A variety of literature is something we want our children experience. Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis provides high school students a thorough study of a variety of genres. Writing with Sharon Watson provided us a fantastic set of materials to use in studying literature and so far, we have been pleased.
Sharon Watson created Illuminating Literature for high school students, though we are using it with our 8th grader (13 years old). Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis is a study that can be used in any year of high school and is the second in the Illuminating Literature series, though they do not have to taken in order. (We have not yet used the first of the series Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide.) It is a full year study/two semesters and is written from a Christian worldview. The completion of the course is worth a full course credit. Featuring full selections, the course teach over 100 literary terms and devices. Visit the website to get a complete list of the selections and the terms/devices.
The course is comprised of the student textbook, a teacher’s guide, and quizzes/tests. The quizzes and tests can be taken online for free on the Illuminating Literature website. There is also a free downloadable Novel Notebook that goes along with the study and is optional. It is found on the Writing With Sharon Watson website.
You will need the texts for the literature selections. Several are included in the textbook or available online and others you will need to borrow or purchase. It is recommended that you use a specific version of the texts so that page numbers align correctly and it is easier for the students to follow in the lessons. I highly recommend this.
We have a copy of Frankenstein and I looked at it to see if it was usable for this. One of the questions said to read a particular paragraph on page 38. I looked and looked in chapter 1, which is where that page was in our book. In fact, I looked all the way back to the beginning of the book and about 10 pages farther into the story. I could not find it! When our recommended version arrived, I looked it up. It was in chapter 5 and 20 page numbers different. I am so glad I spent the $6 to purchase the recommended version!
The student textbook is written to the student. The lessons are clearly marked, as is which story the lesson accompanies. It begins with an overview of the course and follows that with a lesson on character labels and forces of antagonism. These are pretty big concepts and the student applies them first to a story of their own choosing that is familiar.
After the introductory lessons, the student begins with “A Jury of Her Peers,” a short story. Before reading the selection, which is included in the textbook, the student is given some background on the time period and pertinent information that is helpful for reading the story. After the reading, the student is asked to rate the story for themselves, do some work in the downloadable Novel Notebook, and then apply some of the literary terms and character labels that were learned in the opening section. Students take a quiz on the story and another on the literary terms, then hold a discussion about the story using questions included in the textbook. Finally, the student selects a project to complete as a response to the story.
Frankenstein will work much the same way. There are a couple of differences. There is a section that gives the student some information to help in the reading, chapter by chapter. The questions for discussion are also listed by chapter and there are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that it is recommended the teacher pick some. At the end of the lessons on Frankenstein, there is a book list of other titles that are similar.
The textbook is where the student writes their answers and ideas, where the background information is found, and where the introductory and follow up materials are found. There is also a week by week schedule for the student to follow, if you choose to use it. It is an essential part of the course and quite well done. Downloading a sample of the textbook will be very helpful for seeing what it looks like.
Teacher’s Guide –
The Teacher’s Guide has been terribly helpful. I struggle, as does my daughter, in applying some of the deeper thinking ideas and answering some of the questions.
The Teacher’s Guide gives me a place to start so that we can delve into some of the ideas and explore their value in relation to the selection. The guide is well-marked and it is easy to find what is needed. The chapters, lessons, and questions are all marked to correspond to the Student Textbook and the Novel Notebook.
The Teacher Guide includes key themes that are specific for each story. Along with the weekly schedule, the guide includes most of the information that is in the student textbook. It gives plenty to know what the focus of each lesson in the chapter is on and to help you guide the students. Each of the discussion questions and the Novel Notebook questions have answers to go along with them. At the end of each chapter, there is a rubric for that particular selection that makes it easy to assign grades.
One neat feature of Illuminating Literature is that the quizzes and tests are all available online. The student logs in and takes the quiz and it is graded. The grade is then sent to whatever email the student logs in with. However, that is not always the best way and so there is a Quiz and Answer Manual available for purchase. This has blank quizzes that can be copied within a single homeschool as needed. The book also has an answer key in the back that includes answers for each of the quizzes in the book.
Novel Notebook –
The Novel Notebook is available from Writing With Sharon Watson as a download from the site. It is another way to delve into the story. It includes questions that help the student explore the meaning of parts of the story and characters, as well as helping them move through the novels a bit at a time. Throughout there are questions that help the student apply an idea to their own life or to someone’s life around them. It helps the student to personalize the story and ideas. Some of these were pretty difficult to answer but it allowed for good discussions.
My Thoughts –
I really like having a literature program that pushes my advanced reader to think about what she is reading. I also like that this program includes some pretty challenging literature, as well as a good variety. Knowing that something different will be up next on the reading list makes it a bit easier to engage my student in the current selection if she is struggling.
Because each of the selections is so very different, this review has been difficult to write. We have really only used the opening chapter on introducing character labels and forces of antagonism and the chapter “A Jury of Her Peers.” We are just venturing into Frankenstein. With each chapter being a different genre and therefore the types of questions and the application of the ideas being so different, this doesn’t feel like a very thorough review. So far so good, though, and we will be continuing to use this program.
A Student Viewpoint –
“I still don’t like literature but this is better than the last thing I did. I like the activities that are at the end of each lesson series. I thought the bonus information was interesting. For example, the information about the play that “Jury of Her Peers” was taken from or information on the setting. I liked how we applied the terms and character labels to a book that I was familiar with before trying to use them with the stories that were new. I probably should have chosen a stand-alone book instead of a series and it would have been easier. Most of her writing is easy to understand, though I have had to reread a couple of the sentences before moving on. Overall, I like it because it is different than what I have used before.”
See what other families from the Homeschool Review Crew thought about Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis.