Monday, July 6, 2009

High School Language Arts -- how we did it

The topic of homeschool "high school language arts" came up on the Real Learning board here and here and I thought I'd expand on what I wrote there.


I have 3 grown children who are presently either entering, or exiting from, college. My fourth is in public high school just entering his sophomore year. My fifth child is in 8th grade and so this topic is timely since my friend and I were just brainstorming plans for our children's high school years.

Of course, this is just an overview. If you have any questions feel free to ask.

So here is how we did it.

For language arts we divided up the work into different "strands".

  • vocabulary or word study
  • grammar
  • reading skills
  • composition skills
  • study/research skills.
Of course, these areas overlap greatly and can be summed up in these simple words:

---Reading, speaking and writing in your own language and preferably in at least one other language (helps with analytic thinking and with comprehension).---

Thinking in "strands" was mostly for my convenience. I could have several resources on the table and work them in or let them drop depending on whether they seemed necessary or desirable for that time for that particular child.

The specifics of how we did it would depend on what the highschooler needed and what his interests were. It would usually end up to be more hours than actually required by our state (California) but in a more free-flowing way.

So here is how the "strands" would work out with different kids.


My oldest liked things to be sequential and systematic and his work reflected that.

We used:

  • Grammar from Daily Grammar. Actually, all the kids used this on and off. We worked on grammar for "seasons". I'd usually have all three of the older kids do a grammar course for 1 term each year.
  • He'd also do some SAT practice and prep for a few weeks each year. This gave me feedback on some langauge areas he might need to work on in future.
  • Sadlier-Oxford vocabulary workshops
  • Composition in the Classical Tradition (I whited out some funky articles about spouse abuse, etc -- the book seems to be directed towards university law students).
  • Various papers from MODG history and religion syllabi.
  • Also, discussions using MODG study questions. These are very important in developing ready thinking skills.
  • A full-length research paper using a research-paper workbook as a guide.

My second-born was more of an unconventional learner so this is how he did it:

  • he wrote a full-length novel over a period of 2 years. So this "counted" towards composition since he was learning how to express himself, how to revise, etc. He read several books on plot construction, etc.
  • He also did a vocabulary workbook that only took 5-10 minutes a day. This was easy and fun for him because he likes words and has a good vocabulary already, and there was little writing required.
  • I wanted him to be able to write highschool level essays so he did a few history or literature-type papers over the four years, as well. ANd we experimented a little with the classical "progymnasmata".
  • Reading and conversations about great books -- the Iliad, the Aeneid, Beowulf, Gawain and the Green Knight, some Norse sagas, to name a few.
  • I often read them aloud to him to keep in touch with the oral tradition of much of this literature and to train his ear because he had some auditory processing difficulties. Then I'd give him some follow-up assignment sometimes, or we'd discuss some element that had come up (in order to be ready to seize the opportunities, I would usually spend a bit of time consulting study guides that I found online).


My third child, my daughter, basically designed her own language arts.

  • She did a lot of blogging which encompassed quite varied subjects -- literary and film reviews, topical commentary, personal opinion, descriptive, journalistic, and so on.
  • She wrote several stories (we often write and share them in our family "story society") and also wrote a bit for some newsletters.
  • She also wrote several songs.
  • Like her brothers, she did seasonal bursts of grammar and vocabulary and studied a couple of foreign languages (Latin and German).
  • She would plan reading outlines for herself based on MODG syllabi and her own interests
  • she and I had many, many literature discussions that came out of our shared reading.
  • She was an excellent writer and reader and I never did too much formally with her because she seemed to have an ability to more on her own than I would have assigned for her.


My fourth went to public high school and just completed his freshman year.
Since I quite liked the basic format of his class I will outline that too for comparison.

  • His LA teacher did "units" -- first, short stories; then a research project; then Greek mythology; then drama (Romeo and Juliet), then a novel (Lord of the Flies). So the way I understand it, each unit covered a literary "type".
  • There was also an accelerated reading program -- the kids had to choose one or two books per term and read them and do an AR comprehension quiz OR a book report.
  • Integrated with the units was some vocabulary and grammar work and there was a writing project with each unit too. For example, for Lord of the Flies he had to pass a couple of class comprehension quizzes, write 8 pages of double-columned notes, write a literature essay (he chose the symbolism of Piggy's glasses) and then design a book cover. He did very well on this project.
  • For the research paper assignment he had to take notes on several books and internet sites, compile them into an orderly form, and then write a 4 page paper with proper references, and finally compile a bibliography of his sources. He received almost the maximum possible points for his work.

It was much more formal and organized than anything we did at home but basically, not too unlike the TYPE of thing we do. Only we do more systematic grammar, and read WAY more.

He read more books in his first two weeks home from school this summer than he'd read all year that he went to school : ). Once in a while you really need a book binge, and he didn't have much time for that during the school year, what with catching up on all the viruses he had missed previously, plus participating in football and track, plus lots of homework and two hours on the schoolbus every day.

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