TOS Review: Writing with Sharon Watson

Writing with Sharon Watson

High school literature can be tricky. There are programs that focus strictly on novels, programs that use a textbook-type approach, and a lot of online stuff to choose from. As a former English teacher, I personally prefer more of a hybrid approach, using both novels and some textbook-style teaching for my 11th grade son. So, I was happy to check out Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis from Writing with Sharon Watson, which suits my style perfectly.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis

This program is a two-semester, one-credit course for students in grades 9-12. It features three main components, a teacher’s manual, textbook, and a quiz and answer manual. All of these are individually priced, so you can choose which components you want to use. There are also a lot of downloadable options like a free downloadable Novel Notebook. You also have the ability to access online quizzes that are graded for you using the information in the textbook, so if you have a child who prefers to work online, you can do that too!

So, how’s the course? Really meaty and well laid out. For starters, the teacher’s guide gives a very thorough introduction to the program, including a list of books you will need with the ISBN numbers. This makes it really easy to find the correct books. The reason this is important is because the activities and questions etc. are geared toward specific pages in those specific books. Could you use copies of some of the novels if you already have them? Sure, but you would need to go through the chapters and match up the pages to make sure your child is in the right spot when they do their work.

The teacher’s guide also includes a suggested schedule, answer keys, and a layout for the lessons. Like anything in homeschool, this is all very tweakable, which I appreciate. I used the suggested schedule as a guide for where we wanted to be each month, but we set our own pace based on my son. If it takes a little longer to complete, or we don’t get to everything, that’s fine. Illuminating Lit is full of so much that I think, even if you skip a little, your child won’t miss out on much.

Your child will read five novels in this program, Silas Marner, Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing,  Sense and Sensibility, and The Hobbit. They will also read many different short stories, essays and more. The textbook includes lessons on topics like theme, archetype, antagonists, protagonists, dramatic irony, and much much more. I think that is one thing that impressed me the most about the course. It covers a lot of upper-level topics that other programs I have seen just don’t offer.

The downloadable Novel Notebook is a nice addition to Illuminating Literature. It offer a space for students to gather their thoughts about what they are reading in different ways. They might answer questions or jot down some notes, they might be asked to take on the point of view of a character to answer questions, or complete some type of graphic organizer. The teacher’s guide also gives you a heads up about what questions students are answering and suggested answers if you want to discuss this with them.

My son enjoyed the stories in Illuminating Literature and seemed to enjoy looking at the works through the eyes of the characters and I really like how this program is set up and how in-depth it is. At a cost of less than $100 for all three main components, it’s also a great deal!

To learn more, connect with Sharon Watson on social media here:

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Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis {Writing with Sharon Watson Reviews}

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TOS Review: Hewitt Homeschooling (American Lit)

Hewitt Homeschooling

I love literature! Reading has always been one of my favorite things, and I love sharing books with my kids. I am always on the lookout for good literature programs for my son, especially now that he is older. For this review, we got to check out the American: Early-Mid 19th Century literature program from Hewitt Homeschooling. This program is aimed at highschool freshman and sophomores. I used it with my 10th grade son.

 Lightning Literature and Composition Pack
American: Early to Mid 19th Century

Early-Mid American Lit is the first part of Hewitt’s American Literature program, with a second book, Mid-Late 19th Century, that follows. You can choose to either use one set each semester, or spread out one book over an entire year. For my son, the slower option is better as reading is not his favorite subject and requires a lot more effort from him. The course consists of a student book and a teacher’s guide.

The teacher’s guide includes suggested schedules for a one-semester and full-year course, which makes it easy for you to set up the course. I will tell you that the one-semester schedule is very heavy on the weekly reading, which is why we opted to go with the full-year course. It ended up being too much for son to do in a week along with his other subjects. The guide also includes rubrics to use for grading, checklists for writing assignments, and answers to the questions in the student book.

The course itself consists of four units, with two lessons per unit. Students read a mix of classic novels (which you can easily find online or at the library) as well as poems and short stories that are included in the student book. Some of the authors covered in the Early-Mid American Lit book are Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Longfellow.

I had my son start with the introduction, which gives background on literature in general, writing tips, and information about how to use the guide. Since the course is pretty student oriented, I wanted to really go over this part since I knew he would mostly be using it on his own. The first unit begins with the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. This section does use a very specific edition of the book which I was able to find online. We broke the reading into weekly assignments, based on how the guide set up the questions, and my son would read each day, then complete the questions in his notebook. In general, we got to about 3 sets of questions per week.

I felt the questions themselves were a good mix of direct recall and questions that caused students to think and synthesize things in the text, and were appropriate for high schoolers. After completing all of the reading there was a lesson about autobiographical writing. We read through and discussed this section together, then I had my son choose one of the writing assignments at the end of the unit. I liked the variety of options students had for their writing assignments, with choices that range from simple to more complex and serious to humorous. I feel like my son is much more motivated when he gets to choose an assignment, and it leads to less conflict between us.

 

The second lesson in Unit 1 moves onto Washington Irving. It included a fun short story written by Irving that my son read in the text with a series of short comprehension questions after. I felt like this was a good way to break things up so they don’t feel monotonous. Students get to read full novels, but also get breaks and are able to read shorter works as well.

All in all, the Early-Mid American Lit course is a solid program. It offers a a wide variety of classic literature to your children in an easy-to-use design. You can literally just read the introduction to the course and get started! Also, this program comes as either a student book and teacher’s guide or a full set that includes all the necessary novels, which allows you to choose what fits your budget.

To learn more, connect with Hewitt on social media here:

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TOS Review: IEW High School Essay Intensive

Institute for Excellence in WritingHigh school is where the rubber meets the road. As a homeschool mom, it is also the part that feels the most tricky to me. I have so much to get my kids ready for, SATs, ACTs, college applications. Ugh. And writing is a huge part of that. While I am pretty confident in my skills as a writing teacher, I still feel more secure with a set program for this subject, just to make sure I don’t miss anything. So, for this review, I was excited to check out the High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing.

I have used products from IEW before and I have always been happy with them. This new program is no different. High School Essay Intensive is very thorough, with the same detailed instruction I have come to expect from Mr. Pudewa. The program itself comes with five DVDs full of instruction, totaling over 6 hours. The format is the same as other IEW courses which feature Mr. Pudewa teaching a group of students. It also includes handouts and a general outline of the course.

Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive This program features a wide range of topics from different paragraph models, to outlining, proofreading, and writing for specific purposes like the ACT. The course outline includes a space for your student to take notes, which I found really helpful for my 10th grade son. He was able to follow along on the DVD and the guided outline allowed him to take notes easily. For a student who is working on note-taking skills, this feature is very helpful.

The included handout, Portable Walls for the Essayist, is a great reference your student can use all through high school. It includes definitions of the different types of essays, essay models, examples and outlines of the writing process, and more, all in a handy, laminated, folder-type handout. We are definitely going to hang onto it for future writing reference.

So, how did we use the High School Essay Intensive from IEW? Well, basically we started with disc 1, breaking the lectures into parts. My high-intensity sophomore is not good at sitting and watching video for more than 25-30 minutes at a time, so I would break the videos into parts and have him take notes on each section. Then we would pick up the next day wherever we left off. It might take us a little longer to complete the program this way, but that doesn’t bother me. I would rather go slower and make sure my son truly understands the lessons anyway.

After taking notes, my son would also work through any assignments in the course, from outlining, to writing sentences, to essays themselves. Some assignments took longer than others, so we would adjust the lecture schedule accordingly as needed. This is one of the areas I really appreciate Mr. Pudewa. He is just so good at making things really clear for students. His easy to follow instruction made it simple for my son to “get” what he was supposed to be writing about.

We really enjoyed the High School Essay Intensive from Institute for Excellence in Writing. Andrew Pudewa is great at connecting with students and making writing interesting (his sense of humor helps a lot too). I felt this program was really well-laid out and helped ME as a homeschool mom improve my writing instruction. The only drawback I see with this is that it doesn’t include a suggested schedule, which I always kind of like to have.

To learn more about the High School Essay Intensive, connect with IEW on social media here:

Excellence in Writing on Facebook

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TOS Review: Everyday Education, LLC

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}Let’s face it, high school writing is hard. There is so much to remember. When I was in high school, I had notebooks full of notes and references to help me when I wrote my papers. Of course, back then, there was no such thing as the internet! I always thought it would be easier if I had some kind of reference I could refer too when writing. So, I was really excited to get to review the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers from Everyday Education, LLC for my high school son.

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

My youngest is not a natural writer. In fact, he fights it almost every step of the way. However, I know how important writing is for his future. We have done tons of grammar and writing programs along the way, but it doesn’t always stick in his head. At first this used to make me feel bad, but then I realized that’s just how he is. So, wouldn’t it be easier if he had a resource where he could just look stuff up to help him along the way? That’s exactly what the Handbook for Writers is.

 

It contains a wealth of information on writing in various topics. From grammar, to examples of certain kinds of essays, to how to reference resources, it’s all here! You can easily use this as an addition to any high school writing curriculum, allowing your child to refer to it as needed. I also think, with a little creativity, you could even use it as a writing curriculum, expanding on each section with other materials and giving your child a chance to practice and hone their skills.

I really appreciate that grammar lessons are included, because it gives those kids who did not master grammar before a chance to really apply those skills to their writing. For some kids, learning punctuation, nouns, verbs, gerunds etc. is really hard out of context. With the writers handbook, you can easily apply what your kids are learning directly to their writing, which really works for kids like my boy.

Also, the reference and citation sources were really helpful in this book. To be honest, I don’t completely remember how to cite sources anymore, but I know (from my experience with my college-age son) that it’s important. Also, a lot has changed since I was in high school. Now there are simply so many more things to cite! Having the writers handbook to refer too is really handy in those cases!

The PDF file offers hundreds of pages to help your student write the best papers possible. In fact, there were a couple of times my older son asked his brother to use his handbook when he had to write a paper for school! I think that over the next two years of high school we are going to refer to this handbook a lot, and my son may even still use it when he is in college. At less than $40, I think it is a steal!

To find out more, connect with Everday Education on social media here:
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TOS Review: The Cat of Bubastes (Heirloom Audio Productions)

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

Travel back in time to Ancient Egypt and go on an adventure with Amuba, the captured prince of Rebu, a city on the shore of the Caspian Sea. During his journey, he will find friends among his captors, and some enemies too, and in a race to save a friend’s life, discover the One True God. The Cat of Bubastes is another audio drama from Heirloom Audio Productions. We have loved every single one that we got to check out so far, and we were really excited to check out this latest release for this review.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

Based on the book of the same name by author G.A. Henty, the two-disc set takes you and your family into the book. As always, Heirloom has recruited top voice talent to play the roles, and their sound effects and soundtrack help you feel like you are really in the story. All of the actors do a great job, and as you listen, you can picture the action in your head, as if you were watching a movie.

I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I will tell you that Amuba comes to serve the high priest of Thebes, where he is taken after being captured. He and his friend Jethro become close to the family of the priest, who is very kind and treats all people with respect. Of course, conflict arises on a few fronts when Amuba and Chebron, the priest’s son, discover a murder plot in the city and then have to flee for their lives after accidentally killing the sacred cat of the city. During their adventures, they encounter Simeon, a faithful Israelite, and Ruth, his granddaughter, who help introduce them to the Christian faith.

Full of historical facts, The Cat of Bubastes combines history with drama to create excitement that you can also use as a teaching tool. Each track is numbered, so it is very easy to pick up where you left off as you listen. Along with the CDs, Heirloom gives you access to some awesome extras including a study guide that is chock full of information. There are discussion questions for each track on the disc, questions that include both recalling info from the story and questions that require you to go a little deeper with your thinking.

One thing I noticed in this study guide was the inclusion of other historical information related to the story. The Expand Your Learning sections offer info about a range of topics from Ancient Egyptian games, to the Pyramids, to recipes you can make. At the end of the study guide are three Bible studies you can do with your family. We mostly used the study guide as a source of discussion, but now that my kids are older, I did have them answer some of the going deeper questions in writing and keep a notebook of the vocabulary words.

Other extras include a download of the actual G.A. Henty book, complete with color pictures. I like this option because if you have a reader in the family, they can read the book before or after listening to the audio drama. You can also download the soundtrack, a poster, and more.

We thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Cat of Bubastes. Like the other Heirloom audio dramas, it is pure, family-friendly entertainment that both introduces your kids to history and points them toward God. I definitely recommend this if you and your family like listening to audio books. They are great for road trips or just listening to after dinner. To learn more, connect with Heirloom Audio on social media here:

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You might also want to check out some of their other adventures like, The Dragon and the Raven and With Lee in Virginia.

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TOS Review: Writing with Sharon Watson

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

Some kids are natural writers, like my oldest who has been writing since he was little. Other kids enjoy certain types of writing, like story-writing, and that is a better description of my youngest. He loves making up and writing all kinds of fantastic adventures. However, now that he is in high school, I know I need to get him to work on more reports and non-fiction essays since that is the primary type of writing he will be doing from this point on. So, I was happy to check out The Power in Your Hands: Writing Non-Fiction in High School, 2nd Edition from Writing with Sharon Watson for this review. I used the first edition with my oldest and it went really well.

 

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

The program comes with a student book and teacher’s guide. It includes 23 chapters on topics ranging from How-to writing, to compare and contrast, to a variety of persuasive writing topics. There are also some chapters on grammar, which is a new feature I really appreciate. The new index is also very helpful when you need to find something fast. The very first chapters involve the writing process, from brainstorming, to getting started, to writing the first draft.

Like the first edition, lessons are written directly to the student in a pleasant, conversational tone. Chapters are divided into a few lessons, making it easy to set up a weekly schedule. Certain sections of the lessons are labled “Your Toolbox” which includes several noteworthy writing tips for students to remember. I chose to have my son record these in a notebook as he went through the course so he could find them quickly when he was writing. Review and practice exercises are peppered throughout the lesson, which I found helpful because it broke up the reading for my son. Moving from the learning section to a practice section and back to more reading made it easier for him to complete the lessons.

Examples of high-quality writing are also given throughout the book through a variety of essays, articles and radio scripts. I was glad to see this practice was retained from the first edition because I think reading examples of the type of writing you want students to achieve helps them when they are writing their own papers. Modeling is a very effective way to teach anything.
The curriculum includes several references to the Bible and includes activities that have students reading passages and summarizing them.

When students work on an essay, they are first guided through setting up a schedule, then eventually move on to making their own. A checklist helps guide them through the writing and makes sure they include everything they need to. Assignments are divided into different levels, with a different word count for beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers and some differentiated suggestions for each level too.

The teacher’s guide is much more than just an answer key.First, it includes a list of the major writing assignments in the beginning of the guide, which makes it easy for you to keep track of what your child is doing. There is also a very detailed section about grading papers, which I think is great. Sometimes it is really difficult to grade an essay because so much of it is subjective. The guide includes examples of graded papers with a rationale for their grading, so you can see what an A paper looks like, and what a B paper looks like and so on. One new feature of the teacher’s guide that is fantastic is the inclusion of the Grading Grids at the end of each chapter. They feature prompts for you to answer about the paper as you read it and a point scale for each one. This way, you can simply fill out the grid and add up the points at the end.

For my son, the pacing of the lessons was perfect, and the way the lessons are set up really helped him get a thorough understanding of each topic. We are not through with this yet, but I feel like he will be a much better writer when we finish. I would definitely recommend The Power in Your Hands to anyone looking for a solid high school writing program.

To learn more, connect with Sharon Watson on social media:
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TOS Review: Laurelwood Books

Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}

Cursive handwriting, it caused me loads of problems when I was in grade school and it seems to be doing the same thing for my youngest son. As a lefty, I have vivid images of Sister Mary standing over me, turning my paper to try to get my slant right, and honestly, I never did. As an adult, I mostly print, but my son needs to know how to read cursive and also (as a boy who gets his drivers license next year) how to sign his name. So, I’ve been looking for a cursive program aimed at older students, and I was happy to give Patriotic Penmanship High School Grades 9-12 from Laurelwood Books a try.

The book helps children learn cursive using powerful quotes from national documents like the Introduction to the Declaration of Independence, as well as quotes from Presidents and other patriots, Bible verses and famous poems. It begins with a basic review of how to form cursive letters, both upper and lower case. This part of the instruction is short, so I will say it assumes that children have had prior instruction in cursive writing. From there it moves into individual lessons.

Patriotic Penmanship contains 30 lessons overall, so if you did one per week you would have enough for almost a whole school year. Each lesson begins with a written copy of the quote to read, then each line of the quote is broken down individually, with students first tracing the line, then writing it on their own. At the end of the lesson, students are given blank lines with the first word in each quote on the line. They trace the first word then complete the rest of the line on their own. Words that may be unfamiliar (like “unalienable”) are defined at the end of each lesson.

Since cursive is something my son struggles with, we broke the lessons into a few days in order to avoid him getting frustrated. First we would read the quote together, then discuss where it came from. After that, I would have him work on the individual lines. Depending on how long the quotes work, lessons could take from 3-4 days to complete overall. The point was not to rush him, but to let him take his time and practice the letters.

We also used some of the quotes (like the Preamble) for memory work. I think there is value in memorizing historical documents, verses, and quality poetry. I still remember the Gettysburg Address from when I learned it in the fourth grade as well as several poems and numerous verses I’ve memorized over the years. I feel that copying the quote several times helps with the memorization process.

While my son does not love cursive, he did enjoy the memorization part, and I feel the practice has helped him with his writing. However, I think this program is best suited to students who need to hone their cursive skills, not learn to write cursive. Copying the quotes gives them plenty of practice, but aside from tracing, there is not a TON of instruction on how to form the letters. That said, I think this is a great program for upper-level students. So many of them simply type on a computer these days and it seems like cursive writing is becoming a lost art. If you have a student who knows how to write cursive and just needs some practice to keep up their skills, I would highly recommend you check out Patriotic Penmanship. At less than $15 it is a great bargain and there are a number of ways to incorporate the quotes and verses into your curriculum.

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Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}

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