Reading is an essential part of any education. But not just any reading—while perusing magazines, websites, and popular novels may be fun and (sometimes) instructive, it's the books generally accepted as "classics" to which educators and parents turn in order to show their students what the world is like and how to best live in it.
As a result, most literature courses for homeschool kids focus on Newbery books, the works of Dickens and Austen, famous short stories, historical speeches and documents, etc.Words Aptly Spoken is no exception. Compiled and edited by Jen Greenholt, each of these five volumes explores great literature and uses it to teach literary analysis and writing.
How Do These Work?
These books comprise the literature portion of the middle/high school courses for Classical Conversations, but you can easily use Words Aptly Spoken on its own. Children's Literature and Short Stories for middle school correspond to Classical Conversations Challenge A and B.American Literature, American Documents, and British Literature are all for high school.
Short Stories and American Documents include all the reading material needed; American Literature includes some of the literature though you'll also need to get some longer works elsewhere; and Children's Literature and British Literature include none of the reading material you'll need to procure for your students.
Each book includes two basic elements: comprehension and thought questions for each reading assignment, and information for improving literary analysis and writing skills. Students read an assignment (a poem, short story, political speech, chapters from a novel, or whatever), answer/discuss the questions, and complete a writing or contemplation assignment.
This is intended as a parent/teacher-directed course. Rather than writing the answers to all the questions, students and parents should discuss them. Some suggest having a book for the parent and another for the student, but this is unnecessary. Students motivated to study literature could probably do this on their own, though some measure of guidance is important.
Reading assignments include everything from Johnny Tremain and Where the Red Fern Grows, to the U. S. Constitution, to Jane Eyre and Charles Colson's Born Again. At least one of these books (Johnny Tremain) is used for two different volumes in the series—Children's Literature and American Literature.
Students learn to identify and understand various genres, cite works, analyze characters, organize their thoughts for an essay, make connections, create timelines, place works in their historical context, and much more throughout the series. The methodology involves using what students read to draw out broader critical thinking, literary analysis, and writing skills.
Because Words Aptly Spoken is part of Classical Conversations, there's an emphasis on the modern definition of Classical-style education. That is, students work through the Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric stages, learning the basic language of literature, how to think logically and creatively about it, and how to express those ideas well.
In order to achieve this effect, you'll need to use all five levels of Words Aptly Spoken. New concepts are layered in gradually as the program progresses, so that when students reach the last volume (British Literature) they're able to work with more difficult ideas and vocabulary. Parents need not fear, however: you'll learn alongside your kids, and all you need is in these books.
No attempt is made to make the content "fun" in the sense of games and whatnot. All the volumes except Children's Literature are illustrated in black and white, but the books are large and the print is small and it would actually have been preferable to include more illustrations to break up the text.
Our Honest Opinion
The Words Aptly Spoken books are described as "companion guides to classics," and are best used as such. While you could get by teaching literature and literary analysis using these books alone, there would be gaps in your kids' understanding that would be filled by more comprehensive courses like James Stobaugh's Skills for Literary Analysis and Skills for Rhetoric or the literature guides from Institute for Excellence in Writing.
The greatest benefit of this program is to expose students to a range of literature, though some of the selections seem a bit odd (like having high school students read The Sign of the Beaver and Starship Troopers in the same year). The format also seems a lot like the Andrews's Teaching the Classics, with the question/answer element of Invitation to the Classics, both of which are excellent programs in their own right.
There are definitely some gaps in the material. For instance, in the section of British Literature devoted to George Orwell's Animal Farm, students are instructed to find a "credible source" to learn about early 20th century political ideologies, yet no definition of credible source is offered in the text. There are also no indexes in any of the books, and only limited glossaries, making the use of any of these books in a reference capacity very difficult.
Because this is a Classical Conversations course, we'd obviously recommend it for anyone using that program. For those whose kids aren't enrolled, this could be a good choice for application of literary analysis principles, but we'd recommend using a course that more thoroughly explains these principles beforehand. The IEW course Windows to the World by Lesha Myers, or the above-mentioned Stobaugh books are excellent options.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviewshere.
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