A Set of Guides for Four Novels Integrating Composition and Higher Level Thinking
This set of study guides for grades 5-6, written by a Catholic homeschool mother of five, provides a literary guide with in-depth study questions, writing assignments and analyses for four historical novels on Ancient Civilizations: The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Tirzah by Lucille Travis, Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson and The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum.
This guide and future editions that are in the works are designed to provide a literary and writing component to the upcoming Catholic History program Connecting with History: a Guide to Salvation History, Bible History and Ancient Cultures by Sonya Romens and Andrea Chen (see http://www.rchistory.com for details). Novel Inquiries, however, does not rely upon Connecting with History and could certainly be used independently as well.
Mrs. Davidson, an experienced literature teacher and an alumna of Thomas Aquinas College, provides individual guides for teachers and for students in one volume.
First, the introduction offers helpful and practical advice on ways to use a novel in education, helping students learn to extract themes and meanings from the story, handling the study of vocabulary and "getting through the novel". The teacher section itself offers an in-depth story synopsis which highlights important themes from each novel. A "Directing Student Activities" segment offers tips on helping the student get the most out of the novel, explanations of how the novel fits into the Connecting with History program, basic instructions for getting through the various student components of the guides and ideas for post-reading research and activities. A final page offers ways to reflect on all of the books together after having completed the entire study (which is intended as a year-long undertaking). Having read two of the titles (The Golden Goblet and Hittite Warrior) before reading through these study guides, I'd like to say that I'm impressed with the depth and scope of what Mrs. Davidson is able to draw out of each of these stories. Her synopsis and comments brought out excellent points and themes that I had not recognized when I read the novels myself.
The student portion (all but 28 pages of the book) offers guides that vary slightly in focus from story to story both to suit the nature and difficulty of each book and to offer some variety to the course.
The Golden Goblet study guide begins with some short but helpful assignments to complete before starting to read the story (in recognition of the Ignatian/Classical method of prelection - a sort of previewing of the material before beginning). Some tips for "while reading the story" offer ideas for things to think about while reading the story and suggestions of things to jot down in a reading log as the story progresses. The vocabulary section for this novel is rather extensive (four to eight words for each of the sixteen chapters) and covers words such as "ingratiatingly", "menial", and "citadel". Several thoughtful "questions for reflection" for each chapter invite students to think carefully about and draw conclusions relating to the story and predict what will happen next as well as simply relating portions of the storyline. Five "questions for the end of the story" invite students to reconsider some of their conclusions drawn while reading the story and reflect on overall points and themes of the story. The final section offers three in-depth writing assignments complete with pre-writing assignments and tips for revising and editing each segment. These assignments are both interesting and creative and help students to develop good writing techniques and study habits as well as get more out of the story.
The study guide for Tirzah is a little simpler because the writing style is easier (there are no vocabulary lists for this book). The guide provides "Before reading" and more in-depth Reading Log Instructions that cover larger segments of the book (up to six chapters at a time). These assignments give the students related Bible passages to read and provide other ways of reflecting upon and getting more out of the story. Seven questions for the end of the story help students consider general themes from the story (relating to forgiveness, obedience, prejudice, faithfulness, etc.). The four writing assignments (similar in nature to those assigned for the Golden Goblet), allow students to practice literary techniques, explore the main ideas of the story, consider the virtues possessed by important characters in the story and creative writing ideas.
The Hittite Warrior study guide is similar in nature to the one for the Golden Goblet, providing assignments for before and during reading, vocabulary lists, reflection and discussion questions for nearly every chapter, questions for the end of the chapter and five in-depth writing assignments relating to the story (this guide also offers an "exploring history" report-writing assignment).
The guide for The Children's Homer offers assignments for before and during reading, vocabulary lists, questions for reflection for the end of each section and questions for the end of the story. The writing segment covers the literary device of "flashback", explores characters and themes from the book and provides some creative and artistic extra activities relating to the story
The appendices offers several types of writing samples, charts for mapping theme essays, charts for character analysis and rather detailed teacher/parent guidance for evaluating student writing.
This very impressive guide provides a helpful way of incorporating history, literature, vocabulary and writing. It should also prove to be a wonderful resource for parents who are nervous about guiding their children through the complexities of good writing. Future titles in the works will offer ancient culture volumes for Grades 7-9 (covering the novels Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff, Phaedo by Plato, and Caesar's Gallic Wars by Olivia Coolidge) and Grades 10-12 (Epic of Gilgamesh edited by John Gardner, Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare).