Exploring the World with English

While Social Studies was the star of our homeschool this year, Language Arts played the primary supporting role. After a haphazard beginning in August and September, we settled into a wonderful rhythm, incorporating literature, writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Read on to follow our footsteps through the schoolyear.

Homeschool Navigator

Last year, the girls and I reviewed Homeschool Navigator, a complete online language arts program designed for kids from K through 6th grade. Since the girls seemed to enjoy this easy-to-implement program, we began our year using it.

Even though the twins were a year or two past the target range, they enjoyed reading books and watching videos to learn about the literary elements of short stories and novels. The writing assignments were appropriately challenging, though we completed them at a faster pace than they were assigned.

A few weeks into our school year, I realized life might be much simpler if the 12-year-old twins and their 14-year-old sister used the same literature program. We switched gears to try something different.

Exploring Literature

After skimming through the literature options on SchoolhouseTeachers.com, I settled on a course recommended for grades 8-10.

Exploring Literature is a straightforward course designed to expose students to great literature such as Gulliver’s Travels, Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Swiss Family Robinson. The first unit focused on reading and understanding short stories, such as O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” I loved the fact that there was nothing to buy beyond a SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership. Links to all of the online readings were provided in the curriculum.

Although my younger girls appreciated the class, my high schooler did not. She also expressed her discontent at doing the same work her younger sisters were doing. After all, she’s in tenth grade, while they’re still in middle school.

We completed only the first unit of Exploring Literature before searching for other options.


When my older daughter chose a program from Sonlight Curriculum to tackle history and literature this year, I began daydreaming about using one of their packages with the twins. Having discussed the possibility with my husband and the girls, we tracked down a used instructor guide for the Eastern Hemisphere Core (Core F).

To make the curriculum more affordable for us, I reserved books at the library whenever possible and purchased some titles used as we progressed through the year.

The twins and I loved using Sonlight as our literature program. The novels we read expanded upon what we learned in geography. Most books were set in the country we were learning about and helped us explore the culture of the people who lived there.

Some of the longer novels were read-alouds, which even my high school graduate enjoyed listening in on. The girls read independently each week as well. Discussion questions in the instructor guide helped me evaluate their comprehension as we discussed significant issues in each book. The Instructor Guide also defines unfamiliar words that crop up in their reading, helping them to expand their vocabulary.

Sonlight also includes weekly writing exercises. On Monday, the girls would copy down a passage from dictation. On Tuesday, we would discuss some fine points grammar illustrated in the passage. For the rest of the week, the girls focused on the week’s writing assignment. Most weeks highlighted a different type of composition.

We stuck to Sonlight’s lesson plans for the first eight weeks, then changed it to fit our needs. We used all of the readers and read-alouds for the rest of the year, but we set aside the writing assignments in favor of a different program.

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

IEW Writing

By Christmas, I knew the girls and I needed more direction in writing, but I had no idea where to turn.

Early in January, I was able to watch some online training videos with a Premium Membership to The Institute for Excellence in Writing. Teaching writing suddenly made sense. Within a week, I was ready to tackle this parent-led writing program.

We made it through six of the nine writing units. The girls learned to create keyword outlines, summarize paragraphs, retell short stories, summarize short articles, and retell a story from pictures. They also practiced summarizing multiple references—a key concept for writing longer research papers in the future.

Fix-It! Grammar

Early in the spring, we added in IEW’s practical Fix It! Grammar program.

Level 2 of Fix It! Grammar features the story of Robin Hood. The twins spent time each week identifying parts of speech, marking clauses, and adding capitalization and punctuation to a passage from the story. Surprisingly, they actually enjoyed copying the corrected version in their own handwriting.

The curriculum reinforces the writing skills taught in IEW. Already, the girls have completed half of the book and want to continue using Fix It! next year.

Supplementary Resources

Grammar Planet

We began our year reviewing Grammar Planet, a free online program which teaches kids to identify parts of speech.

Since both girls already had a good grasp of grammar, they progressed quickly through this fun resource.

Victus Study Skills

In February, we spent about a week focusing on study skills using Victus Study Skills System.

We evaluated the girls’ current study skills, discovered their learning styles, and learned studying and test-taking strategies.

Hamelin Stoop

We had the opportunity to add some biblical allegory to our literary repertoire in May.

The girls read the first two books of the Hamelin Stoop Series for a crew review. After they finished each book, we discussed the themes prevalent in the story.

Building Writing Skills

Because The Critical Thinking Co offered us the opportunity to review Building Writing Skills - Essential Tips & Techniques, the twins spent a few weeks filling in fun worksheets which helped them improve their writing.

It was a welcome break from their weekly writing assignments and a great way to wrap up our homeschool year.

Report Card Time

Since IEW provides writing checklists, writing grades are easy to assign. Sonlight, however, provides no grading rubric. Based on their completion of all assignments, attentive discussion, and clear growth in understanding, the twins have each earned an A in English.

Looking Ahead

This year we discovered curricula we love that fits the girls’ preferred learning (and my preferred teaching) style. In the fall, we plan to explore Africa and the Middle East through literature, using the second half of Sonlight Eastern Hemisphere (Core F). We will begin the Sonlight World History 2 (Core H) in January.

The girls are excited to continue working through Fix It! Grammar. They definitely want to finish the Level 2 book in the fall. We may move on to the next book in January, or add in a different grammar program.

I love the incremental writing instruction IEW provides, but I will probably need to purchase one of the student resources on their site to help me be more consistent in teaching writing. Have you used IEW with your kids? Let me know what resources you would recommend for my eighth graders.