Moving Beyond the Page Literature Unit Study Guides

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Moving Beyond the Page Literature Unit Study Guides

The set of all 12 literature units at each level are intended as a complete language arts curriculum teaching vocabulary, grammar, writing, spelling, story elements, and figurative language in the context of popular children’s books. However, they are more than this, bordering on unit studies because of their strong social studies, science, critical thinking, and art/design components. Available at five levels (ages 7-9, 8-10, 9-11, 10-12 and 11-13), they correspond to concept units in the Moving Beyond the Page curriculum.

These use literature as a springboard for investigation, exploration, research, creativity and expression; the focus moves outward from the book. This is unlike most purely literature study guides which bring everything in toward a focus on the novel itself. Another unique attribute is the amount of creative expression involved, from identification with particular characters in the book to developing plotlines or stories having some common theme – there is much more running with a train of thought stimulated by the book than responding directly to the book. Motivated, artistic, imaginative, creative children will love all of the extension activities here! They will have many opportunities for creative expression as they write stories, draw and design things, use critical thinking skills, journal, reenact scenes, and mentally put themselves in the characters’ shoes. Also striking is the rigorous nature of some of the assignments, especially at the lower levels. I can see why these are recommended for gifted students. Since these guides were originally created to enhance a science and social studies driven curriculum, there are many activities that get fairly deeply into these subject areas. This is especially the case in pre-reading activities as you set the stage for the time and location of the novel. The author utilizes these research opportunities to maximum advantage – and it does help to put the book in context. Often, this facet of literary analysis is skipped or passed over too lightly when we read a book, making it difficult to really understand some of the conflict, circumstance and social culture/customs that are critical to comprehension. While it’s difficult to get a bead on the comprehensiveness of the guides for spelling, vocabulary, and grammar with only a small sampling, I can say with certainty that there’s plenty of composition integrated into the units. Besides a large number of writing activities, the student keeps a journal which is used for some of the discussion question responses each day. In some guides, the journal is also used for other creative responses (such as retelling part of the story as diary entries through the eyes of Anna each day in Sarah, Plain and Tall). Other language arts areas seem to be covered in a solid, serious, and thorough manner, based on the samples I’ve reviewed. Vocabulary work is significant with children looking up words and writing definitions and using target words in compositions. Students learn how to use a dictionary and thesaurus to their advantage. Many activity pages are devoted to grammar, mechanics, and punctuation. Spelling lists, including common and challenge words, appear at the end of each guide.

Each literature unit is in a standard format. Lessons are structured and easy to use. There’s no guesswork involved. Each one includes most of the following elements:

Questions to Explore – the Big Picture ideas and concepts for the lesson

Facts and Definitions – any knowledge or vocabulary learned during the lesson

Skills – objectives, identified by subject area

Materials – everything needed for the lesson, even included activity pages

Introduction – exactly how to introduce the lesson to your child (almost scripted)

Activities – generally from 1-4 of these which vary widely by lesson

Conclusion – summing up the ideas from the lesson along with response from your child

Real-Life Application – an extension activity which takes a concept from the story and applies it to a real person or situation

While the format is standard, the lessons themselves are extremely varied. In one lesson, the concentration may be on a grammatical or literary aspect. The next, you may have a lot of social studies related activity. One lesson will have your child writing a persuasive paper; the next a poem. She may study prefixes and suffixes today and be baking cookies tomorrow! Today a science experiment; tomorrow planning a party! You get the idea. Moreover, there are often several options for an assignment, so you can choose the most appealing or beneficial one. If you are using these guides as the basis for a language arts program, you will probably want to leave most of those activities intact, but you may still want to moderate some of the writing assignments. And while the lessons are easy to use and complete, there is still a lot of parental involvement required. Some activities are challenging, others need adult help and guidance – which is not unusual at these grade levels. Lessons that include reading in the novel have a series of questions about the chapter(s). These are not all recall questions, but include more in-depth and subjective discussion questions. You should read the book in tandem with your child in order to assess her responses.

The number of lessons varies by guide. Some of the units include other books and resources (see below). Typically, a unit will last from 2-3 weeks, though you may take longer with some lessons, especially with some of the more involved activities. Every unit ends with a final project, some of which may take a few days to complete. There are three literature units for every concept per level. Using all three would allow your child to compare and contrast themes and characters across novels within a thematic framework. Literature units and novels also become more advanced through each level. Please note that this is not a religious curriculum. It does, however, encourage character development.

Concepts and units by age are listed below. Each literature package contains the literature unit guide AND the corresponding novel. Where other components are included, they appear below the package in italics. NOTE: Student Activity Page sets are NOT INCLUDED in the packages. A single copy of each is in the study guide. Although you are not allowed to reproduce these pages from the guides, they are all single-sided and usable, so you do not have to purchase a set of student pages unless you want to leave your guide intact.

Beginning with ages 9-11, the guides are “Student Directed Literature Units.” All instruction is written directly to the student in a conversational tone and the guides are a worktext with no separate student activity pages. Each package contains the SDLU, the corresponding novel, and sometimes other books (listed below the package in italics). Occasional tests are provided with an answer key at the back of the unit. Also in the back are several references/helps: spelling lists, handy guides to writing and grammar, and a writing rubric.

The new guides for ages 12-14 are structured around two semesters, with five literature guides per semester. Publisher recommends the literature guides be completed in order. Each literature guide provides 12 lessons and a final project. In-depth analysis of story elements and figurative language, challenging essays and comprehensive grammar assignments will enable students to appreciate and emulate the craft of great writers. Thematically, guides will aid students in gaining a deeper understanding of everyday life in the past through the selected literature and reading assignments.

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