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The Ultimate Guide to Teaching High School Literature

I’m not going to try to hide it; I love literature.

I am a regular at our local library and bookstores, and I’m usually the one leaving with a huge armful of books.

And my at-home library? Well, let’s be honest.

You can never have too many books…only too few bookshelves.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching Literature

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And I know I’m not alone. Homeschool families tend to have a lot of books!

Not just the books that are required in the lesson plan…but books. Tons of them.

On every subject, at every level, everywhere.

Many of us have the same goal: to teach our children to love to read and learn.

Digging into Literature

But how often do we teach them to go beyond the “reading is fun” level of things?

To really dig into the ideas, to understand what’s really being said, and to be able to apply their conclusions to what’s happening around them?

In the goal of teaching our kids to love reading, I’ve found we often miss the greater goal – of teaching them to be part of what’s sometimes called “The Great Conversation.”

GREAT BOOKSGREAT BOOKSThe Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World ClassicsThe Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics

And while this might not seem as much fun as the earlier years, I’ve got a secret to share: it’s actually a lot more fun!

You see, when we manage to get our kids to the level of “conversing” with all the ideas available to them, they don’t just blossom.

They analyze and understand.

They fly.

Our kids thrive.

They see connections and patterns in everyday things that they never knew existed.

And all of a sudden, everything has significance and purpose.

And once they see that…look out.

What they can achieve and contribute to that “conversation” themselves becomes pretty amazing to watch.

Great…But How Do You Do It?

I’ve found that the biggest obstacle in helping our kids reach this goal is that we were never taught to do it ourselves.

Out of all my high school classes, the only one that taught me to really dig into literature was my AP Lit class, which had all of 6 or 8 students in it.

That equals out to less than 2% off all the students in the school.

Needless to say, not many of us learned to really love the finer points of literature.

The biggest obstacle to teaching our kids to analyze literature

So if this is not a strong point for you, how can you teach it to your student? Well, it’s your lucky day!

There are some fantastic resources available to help you do just that.

What to Include?

There are so many amazing books out there, and there’s just no way to fit them all into four years of high school.

Well, there probably is, but I wouldn’t suggest trying!

The thing is, you don’t have to.

If we’re teaching our child to love reading – and to understand what they’re working with – they’re not going to stop reading the moment they get that diploma in hand.

It’s a habit that will stay with them for quite a while.

To that end, our goal should be to expose them to a fairly wide variety of really good literature, and to teach them how to work with it.

If your students only read within their comfort level

There are a few different ways to do this.

First, it’s important to nail down what types of literature to include in your course of study.

Then, you can figure out which method works best for your family.

As far as what to include, I personally recommend a mix of novels, short stories, biographies/autobiographies, poems, and plays.

As far as who to include (authors and poets), I recommend sticking with the greats.

They’ll give your student something to chew on while also providing an incredible story.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to throw your ninth grader head-on into Hamlet or Great Expectations, but you should stretch your student beyond what they might pick for themselves.

Personally, I found the Hunger Games trilogy and the Harry Potter series fun to read, and there are interesting discussion and projects that can arise from both.

However, if your child only reads within their comfort level, they’re not likely to grow.

To help you out, I’m offering a free 6-page checklist of literature options for your high schooler to work with.

(And it’s newly updated!)

Just sign up at the bottom of this post to get access to your copy.

You’ll also get access to more freebies in my subscriber-only Resource Library and my weekly newsletter.

This should give you some ideas to work with!

Different Methods to Consider

Once you know what you want to cover, it becomes easier to pick how you want to cover it.

There is no “right” way; it all depends on what works best for your student. Here are a few to consider.


A lot of families choose to align their literature studies with their history studies.

This makes sense: literature is not created in a vacuum. It’s a product of the thoughts and events of the time in which it’s written.

Even historical fiction – novels written about another point in time, such as the Battle of Troy or the Civil War – is written in part from the viewpoint of the author.

If the author didn’t live through either of those events, it’s likely he or she has a different take on things.

That doesn’t mean it’s not accurate, but it is something to be aware of.

The main benefit of aligning your history and literature studies is that they work really well together.

The literature can help your student better understand the historical events, and the history study provides context for the book.

Instead of just memorizing dates and places or trying to figure out theme and imagery, it all works together to form a larger picture.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent ReadingHow to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent ReadingHow to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, Revised EditionHow to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines, Revised EditionHow to Read LiteratureHow to Read Literature

Genre or Author

If you have a student who learns by classifying material or through mastery, working with one genre at a time may be a better option.

Reading a few good biographies can help your child better understand the structure and elements; discussing the similarities and differences can solidify what is learned.

In the same way, tackling a few different works from the same author – say, a novel and a short story from Hemingway or Hawthorne – can be a great way to get your student to dig into literature.

This is similar to a “block schedule” method for other subjects.

Some kids just plain prefer to dig deep, do so in one block of time, and move on.

If this is your child, the variety of moving from one genre to the next too quickly may become confusing.

For kids who think this way, this can be a fantastic method.

Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (Updated and Expanded)The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (Updated and Expanded)

Book Basket

For kids who thrive on variety and seem designed to thwart your lesson plans, having a basket or shelf of books available (that you have chosen beforehand) can be a good method to choose.

This does require a bit of pre-planning on your part – choosing the books over the summer perhaps, and having a literature guide ready to go – but it’s worth it.

When it’s time to pick a new book, they walk over to the basket or shelf and pick whatever meets their fancy.

The agreement that works well in this situation is, you pick it, you do it.

In return for being given autonomy over timing of their assigned books, your student agrees to complete what they choose.

My Favorite Literature Programs

Now, because this is a subject that I love, there are times I’ll go off on my own and just create a literature unit.

You can find several in my unit studies section!

However,there are also some literature programs available. Here are my top picks:

BJU Press: If you’re looking for a literature text, BJU has some incredible options.

The 9th and 10th grade courses allow students to grow their analysis skills, while the American and British Lit studies allow juniors and seniors to take on more challenge.

7Sisters Homeschool: 7Sisters offers such a wide variety of literature units, and they’re all of great quality.

The company is made up of six veteran homeschool moms, and the units they offer are written with you and your student in mind.

There’s an amazing array of choices…you’re sure to find some books that will spark some great learning experiences for your kids!

American Literature from Apologia: This book…oh, when I first held it, I actually hugged it. That’s how much I like this book.

You can read my review of it here!

American Literature is written by a professor at Bryan College, and he has written it with college prep in mind. If you’re wondering what skills your child will need for college, they’re in here!

American LiteratureAmerican LiteratureAmerican Literature Student NotebookAmerican Literature Student Notebook

One thing to note, though…this book is very meaty.

It’s written for two semesters, but if your child is a younger high school student or literature is not a strong subject, it may be a good idea to stretch it into three or four semesters.

That’s perfectly ok to do – it’s actually a better option than rushing through it just to meet some preset deadline.

James Stobaugh: Dr. Stobaugh’s literature units are available through Master Books; his courses are also very meaty, but excellent.

There are options available for junior high and high school which will integrate history and worldview into the study of literature.

World Literature (Student)World Literature (Student)British Literature PackageBritish Literature PackageAmerican Literature PackageAmerican Literature PackageSkills For Literary Analysis PackageSkills For Literary Analysis PackageSkills for Rhetoric (Student)Skills for Rhetoric (Student)

Progeny Press: I’ve used Progeny materials for years; they’re easy to work with but will challenge your student in literature analysis and writing.

The guides are written by experts in their fields, and there’s a fairly good variety available. Here’s just a taste of what they offer!

The Hiding Place Study Guide (Literature Study Guides from Progeny Press)The Hiding Place Study Guide (Literature Study Guides from Progeny Press)Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Study Guide (Literature Study Guides from Progeny Press)Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Study Guide (Literature Study Guides from Progeny Press)To Kill a Mockingbird Study GuideTo Kill a Mockingbird Study GuideA Tale of Two Cities Study GuideA Tale of Two Cities Study GuideThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study GuideThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer Study GuideThe Scarlet Letter Study GuideThe Scarlet Letter Study GuideThe Giver Study GuideThe Giver Study GuideLord of the Flies Study GuideLord of the Flies Study GuideThe Red Badge of Courage Study GuideThe Red Badge of Courage Study GuideThe Screwtape Letters Study GuideThe Screwtape Letters Study GuidePride and Prejudice Study GuidePride and Prejudice Study GuideThe Great Gatsby Study GuideThe Great Gatsby Study GuideMacbeth Study GuideMacbeth Study Guide


Related Posts:

Homeschooling High School? It’s Not So Tough!

Homeschooling High School: Back to Basics

The Ultimate Guide to High School Language Arts

The Ultimate Guide to High School History

Non-Traditional Guide to High School Science

The Importance of Teaching Worldview

Navigating Dual Enrollment Options

Oh, But My Child…What if You Fly?

Animal Farm and 1984Animal Farm and 1984To Kill a Mockingbird (Harperperennial Modern Classics)To Kill a Mockingbird (Harperperennial Modern Classics)The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the RyeThe Picture of Dorian Gray (Dover Thrift Editions)The Picture of Dorian Gray (Dover Thrift Editions)Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics)Jane Eyre (Bantam Classics)The Great GatsbyThe Great GatsbyThe Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of WrathLord of the FliesLord of the FliesThe Screwtape LettersThe Screwtape LettersFor Whom the Bell TollsFor Whom the Bell Tolls





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  1. I particularly love teaching literature. It’s my favourite subject to teach. I also love combining subjects together and using unit studies. Our current unit study is nature.

    This is what I’ve planned for the next two weeks:
    English- nature poetry
    Math- recording data about wildlife
    History- history of the seasons
    Geography- extreme weather
    Music- how the weather influences our emotions
    Art- drawing animals
    Science- experiments

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