Learn to Write While Using Excellence in Literature
One of the questions I encounter at conferences is whether students need a separate curriculum while using Excellence in Literature. For most students, the answer is “no.” The Excellence in Literature curriculum is focused on understanding classic literature in its historic, artistic, and cultural context, but it is structured to help students learn to write as well.
Learning from models; learning by doing
I’m a strong proponent of learning from classics and models and of learning by doing. That’s why you’ll find a “Formats and Models chapter in each study guide, with models of each type of writing assignment students will encounter in the curriculum. Excellence in Literature also includes a chapter on “How to Write an Essay,” and features specific, focused writing prompts that help the student craft a solid essay.
No matter what curriculum a student uses, he or she should have access to reference books, including a dictionary, thesaurus, and writer’s handbook (EIL Handbook for Writers for older students or Writer’s Inc for younger students.). If a student can read samples of what is expected and research areas of uncertainty in a writer’s manual, it is both natural and possible to learn to write well while using EIL (and the more you write, the better you become).
Benefits of essay experience
From a practical standpoint, I would prefer to have students arriving at EIL with at least a little essay experience. When I taught these courses online (and no, I don’t do that anymore — I’m sorry), some students were very well prepared while others had little or no experience in writing analytical essays. All the students were able to work through the assignments, but well-prepared students seemed better able to focus on deeper analysis and more refined writing. Less prepared students eventually caught up to the level of their natural aptitude.
The curriculum is flexible
The most important thing to remember about Excellence in Literature is that it’s flexible. You can bend the curriculum to fit your student (don’t bend the student to the curriculum!) by shortening, changing, or even skipping portions of assignments. You can even add to or expand a unit if a student is particularly gifted or has a special interest in writing.
The key thing I want students to take away from high school literature is a love for reading great books and a familiarity with a broad spectrum of good literature. Just by doing the reading, they’ll increase vocabulary and reading comprehension, and become familiar with the rhythm and cadence of well-written English. All these things help them to become better thinkers and writers, as well as boosting their scores on the SAT or ACT.