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How to Confidently Grade Your Teen's Essays and Narratives

How to Confidently Grade Your Teen's Essays and Narratives
One of the hardest parts of teaching writing  is knowing how to evaluate a paper. It seems like such risky business—a subjective effort characterized by inconsistency and wild guesses. Last week we might have let an error slip by, yet...
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Book Lovers Guide to Vocabulary Building

Book Lovers Guide to Vocabulary Building
We used the Kaplan SAT Score-Raising classics to improve vocabulary in our homeschool. If you have never seen those books before, they are a great way to focus on vocabulary building using real, high quality literature. Each book has hundreds of voca...
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 Read-Aloud Families Create Successful Students

 Read-Aloud Families Create Successful Students
I believe that read-aloud families create successful students. I requested an opportunity to review, The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie to see what she had to say, and I absolutely loved it. It's perfect for parents of children of ANY age, home...
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How to Grade English Papers over Summer

How to Grade English Papers over Summer
Staring at a pile of English papers that need a grade? Here is how I suggest that you grade right now, during summer, so you can get the job done and get back to having fun. You can use this grading scale to put a grade on each paper, or if you prefe...
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Learn to Teach English the Easy Way!

Learn to Teach English the Easy Way!
How do you feel about teaching English? For our family, it was a little scary, difficult to teach, and intimidating! Some people think that it's overwhelming and takes thousands of hours to do, but for some, it's unending joy. If you look at all of t...
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Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond

Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond
Right now, I'm guessing that your focus is essential writing skills for high school. Once your child can write reasonably well, your next worry is a simple one. Make sure they have the essential writing skills for college and career.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click and buy I may make a few pennies, but not enough for a latte.

Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond

I have a book recommendation for you! Check out Essential Writing Skills for College and Beyond by C. M. Gill. Let me explain what I like about this book.

She understands learning styles

In the very beginning of the books, she starts by explaining how different people might use different strategies for brain-storming a writing project. Brilliant! Why didn't I think about that?

She uses graphs to explain

Look at this, how she gives a graphic representation of how much of a paragraph should be devoted to the intro, body, and explanations of a paragraph. I do better when I can SEE what she means, because I'm a visual learner. But she does an equally great job of explaining in words how to do it.

She explains the college tone

Scholars don't write like teenagers, can we all just agree on that? This book gives many examples for how to sound scholarly in a college paper, without being boring with a paper full of the passive tense.

She gives examples

She includes many good and bad examples and charts that clearly explain what to do. And the pages are well-designed to make it easy to read.

She understands teenagers

I love her section titled, "Strategies to alienate, frustrate, and annoy your reader." She says, "If your goal is to ensure your essay will not pass and to make your work seem lazy and sloppy, try the following strategies." I have to say, that made me laugh out loud! And it's a VERY effective strategy to use with teens.

College Readiness and Study Skills

This is an academic book. It's not light reading, and it's not curriculum with instruction. You don't want to cuddle up with it before drifting off to sleep. That's not the point of this book. This book would be helpful for a senior to read before heading to college. This book could become part of a class on college readiness, or study skills. Your high school class might include test preparation and college applications during the first half of the year. Then as the year continues, make the switch to preparing for the academic work of college.

Teach your children to write in high school. Then teach them essential writing skills they will need for college and beyond.

Click to Get My Ebook, "The 10 Essentials for Homeschooling High School!"

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What's Up with Reading Lists?

What's Up with Reading Lists?

What's up with Reading Lists?

Every student should have a high school reading list as part of their college admission package. Each will be a unique reading list that reflects the child's unique abilities and interests. Online you can find many sites with reading lists for the college bound.  They should not be used as to do lists, though.

Personal reading lists vary widely - depending on the child and how much the child loves to read. Some kids are doing well to read six books a year, and others may read 60. Because my own children are voracious readers, I chose to make reading lists broken down a year at a time. In other words, you may want to keep a reading list for freshman year and a different list for sophomore year. When I child is not so voracious about reading, then you probably want to have a single reading list for the entire high school period.

However you break it down, the reading list includes everything the child reads: reading for school (such as Jane Austen book), reading for pleasure (such as Harry Potter books), personal interests (acres and acres of chess books, for instance), professional reading (PC World Magazine, for instance), and audio books. Your child's list includes everything!

An "everything" list can be stressful when your child reads a lot. Believe me, with a voracious reader you don't need to include every single book they read for an entire high school period. You merely want to get enough books on the list to communicate a well read, voracious reader. For this reason, if your child has forgotten to write in their book list for a few months, but they still have a ton of other books on the list, you don't need to worry about it.

The "everything" list can be helpful for a child who hates reading as well. A very small reading list for freshman year can indicate a possible area for improvement for the following year. It may start with a conversation like, "Honey, six books aren't enough. What can we do to increase the number of books you read this coming year?" By keeping a reading list, even a short reading list, you will be able to assess the situation and make adjustments.

You can see an example of a reading list on my website here: Sample Reading List

Those of you who use Sonlight Curriculum will recognize some of the books, but you can see that many other books are included as well. My reading list was just for my children, based on their interests. It included books they were required to read for school and also included books they loved to read for fun. I didn't include textbooks, because my children read so much I didn't need to fill out the list even more, but I know that some homeschoolers do include textbooks. My example of a reading list is for one year, but the reading list included all their reading for an entire 12 month period and my kids are prolific readers.  Your reading lists should not look the same - they should reflect your child.

I used books in the reading list to make course descriptions. My course description included the text used, plus the books my child read as a supplement, as well as anything they did for that class.

Again, my reading list isn't meant to be a to do list, but one child's reading history. Your reading list should look completely different, and should represent your child's own reading history.



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Please note: This post was originally published in August 2009 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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Literary Analysis is Not a High School Requirement

Literary Analysis is Not a High School Requirement

Literary Analysis is Not a High School Requirement

I noticed an interesting article in the Washington Post a few years ago. It made me wonder if they hate literary analysis as much as I do.

Here is what the author, Nancy Schnog, says:

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Reading Aloud and Fond Family Feelings

Reading Aloud and Fond Family Feelings

Reading Aloud and Fond Family Feelings

I read aloud to my boys all through high school. At one point my eldest balked at the thought of a read aloud with his mom so I told him that my Honors English teacher in public school read aloud to my class (true story). About a month ago my kids told me how glad they are that we homeschooled them. They are now 26 and 28 years old. I asked them what they remembered best and they said the reading aloud. I think reading aloud is the intersection of fond family feelings plus academics which makes it the fondest memory of homeschooling.

I didn't read aloud over the summer or during the month of December, but I did read aloud four days a week, for about a half hour per day. I'm pretty sure I perfected the art of reading with my eyes closed when I was drowsy. I do suggest a cup of coffee first, for sure!

To start reading aloud, I suggest choosing books from my College Bound Reading List.

For younger children, check out my Middle School Reading list.

Do you enjoy reading aloud in your homeschool? Please share!

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2 Key Writing Skills for College Readiness

2 Key Writing Skills for College Readiness

2 Key Writing Skills for College Readiness

Spend about 1-2 hours a day on English skills in your homeschool high school. High school English class should include about 30-60 minutes of writing almost every single day. Sometimes this includes research, and sometimes a short essay or even poetry or public speaking could be included. There are two key writing skills that are important for college readiness.

  1. Writing a short, handwritten essay.
    Give your child a writing prompt and have them write for one hour in order to produce a 2-3 page paper at the end of the hour. Being able to write an essay is an important skill for the SAT or ACT, and also for essay tests your child may take in college. You can use the book 501 Writing Prompts for short essay topics early in the high school years. Later in high school, you can use essay prompts for the SAT or ACT so your child is learning to write an essay and doing test preparation at the same time.

  2. Writing a long research paper.
    Have your child decide on a topic, research it, develop an outline, create a rough draft, and then incorporate feedback into a final draft. These papers can be done on the computer. On average, students should write a 5-10 page paper that takes about two to four weeks to complete, from the beginning idea to the final product. Early in high school, these papers might be on high school subjects, such as history. Later in high school,  college application essays can help your child learn how to write a paper and prepare for college applications at the same time.

Early in high school, the student may use workbooks to learn writing skills, such as grammar, editing, spelling, or vocabulary workbooks. Later in high school, most of the time spent learning writing is through writing - daily practice of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

High school English should also include about 30-60 minutes of reading every day - sometimes this includes novels, other times it will include reading research, going to the library, or non-fiction books. Literary analysis is optional, not required.

There are a million other things you could include with your high school English class, but many of them are optional skills. The keys to succeeding in college will depend on the ability to quickly write a handwritten essay, and to be able to write a longer paper on the computer for college assignments.

For more help with English, consider picking up my Coffee Break Book, Easy English for Simple Homeschooling: How to Teach, Assess, and Document High School English, for a short read.




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Literature Based Curriculum on the Reading List: Venn Diagram

Literature Based Curriculum on the Reading List: Venn Diagram

When you use a literature based curriculum, the boundaries between English course descriptions, history course descriptions, and reading lists get blurry! Instead of thinking you need to divide books between them all, think of it like a Venn Diagram:

Books that are ONLY in the English course description: textbooks, workbooks, curriculum. These might include: Sonlight Core 100, Spelling Power, Wordly Wise, Institute for Excellence in Writing High School Essay Intensive.

Books that are ONLY in the History course description: textbooks, workbooks, and curriculum. These might include: Sonlight Core 100, Mapping the World By Heart, History of US by Joy Hakim.

Books that go in BOTH English AND the reading list, literature read for school. For example: The Red Badge of Courage, Call of the Wild.

Books that go in BOTH the History course description and the reading list: biographies and historical fiction read for school. For example: Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin or Farewell to Manzanar.

If books fit in BOTH the history course description and the English course description, I would usually put the autobiographies in History and the historical novels in English, even though they help the child learn about both subjects.

The Reading List can include everything that is considered literature. For that reason, you can include literature reading for school, historical reading for school, historical novels, biographies, and any reading for fun. I usually leave off the list anything that seems like curriculum. Anthologies are collections of literature excerpts, and can be a little harder to place. When a reading list is already quite long, I suggest leaving the anthology as curriculum, either in the English course description or the History course description (or both!) but not on the reading list.

Because homeschoolers who use a literature based curriculum have so many books in the reading list (and always will, no doubt), I'd be tempted to remove the more schoolish books (such as Foxes Book of Martyrs, Beowulf, and Famous Men of Greece) and put those kinds of books ONLY in the course description, rather than on the reading list. But you know, that's really just a "me" thing. Most high school kids read 5-10 books a year, so there is no need to include everything, and these completely overlap!  Although my son Alex read Jane Austen's books for fun and should have had those books on his reading list, the same books were ALSO on the reading list for Kevin, even though he didn't think it was much fun at all!

The bottom line? The reading list is not just for high school subjects, it's what your child read that year.  It will include some literature they read for school subjects, especially when you use a literature based curriculum. Course descriptions are not about reading for fun, but might include books that are assigned for school and that might just happen to be fun to read.

Please note: This post was originally published in February 2013 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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Literature-based vs. Reality-based Homeschool

Literature-based vs. Reality-based Homeschool
We used a literature-based curriculum for high school. My children read TONS of books! What does literature-based learning look like in a REAL world, where parents are faced with the demands of homeschooling, housework, and household economics?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click and buy I make a few pennies, but not enough for a latte.

Literature-based vs. Reality-based Homeschool

Wouldn't it be nice to have the ability to pre-read every book and have thoughtful conversations about everything your children read? Yes, but our children are only in high school for four years.  That's NOT enough time to read all the books suggested in a literature-based curriculum, and not enough time to thoroughly digest each book to the degree an English Major in college might.

That's ok! I did not read every book ahead of time. I looked over many of the books in advance in the Sonlight CatalogJim Trelease Read-Aloud Handbook, The Well-Trained Mind, or Tapestry of Grace Catalog.  These sources gave me a clue about the content of each book, so I would know if reading in advance was necessary. Some books I chose to read in advance just because I wanted to read them myself!

I did take the time to read aloud to my children almost every single day of high school. Once or twice they would express concern that I was treating them like "babies." I would honestly tell them that my own Honors English teacher in the public high school read aloud to the class. It was a non-negotiable. We read aloud in our homeschool. Hearing me pronounce words would help their pronunciation. Sometimes I would begin a book by reading aloud. Once they were hooked on the story, I would allow them to finish reading it on their own.

Every parent has to weigh the pros and cons for themselves. "Which book is important to read myself, since I can't read them all?" You also need to choose which books to discuss and which to enjoy separately. A lot of factors go into those decisions. How many pounds of laundry per week do you have to do in a week? How many load of dishes? How many younger siblings are you juggling? How much do you value personal time?

I know one thing for sure; the love of reading and the love of learning will stay with them forever.  You can instill this love without reading books in advance or analyzing literature. You can even instill it without having a two-way discussion ... just listen to them express their joy in reading each book.

Wow, I'm such a radical! For more on my radical views of literary analysis, read this article: Do Great Homeschools Really Need Socratic Dialog?

What does a literature-based curriculum look like in your homeschool? Do you read aloud in high school? Please share!

Please note: This post was originally published in January 2011 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehension.

If you need any extra help, you will really appreciate my Gold Care Club, with templates and tools that will help you along.
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Finding College Application Essays for Practice

Finding College Application Essays for Practice
Junior year is a great time to take advantage of college application essays for practice. Use each of them as an English writing assignment. Have your child practice how to brainstorm and polish a technically perfect, self-reflective essay. But how do you go about finding college application essays?

Finding College Application Essays for Practice

Hi Lee - I've been perusing the sites of the schools my high school junior is interested in applying to, wanting to see what their essay questions are so he can begin writing them. But ... they all have online applications that require an account. Any ideas for getting a hold of practice essays?"

You can visit any college and ask for an application packet on the spot. Also ask if they provide a fee-waiver of the application cost since you came to visit, because some do. Sometimes you can simply Google the college name along with "application" and bypass the login, getting directly to the application without an account. You can also attend a college fair and collect application essays from many colleges at once! Enjoy!

Are you having your Junior practice writing college application essays? Please share!



Please note: This post was originally published in November 2011 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Do you need help with College Application Essays? Learn how to help your student write a compelling story about themselves so colleges will listen through this online course.
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Free Printable College Bound Reading List

Free Printable College Bound Reading List

Are you looking for a great list of books for your child to read? Grab this free printable College Bound Reading List .

This list includes books that are often listed on reading lists for the college bound. Print and put the list in your pocket for your frequent library trips. Save this list on your computer desktop and use it for online purchases. Look at these books for online readers, as well. Many classics are very inexpensive to get for e-readers.

It’s not possible (or even desirable!) for any student to read all the books on every college-bound reading list, and not every book will be appropriate for every child. However, reading from a broad cross-section of both American and World literature will help prepare your students to understand a variety of different cultures and times. By choosing books from a variety of genres, you will strengthen their knowledge and understanding of great literature. We hope you enjoy this selection!

All families are different, and therefore all families must decide their own standards for the books their children read. Some of these books are listed on almost every reading list, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect for you. This reading list is drawn from a broad cross section of college-bound reading lists. However, parents assume all responsibility for their children’s education. If you are not familiar with something on this list, please review the book first.

Be sure to include some popular literature as well. A variety of colleges have said that homeschool applicants may have an over-emphasis on classic literature, and that reading lists should include popular literature. Some colleges have mentioned that inclusion of current literature shows “socialization.” You may want to include some popular fiction in your student’s reading list. Just remember, many of the newer books have some pretty raunchy language. Preview those books as well, if you can.

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Holiday Writing Prompts for Homeschooling Christmas

Holiday Writing Prompts for Homeschooling Christmas

My favorite Christmas school project was our yearly creative writing assignment based on Norman Rockwell art. Have you seen some of his holiday paintings?  Amazing creative holiday writing prompts!

I asked my boys to choose any picture in Norman Rockwell's Christmas Book. Their assignment was to write a story behind the picture. They came up with some GREAT creative writing ideas, and the pictures really helped to get those creative juices flowing.

This tradition of creative holiday writing prompts was how my son Kevin came to write "The Santa Scandal."

"No one would see him. These and numerous other seductive thoughts flew through Andrew's brain like arrows. It was Christmas Eve, and his parents were out doing a little last minute shopping. There was a choice; be a good boy and go to bed, or sneak into his parents' room and hunt for presents."

During December, we would only do a few of the most challenging subjects - math, science, foreign language. For English, we switched our assignments and exchanged them for Christmas writing.  The boys would write their Christmas cards and letters to friends. We listened to Handel's Messiah, and other Christmas music. When my kids were much younger, many of their winter projects came from Family Fun Magazine. You can find great craft ideas through the Family Fun website. Using their suggestions, we made many gifts for our family and friends.

Although they would finish their schoolwork at about noon, we had strict rules limiting TV and computer time during our "homeschool lite" season. The kids normally helped me with all the shopping, baking, cleanings, decorating, and preparing. Then they spent the rest of the day pursuing own interests.

Remember, colleges like "passion" and want to see kids take an interest in their own activities. December is a good time to allow specialization! Many students will do many hours of volunteer work. They may work hard on a Christmas play or musical. Older teens may consider a seasonal job or extra babysitting for friends. Make sure you somehow capture the hours from these activities, and put it on their transcript. These hours might be a class called Occupational Education or Home Economics, but sometimes you'll want to save those hours to record them as volunteer work.

By the way, Kevin's story about "The Santa Scandal" ends this way.

For a moment, the drawer seemed to contain nothing of importance. There was nothing but dusty, red clothes. Andrew dug deeper and uncovered a pointy fur hat. "Now that's odd. Why would Dad have red clothes and a hat. Unless..."

As his thoughts slowly caught up with him, his parents barged in from the living room - early. Andrew let out a strangled cry and whirled about. In his hands was the incriminating evidence, and on his face was written a mixture of horror, disbelief, and betrayal. Shaking with tears, he finally cried out, "You STOLE Santa's clothes?!?"

Haha! I love that!  I still can't believe his creative conclusion!

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About The HomeScholar

Lee has three core beliefs about homeschooling: homeschooling provides the best possible learning environment; every child deserves a college-prep education whether or not they choose to go to college; and parents are capable of providing a superior education to their children. Lee does not judge your homeschool or evaluate your children. Instead, she comes alongside to help and encourage parents homeschooling high school.

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