Total Language Plus (TLP) novel study guides cover “...reading, comprehension, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, writing, listening, and analytical and critical thinking with a Christian perspective.” Each volume is both student study guide and workbook for study of a companion novel. Study guides are written for various levels from third through twelfth grades. For example, the study of Caddie Woodlawn is suggested for grades five and six while Anne of Green Gables is for grades seven through nine.
Students read sections of the novel each week and answer comprehension questions. But that’s only one aspect of TLP. The week’s study also includes vocabulary work consisting of four lessons working with words drawn from the reading. There are also four activities for a list of spelling words drawn from the reading. Grammar worksheet activities include dictation exercises and grammatical work with the dictated material.
In the guides for fifth grade and up, lessons dealing with grammar, writing, and spelling rules are for application and review rather than instruction. There are occasional exceptions in some of the high school level guides such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Around the World in 80 Days which do include some instruction in composition and literary analysis. Aside from that, a basic understanding of grammar, spelling, and composition skills is assumed in the guides for grades five and up.
The TLP guides targeting grades three and four maintain intensive coverage of reading comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary, while they add detailed grammar and composition instruction along with some spelling rules. These levels also have students create and work with spelling and vocabulary flash cards in drills and games. Keep in mind that you might need to use other resources for grammar for these levels because grammar instruction is spotty; there is no set progression of skill or topic coverage. Because of the additional content, these guides are larger than the others.
In all of the guides, students create their own glossary toward the back of the book by entering definitions and parts of speech labels for their vocabulary words each week.
At the beginning of each unit are Enrichment/Writing suggestions. These always include writing activities, but other activities depend upon the book being studied. For example, the guide for Around the World in Eighty Days includes map and geography work. Some activities are not tied directly to any one chapter so you can use them when, if, and how you wish. You can select more activities to turn your study into an in-depth unit study or choose fewer and stick to the basics. You might use some of these for discussion and some for writing assignments. The activities are presented as suggestions rather than as fully developed plans, so they will require independent research and work beyond what is presented in the guide. TLP’s effectiveness in developing broader writing skills is also dependent upon your selection of assignments from the Enrichment/Writing suggestions as well as upon your work with your students on the writing process within those assignments.
Study guides get more challenging at high school level, especially with the addition of extensive writing activities and oral readings. I am particularly impressed with the quality of the writing activities. They teach and stress organization and planning, while offering students ideas about the main points they might wish to include. This is very helpful since this seems to be a challenging area for many students, and many parents are unsure about how to develop these writing skills. TLP's writing assignments at upper levels should provide a significant part of your composition instruction.
In addition, the level of the vocabulary and spelling in advanced-level guides is quite challenging. The amount of both vocabulary and spelling practice is appropriate for high schoolers, although some students might need to work on additional vocabulary words that are at a less challenging level.
A “Note to Teachers and Students” at the beginning explains how to use each study guide. Answer keys are at the back of each book. Suggested responses are given for some questions, but parents really need to read the novels themselves to be able to fairly evaluate all student responses as well as to be prepared for discussions. Other than that, preparation time is minimal. Students will need access to a Bible, dictionary and thesaurus for some of their work.
The number of lessons in the various volumes of TLP ranges from five to eight, so some books are likely to take longer to study than others. Generally, a volume should take from nine to ten weeks to complete, so plan to complete about four per school year.
If impatient students want to read through the novel quickly rather than spread it out, they can do so covering the comprehension and critical thinking questions as they go and working through the remainder of each week’s lessons on a slower schedule.
You need to obtain the novel for each study, so TLP sells inexpensive copies. There are more than 50 guides for novels available at this time. Among novels covered for third and fourth grade are Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking, Shiloh, Sign of the Beaver, and The Whipping Boy.
Among novels for which TLP has guides for fifth grades and up are My Side of the Mountain; The Cricket in Times Square; The Light in the Forest; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; A Wrinkle in Time; Johnny Tremain; The Bronze Bow; Wheel on the School; The Call of the Wild; The Hiding Place; The Swiss Family Robinson; Carry on, Mr. Bowditch; Anne of Green Gables; The Scarlet Letter; Oliver Twist; To Kill a Mockingbird; and Jane Eyre.
Three additional anthology guides are also available. American Literature: Nonfiction, American Literature: Poetry and American Literature: Short Stories are intended to be used along with the guides for To Kill a Mockingbird and The Scarlet Letter to comprise a high school level American Literature course. The American Literature guides include examples of poetry and short stories, but you will need to find most of the readings used along with the study guides within anthologies or on the internet. These guides include planning schedules for completing the modules that might take from six to ten weeks each depending upon the academic needs of students and the time available.
In all of the aforementioned guides, scripture verses are often used for dictation, and exercises have very general Christian references once in a while such as in the example sentence given for the word “approbation” which reads, “God bestows His approbation on all who seek to do His will” (TLP: The Swiss Family Robinson, p. 80).
TLP guides might serve as a supplement or a primary learning tool depending upon the needs of each student. It should be your primary resource for reading skills; you do not need another reading program. It complements other instruction in grammar, composition, and spelling. However, it might be your primary resource for composition at high school level.
Focus Guides ($8.50 each), a new series of much smaller guides to novels, do not include spelling or grammar and have limited work with vocabulary. Instead, they focus on reading comprehension, substantial writing assignments, scripture applications with memory verses, and either a particular writing skill or a character trait. For example, the study of Animal Farm works on discernment, while the study of Crispin: The Cross of Lead pays special attention to descriptive writing. Guides are written for students about sixth grade level and above. These guides should each take only about three weeks to complete. There are more than ten Focus Guides at this point, and you might use a few of them as a significant part of your language arts program each year. The scripture applications give the Focus Guides more overt Christian content than the other TLP guides.