Thursday, August 27, 2015

Illuminating Literature (Schoolhouse Review)

Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I really wasn’t looking for a literature curriculum this year; I was happy with the program I have been using.  However, when I saw the brand-new Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide, published by Writing with Sharon Watson, I was eager to take a look. We received the following books for review:

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide (Student Book)
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Teacher's Guide
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide: Quiz and Answer Manual
Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide:Novel Notebook (Free PDF Download)

Sharon Watson also generously sent us the first two novels for the study, Pudd’nhead Wilson, and  The War of the Worlds, so we were all ready to get started as soon as we opened the packages!

The Student Book and Teacher’s Guide are necessary purchases. The Quiz and Answer Manual is optional because the quizzes are available online free to purchasers of the curriculum. The printed manual is for those who prefer to have paper copies of the quizzes. The Novel Notebook is a free download and the student will need to use it or create his or her own novel notebook.

Illuminating Literature is designed for use in homeschools, homeschool co-ops, and Christian schools. It’s designed to be easy to use as a self-directed homeschool program, but also includes lesson plans for use in a monthly co-op situation. It is designed for high school students.

Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide has students study 8 books over the course of a year:

  • Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain
  • The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells
  • The Friendly Persuasion, by Jessamyn West
  • Peter Pan, by Sir James Barrie
  • Warriors Don’t Cry, by Melba Pattillo Beals
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis

Through each of these books, the student focuses on the theme of  conflict. (The title of the course, “When Worlds Collide,” refers to the collisions in the physical, political, extraterrestrial, racial, spiritual, and philosophical worlds of the characters.)

Components of the course:

  • The novel for the unit. Specific versions are strongly recommended so that page numbers will line up correctly with the course materials.
  • The student book includes a schedule, several lessons to be completed before the book is read that provide introductory material about the novel and literary elements, lessons to be completed after the novel is read, including discussion questions, exercises that require the student to evaluate the literary techniques in the novel, a vocabulary quiz, and a  final activity. Several options are offered for final activities, which require research and involve varied tasks, such as cooking, music, watching and evaluating movies, interviewing others, and creative writing.
  • Quizzes: There are 3 quizzes per chapter, a “Yes, I read it” quiz, a literary terms quiz, and an opinion survey. These may be completed from the Quiz and Answer Manual, or may be completed online, where they are automatically graded.
  • Novel Notebook: Students may use any notebook for this, answering the questions that are given in the student notebook, or a pre-printed Novel Notebook may be downloaded from Writing with Sharon Watson, with the questions and space for answers in an engaging format all ready to use. I really appreciated the downloadable Novel Notebook because I know my student would be prone to “forget about” the list of questions as she was reading.
  • Teacher’s Manual: This obviously is for the parent/teacher to use. It gives directions for using the program, for leading a monthly book discussion group, and suggestions for running a private Facebook group for discussion the novels, complete with discussion starters. It also includes the student schedule, answers to student activities and discussion questions and a grading grid for each novel.


Emily is just finishing up the first unit, Pudd’nhead Wilson. I felt that the study was very complete and that there was a lot of variety in the assignments. Emily learned quite a bit about Mark Twain/ Samuel Clemens, and internet links were provided for students who want to learn more than was provided in the text. She learned about pseudonyms, setting, and a lot of background context information. She was asked to identify the types of conflict she saw in the novel. We used some of the provided discussion questions as we talked about the story (Sharon Watson suggests that using them all would be TOO much!) She took quizzes on the book and on the literary terms for the chapter. This week, she’ll be choosing a final project, which may involve doing a comparison of the movie and book, designing a calendar with pictures and aphorisms, researching a related topic—fingerprinting, twins, conjoined twins, or the blood characteristics of different races, or interviewing an older person from a different ethnic group. We spent about a month on this study, keeping to the suggested pace.

I love this course and we plan to use it for the rest of this year. Instead of providing dozens of comprehension questions, the student activities require a deeper level thinking than I typically see in high school courses. The course requires the student to consider historical context, relate quotes from other literary works to the concepts in the focus novel, and to apply literary concepts to the novel. The student also is expected to relate the author’s ideas to his or her personal life. The background information greatly enhances the study. For example, the phrase, “the curse of Ham” is used in the book. The student book explains the origin of the phrase (the descendants of Ham, son of Noah) and the misuse of that phrase in the society of that time (Ham’s descendants were Canaanites, and were not black-skinned).

The Novel Notebook is a great idea. The student has several things to watch for and take note of as he or she is reading the book, such as examples of literary techniques, favorite sayings, or passages that demonstrate a particular attitude or opinion. Emily “forgot” to take these notes as she was reading and had to go back to find her examples in the book, creating extra work for herself. Maybe she won’t forget next time!

We have been accustomed to writing essays as part of a literature course, and this course doesn’t require a lot of writing beyond short answers. I would expect more writing for a full English course.  However, since we had already planned to use Sharon Watsons, The Power in Your Hands writing curriculum this year, Emily already has the writing component covered! Many of the final project options do require writing, so the parent or teacher could assign those as well to round out the course.

This really appears to be a fantastic course, so I am hoping that Sharon Watson will publish more literature courses for us to use after we finish  Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide.


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

I received this product free in exchange for my honest review.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Debbie! Thank you for your kind words about Illuminating Literature. I love it that you included specific information in the book, like the curse of Ham.

    I could always include more essay writing if it would help Emily out! ;-)


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