Lightning Literature and Composition is a series of courses for grades one through twelve that use literature as the foundation for fairly comprehensive language arts. This review is for the courses for grades one through six. I have a separate review for Lightning Lit and Comp courses for junior high or for senior high. This series can provide the core of your language arts programs, but you should add handwriting, spelling, and phonics instruction as needed. While these courses are secular in their approach, Christians should find nothing objectionable.
Each course has a teacher’s guide and student workbook with lessons for 36 weeks. Packages for each level always include the teacher's guide and student workbook, but they vary in regard to the additional books that are included.
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.
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.
As I mentioned, these are literature-based courses. The type of literature changes in keeping with the gradually expanding ability of children to read lengthier and more-challenging books.
Lightning Literature and Composition: Grade 1 uses a different classic children’s picture book for each week’s lesson, and 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 Learning’s package 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 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 package for Grade 2 includes the teachers’ guide, the student workbook, and The Random House Book of Poetry for Children.
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 readily available.
Grade 4 broadens the reading material by including a non-fiction title, three works of historical fiction, five works of multicultural literature, and two poetic books. Examples of the titles of books for this level are The Earth Dragon Awakens, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Gone Fishing, Nim's Island, and Tuck Everlasting.
Grade 5 has students read fewer books since some of them will take longer to complete. The books read at this level are The Mighty Miss Malone, Holes, Number the Stars, Boy: Tales of Childhood, The Tripods, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Phantom Tollbooth, I Am Malala, and Anne of Green Gables. Four weeks are devoted to poetry, and the poems to be studied are included within the student workbook. You can purchase a package that includes the literature.
Grade 6 uses The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; The View from Saturday; The Wednesday Wars; Pax; A Long Walk to Water; Yellow Star; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; and The Wind in the Willows. As for the fifth grade, four weeks are devoted to poetry, and the poems to be studied are included within the student workbook. You can purchase a package that includes the literature.
How the Courses Work
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.
The instructions in the student workbooks for the first three levels are intended to be read aloud to your children, so those courses are clearly designed to be taught interactively rather than used for independent study. Beginning with Lightning Literature 4, student workbooks are written directly to students who can do much of their work independently. However, composition work remains a very interactive process directed by the teacher, and you might need to work with students on other assignments to make sure they understand the instruction.
The types of questions students will answer in regard to the literature gradually become more difficult. In the first two courses, students will discuss characters, settings, conflicts, and other details (albeit without using those literary terms). In the third grade course, children explore literature at a slightly deeper level. Beginning in fourth grade, they are given questions asking them to predict what might happen next; make a judgment about what they have read; or analyze, apply, and respond to what they have read. The teacher’s guides include 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 coverage should be sufficient at all levels, although parents or teachers might want to add additional explanation or practice from time to time. Grammar includes sentence diagramming, which is introduced in Grade 1 and taught at increasing levels of difficulty through the program. Similarly, grammar usage and mechanics introduce more-challenging concepts as students work through the levels. Students are taught to begin self-editing in third grade. Teachers should hold students accountable in their composition work for grammar concepts that have been taught, although grammatical errors in composition work might alert you to topics that need to be reviewed.
Composition activities begin with brief activities in the first level and gradually become more demanding. By third grade, students are tackling 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. For sixth grade, students will write poems as well as lengthier papers for assignments in creative writing, essays (persuasive, explanatory, opinion, etc.), and research papers.
Student workbooks for the first 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 the use of the dictionary pages should be considered optional.
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 with younger students rather than expecting them to work on their own. With older students, you can select how many of the composition assignments to use. Students do not need to complete all of them. The teacher's guides also mention that Reading Journal questions are optional. These questions (included in the student pages) ask students to identify a favorite sentence or tell how they feel about a book. Options such as these are explained in the teacher's guides.
Some students might need to do additional work rather than skip parts of lessons. At the end of each week’s lesson plans in the teacher's guides, “Extending the Lesson” sections offer one or more suggestions for additional activities. Most relate to language arts, but some stretch into other subject areas, including art.
The lesson plans for Grades 1 and 2 are fairly similar. Children's picture books are read on Mondays and reread on Wednesdays. Chapter books (introduced later in second grade) 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. Grammar and mechanics are taught and practiced on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, often using sentences from or related to the literature. 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.
In the first few levels, the optional Reading Journal activities are in the student workbooks for Tuesdays. However, they seem quite useful for younger students, even if they 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.
Beginning with Grade 3, students will read a book (or listen to it being read aloud) four days a week except for the days set for discussing the completed books. Students will answer questions many days while they are reading the books, but discussion of the entire book (e.g., theme, plot, character development) happens once the entire book has been read. For third grade, questions about the literature are presented orally from the teacher's guide, but fourth through sixth graders have literature questions in their workbooks.
Composition work for third grade and beyond takes place almost every day in the form of brainstorming, discussion, planning, writing. or revising. There are also grammar activities for most days.
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.