How to use Excellence in Literature
What does a month look like for a student using Excellence in Literature?
Have you wondered how to use Excellence in Literature? Here is an overview of how to use the study guide and what you might do in a month.
Excellence in literature is designed with three primary ends in mind:
- Share some of the best books ever written in a way that will help students understand and enjoy them
- Teach students to communicate with clarity and excellence as they write about great ideas
- Teach students how to think and work like college students or adults
In light of the third goal, each study guide is written directly to the student. Each guide covers one year of study in nine four-week modules. Each module is focused on a full-length classic work, which is presented in its historic, artistic, and cultural context. In addition to the study guide, you will need to obtain the classics that students read (recommended editions linked here). It is also wise to have a writer’s handbook — either the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers or another such as Writer’s Inc.
First, get acquainted with the study guide
The Excellence in Literature study guide is divided into three parts, which are described in more detail in “What’s Included in Excellence in Literature?“Briefly, the first section tells students how to set up a study area and English notebook, and how to approach each lesson, including how to manage time and figure out how much to read each day. Short chapters on How to Read a Book and How to Write an Essay review essential information, including annotating, the five-step writing process, and outlining. The next chapter, Discerning Worldview Through Literary Periods, offers a quick look at the philosophy and culture of major literary periods. The final chapter in this section is How to Use EIL in a Classroom or Co-op, and this is directed toward teachers.
The second section contains all the modules — one per month. The third section has record keeping and reference materials, including an assignment checklist, Formats and Models (instructions and a student-written model for each type of paper required), and instructions and a rubric for evaluation. Students will read the first section before beginning the school year, and will refer to the third section, particularly the formats and models throughout the school year. Parents should read through both sections as well, in order to know what to expect and also to be able to refer to instructions and models as needed in the evaluation process.
Once both student and parent are familiar with the front and back material in the study guides, it’s time to begin working through the modules. Here is an overview of what happens in each Excellence in Literature module:
In each module, there is a four-week schedule that tells the student what to read and write. The first week’s paper is always short — often an author profile. That keeps the focus on the focus text, where it needs to be. I prefer to see students spend a few days totally immersed in the focus text (it’s almost impossible to love a story and fully absorb all its nuances when it’s dribbled out a chapter a day, so I recommend letting students read as quickly as they like) before beginning to write. If the student needs more time to read an especially long book, you may add a week or so to the module (you’re the teacher, so you can make that decision).
Continue with focus and context readings in the second week. The second week’s writing assignment is relatively short and designed to help student think through the book in a particular way. The second week’s assignment may be analytical or creative (sometimes there is a choice), but is often an approach paper. Instructions and a student written model for each type of paper assigned can be found in the “Formats and Models” chapter near the end of the book.
At some point during the third week, the focus shifts from reading to writing the essay. If the student is working with a particularly long or challenging book such as Don Quixote (World Literature), you may want to add an extra week to the schedule. However, the books in lower levels are chosen to be completely manageable by an average student in the allotted time. Students who struggle can take longer, or have additional adaptations made. By the end of the week, an essay draft should be completed and turned in. The parent or other evaluator will evaluate the content and organization of the paper, using those sections of the provided rubric and referring to a writer’s handbook when necessary.
At the beginning of the week, return the student’s evaluated paper and the rubric, and the student will create a polished final draft based upon the feedback you have provided. Evaluate the paper using the complete rubric, and post the final results on the Evaluation Summary page.
I encourage you to approach each text as it was originally intended to be presented. Epic poetry such as Beowulf or Homer’s Odyssey was originally composed to be recited aloud, so I encourage you to listen to it, before or in addition to reading it. Hearing it brings it to life. Just be sure to listen to a good quality recording of a good translation. At Audible.com where I get all my audiobooks, you can listen to samples of each narration and see which narrator you prefer. A poor translation or narration can almost ruin a great book, so it pays to be careful with this.
Even if you’re not in an epic poetry module, it’s quite all right to work with the student’s learning style for particularly challenging works. An auditory learner can often more easily see the big picture, fully grasp the story arc, and discern underlying themes when the book is heard through his primary learning gate. The student should also have a printed copy of the book to use while working with writing assignments, and you may assign portions of the book to read, in addition to listening.
For any students who bog down in the prodigious vocabulary and complex sentence structure of the classics, listening to a book can provide a way to step through those difficulties and catch the humor, drama, and pathos of these great works. I want them to finish the year loving at least some of the books they’ve experienced, so I encourage you to feel free to work with your student in ways that can make this happen.
If you are beginning in the eighth grade or below, you may want to work with your student at first, helping to orient them in each module. The goal is to offer just enough guidance to help them take off on their own as quickly as possible. If you’d like to see what that looks like in a real home, Debra Brinkmann’s overview of using EIL with her son might help you see how it works.
I hope this overview of how to use Excellence in Literature is helpful for you. Be sure to look below for other articles that offer even more information on how to use the curriculum.
Remember that all Amazon links are affiliate links (see below for how they work). Thank you!