HELP US!!!! (Long post ahead…..)

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  • Caryn

    I need help with my sophomore’s English credit.  She has never struggled with grammar instruction, she’s a natural speller and does well with dictation.  She’s an avid reader and has a pretty average college-prep type literature list that she’s been working on in high school.  She DOES struggle with literature analysis however.  It’s been a challenge for her all along.  She is good with general comprehension/plot summaries but genuinely struggles with anything beyond that – which is a HUGE problem now that she’s in high school level lit courses.

    Last year we did VP Self-Paced Omnibus 1 for Lit, which she did really well in – but it didn’t require any writing/book discussion from her.  The professor of the course basically presented all the necessary info and she was then quizzed on that content online, but wasn’t required to generate the answers on her own (they were multiple choice mainly).  This year we’re trying to move to a more CM style and I have no idea how to help her in this area.  She has always struggled with expressing her opinion about anything she’s read, even as a young child with her oral narrations – she gets the content right but doesn’t have much to add to it.  She’s using Heart of Dakota this year and it’s basically drawing tears when it comes to the Lit analysis.

    At the recent SCM conference (which I LOVED!) Sonya stated she doesn’t require narrations from Literature – so how does high school Literature work?  I am fine with having her read through a set book list and having weekly discussions about the books, but she needs the questions ahead of time in order to make up her answers or she won’t be able to participate in the discussion – it’s like a deer in the headlights.  Then I feel like that might not be the right thing to do – giving her a set list of questions to answer – because I want HER to make connections on her own, not just have me tell her what she needs to pay attention to.  That’s what the VP course did last year and didn’t help her advance in this area.  Her brain is SO opposite to how my brain works I have NO idea what to do.  Thoughts, please – PLEASE!


    I am looking forward to hearing others’ responses to this.

    I have a similar child. HATES lit analysis. And what I’ve decided is that he really doesn’t need to do any. I had him learn the lit. terms via a workbook (like Figuratively Speaking) and occasionally I ask him to identify a certain technique in a short story or poem (like, “find the irony in this story” or sometimes those kinds of things come up when we watch TV or movies; allusions to things, etc.).

    Beyond that, I just have him read the books, because he loves to read, and we have literature discussions once a week. But when we discuss, I don’t lead him with questions. I just want to know what he thinks of the book; what HE gets out of it. I find that he has the most trouble when lit. programs try to lead his thoughts in a certain direction. He just doesn’t resonate with that. So I want to know what HE gets out of a book, not what a lit. program wants him to get out of it.

    I’m not sure how that approach would hold up in college, but this boy is likely going into the trades and probably won’t ever have to analyze a book in a college class. So, like I said, I’m looking forward to hearing other replies.


    Many CM homeschoolers never do lit analysis at all. 🙂 There’s some great info over on Ambleside Online, concerning this topic.

    We have done very, very little in our homeschool. We may do IEW’s Windows On The World in my daughter’s junior or senior year just to prepare her for college but I’m not sure.

    I think, in your daughter’s case, I would just hold off for another year or two and have her try again then. Maybe she just isn’t ready.

    Lit analysis is definitely not a part of a Charlotte Mason education. She was not a fan. However, some of us may feel the need to cover this as preparation for college studies.


    I did lit analysis when I was in college about 8 years ago. I kind of enjoyed it but felt like it was a big joke and kind of approached it that way. Who really cares what X means anyway and if the author is dead and didn’t say it is just someone’s made up guess anyway;) I had not done lit analysis in HS and did not have any trouble with it in college. I even took a British Lit class for fun (we read  part of Canterbury Tales in old english….it is a different language!) Just make sure your child can write well….and figure out what someone else wants. Professors are all different.


    We have not done literary analysis formally, but our formula has basically been:  Read the book.  Discuss the book (via questions like, “So, what do you think of Hester Prynne?”).  Read more of the book.  Discuss more of the book.  Read the rest of the book.  Watch a movie based on the book (if there is a good quality one available).  Enjoy the book.

    That’s it.  Just enjoy the book.

    Sonya Shafer

    Here’s an idea of something you could do that would be very informal but give some structure to your discussions and some preparation time for your daughter. Give her a list of the elements of literary analysis (see below for some basics) and make sure she understands what each one means. Encourage her to review the list of elements every so often as she reads through a book, so she can be thinking about them and maybe even jot down things she notices as she goes along. Then after she finishes reading the book, discuss her findings and ask for her opinion of the book. Just try to keep this list and discussion secondary to the joy of reading and experiencing and making friends of great books–that’s the most important thing.

    Analyze the Story

    • Setting: in history and geography (Discuss the setting of both the story and of the author. Did the author’s experiences have any impact on the writing?)
    • Plot (*see 7 basic plots list below)
    • Characters: main and secondary (Did any of them grow over the course of the book? In what way?)

    Analyze the Style of Writing

    • Point of View (Who told the story?)
    • Imagery: figures of speech, metaphors, allegory, things like that
    • Syntax: sentence structure, grammar
    • Tone
    • Theme
    • Repetition: of words, phrases, symbols

    7 Basic Plots (of almost all works of fiction)

    • Overcoming the monster
    • Rags to riches
    • The quest
    • Voyage and return
    • Comedy
    • Tragedy
    • Rebirth

    Sonya – So you would recommend this for the high school level?  or middle school too?


    I love Sonya’s post. If I was going to do any analyzing it would be like that. But we’ve never done any. I have two graduates and two high schoolers. We just read and talk about the books if we feel like it. Authors don’t write books to be analyzed. That’s never their goal, so it really isn’t mine. My oldest is working on his second bachelor’s degree and never had any problem from not doing this in high school. And my second is writing her fourth novel, and it hasn’t hindered her at all. (Her first book is available on amazon, and the second will be there soon.) I feel like if I were to have my kids do literary analysis, it would make the books less enjoyable to them.

    Sonya Shafer

    If you feel the need to do some literary analysis, I wouldn’t recommend any before high school. And even then, keep it very informal and occasional. We want the relation the student forms with the book to be the main thing. Nothing steals joy faster than dissecting and picking apart.


    Sonya – I agree 100%.  🙂 🙂 🙂


    I know this thread was introduced a month ago but thought you may find this helpful: How to Read Literature Like a Professor For Kids by Thomas C Foster.

    It is very readable, gives examples of the plot elements and very quickly and easily helps the reader to start identifying these elements in their own reading. There is an adult version but I’m assuming the kids one just ‘cuts to the chase’. I wouldn’t use it for any child younger than high school though because some of the more mature references.

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