Shakespeare’s plays are something everyone should be exposed to, but they are not something I feel confident about teaching without help.Â So when I had the chance to review a literature curriculum from Hewitt Homeschooling I thought one covering Shakespeare would be perfect.Â I received the Lightning Literature and Composition: Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets Student’s Guide and the Lightning Literature and Composition: Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets Teacher’s Guide to use with my son, who just finished 9th grade.
Hewitt Homeschooling is a company that offers a variety of curriculum to homeschoolers, and it tries to make sure the curriculum is balance and flexible. One of their most popular products is the Lightning Literature series, which has products for Junior High and High School literature studies, and is now starting to introduce some elementary level studies too.Â I have used and loved these products in the past, and you can see my previous review here.
The Shakespeare curriculum I received is designed for grades 11-12, and covers four of Shakespeare’s comedies:
- Twelfth Night
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- The Merchant of Venice
- As You Like It
It also covers eight of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and also includes lessons on related topics like Elizabethan theater, schools of Shakespearean criticism and Shakespearean language.Â It is designed to be used over one high school semester, although it also includes a schedule for using it over a full school year for those who want to move more slowly.
The Student Guide includes comprehension questions and writing prompts for each work.Â It also has an extensive appendix which includes projects ideas, reviews of movies of the plays, and additional reading lists.Â The Teacher’s Guide includes some suggestions on grading and answers to comprehension questions, along with suggested schedules.Â To complete the study you also need copies of the plays, which are easy to find and available at any library or as free ebooks online.
How We Used It
We used Unit 1 of the book, which covered Twelfth Night and 2 sonnets.Â The book starts with a comprehensive introduction, which covers Shakespeare’s life, schools of criticism and language. It is suggested that the student read the play twice, and then watch a video or live production.Â The first time through they are reading for comprehension and plot, and the second time through looking for more details about language, theme, and things like that.Â At the end of the lesson there are suggested writing assignments, of which the student is supposed to complete two.Â The Unit closes with a lesson about 2 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Since drama is meant to be heard my son and I read the play aloud together, taking turns with the parts.Â We also did the comprehension questions as discussion, which worked well for us. After reading the play there are literary lessons on different topics, which for this play focused on theme, characters and language.Â I thought these lessons were interesting and really helped us focus on the important parts of the play.Â Some of the things like contrasting how some characters speak in prose and some in poetry are not something I would have thought about or realized was significant. The lessons are scheduled by the week not by the day, and it took my son about an hour a day to work through the curriculum, although sometimes it was longer.
We also used the discussion questions, which are in an Appendix. I thought the questions were thought provoking and worth doing, so I’d suggest using them even though they aren’t in the main part of the book.
I only made my son do one writing assignment, since it is summer.Â I looked over the nine suggested topics and guessed which one my son would pick, and I guessed correctly!Â He did a character study of one of the supporting characters, which is something he has written before.Â I think most kids tend to stick with writing assignments they are familiar and comfortable with, so if we were doing a second I’d pick the topic so he had to stretch himself a little more.Â I though the assignments were thought provoking, and there were a couple creative writing assignments perfect for students who prefer to write fiction.
The Teacher’s guide includes detailed instructions on how to grade the writing assignments, complete with scoring rubrics. These are very useful, and include detailed checklists for both fiction and non-fiction writing. It also included details on how to grade poems, which is something that I have always found difficult. I also loved the advice on how to be critical about the writing without being discouraging, because I can be overly critical at times!
I like this curriculum a lot, and think that it is wonderful for teaching teenagers to love Shakespeare and appreciate his genius.Â But I also think that my son isn’t quite ready for this yet.Â He was able to do all the assignments and understand it, but it was clear to me that in another year or two he would get more out of it and understand it on a deeper level.Â Each lessons focuses on multiple literary topics in context of the play, and I think my son still needs more focused literary analysis on one topic at a time.Â He is younger than the suggested age range of 11-12th grade, and I think that age range would be perfect for this curriculum, so I will be saving the rest of this curriculum for later in high school. I also think that it might be better for us to cover the tragedies first, because the comedies are mainly about love, and he’d rather have more swordplay and action.Â Luckily Lightning Literature has a curriculum for that too!