elementary grades, yet I know that some parents and students are looking for something more challenging or more thorough. Lightning Literature and Composition seems to have found a nice balance, capitalizing on the appeal of using real books while providing comprehensive coverage of grammar and composition skills.