There is no easier subject to plan that literature. I often tell parents that if they’re going to try their hand at planning just one subject, to start by trying out literature. There’s no need to buy a program. Even in high school, literature can be a subject that is parent planned. All you need to do is start with a list of books then add in a few assignments. If you have a separate plan for writing, then this is typically all you really need for English. However, I know it’s still daunting to some parents. Here are some tips to get you started if you’re unsure how to proceed.
Steal others’ lists.
Honestly, this is the best way to start figuring out your literature list for the year. Start by looking at other lists. Check out local school’s lists, lists on blogs, lists on Goodreads, and lists of award winning books. For a homeschool curriculum you like but don’t actually plan to use? Sort through these lists to see what’s right for you.
Think about how many books.
How many books you want to require is going to vary dramatically. For a younger student, you might just require a couple of books alongside lots of free reading time. By high school, you might require more than a dozen meaty novels. Pay attention to how much depth you’ll go into with books. Don’t make a laundry list of every possible book. You have to pick and choose. If you’ll be reading for another program, such as historical fiction for a history program or short stories as part of an English program apart from literature, then you don’t need as many books.
Alternate fun and challenging books.
No matter what grade you’re planning, every student needs some books that will be fun or tailored right for their interests and some books that will push them a little more than others. Try to get a balance between the two. Alternate between them on your list. If you’re planning for upper middle or early high school, it’s okay to include YA titles. Don’t let every book be an older classic.
Look at the levels of books, but remember that there’s no such thing as a “third grade book” or a “tenth grade book.”
One of the things I’ve heard sometimes from parents is that some book or another is a book only for a particular grade level. To do it before would be fine, maybe even prove that their student is ahead of the curve. To do it later would be remedial. The truth is that most of these parents are attaching the grade level they remember it taught in schools or when it happens to be scheduled for their local district. While you want to be sure you’re challenging your student with increasingly rich language and themes, most books have a range of when they might work. Of Mice and Men is a wonderful example. It’s short and easy to read, so it might fit into an honors middle school class. However, the themes for discussion are rich enough that it also might fit into a senior high school lit class. The things students would get out of it at each age will vary.
Consider aligning books to social studies, but don’t get stuck on it.
It’s not necessary to align your literature to whatever history or geography you’re studying in school, but it can be a nice way to bring depth to both subjects, so choosing a few books that go with your social studies focus for the year is a good idea. On the other hand, don’t try to make everything line up just right. Not all places and times have just the right book for the age you’re teaching. There are tons of topics that don’t have many good books. It’s better to skip aligning a book for those topics rather than try to force in a mediocre, too easy, or too difficult book. You can throw in at least some books that aren’t aligned to social studies, but are chosen just because they’re the right books for that age or because they won’t fit in anywhere else. I think making about half of the books aligned and half not is a good guideline most of the time.
Or pick a big theme instead.
Another way to organize a year’s literature is around a big theme. Themes like “coming of age,” “family,” “man vs. nature,” or “political literature,” are all big enough to incorporate lots of potential books. Having a theme can help guide you and make you creative in your choices.
Think about many types of diversity.
Consider whether you have chosen books that are by all white, or all male authors. Also think about the Own Voices movement, a movement to encourage reading more books by authors that represent the communities they’re writing about instead of by outsiders. You can also think about a diversity of protagonists and settings. Diversity can be about being sure you didn’t only choose books set in New York and New England for your American literature year. It can be able making sure your book choices don’t all have wealthy families. If your lists are too one-sided, then you’re defeating one of the primary purposes of literature, which is to expose kids to different perspectives. Check out the We Need Diverse Books website for elementary and middle school to get ideas. For high school, search keywords like “best ___ books” to find different perspectives.
Pick your assignments.
There are lots of ways to tackle assignments for required reading. In my house, we do a book conversation after finishing a book, where we have a special breakfast out to chat about the novel. Having a purposeful conversation about a book may be enough, especially for younger students. However, we’ve also used literature guides and short essays. Look through online guides to find simple assignments for your book choices. The Glencoe and Penguin free literary guides are great starting points. You can find others or pay for them if you’re interested. By high school, students should be writing at least some literary analysis papers so you can pick a book and assignment for that. You can also schedule your own creative assignments for books. Ask students to write a new ending, write a review to be posted online, or write a newspaper article about an event in the book. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t bog your student down in too much work. The goal should be to encourage them to think more deeply about the book, improve their comprehension, and improve their ability to discuss books. It shouldn’t be to create busywork.