High School English and History

by Katrina Fujisaka

I recently read that the foremost concern of college professors is the lack of reading comprehension and written communication skills possessed by high school graduates. These new college freshman are simply not prepared to think about or write anything with clarity.  I believe that the best homeschool high school curriculum will focus on teaching students to think critically and write effectively.

Before you begin planning it is important to check with your state to see what the high school graduation requirements are in these subjects, as well as checking the admission requirements of several colleges your student may be interested in attending. For example, high school graduation in my state requires 4 credits of English, one credit in World History, one credit in World Geography, one credit in U.S. History, and one-half credit in U.S. Government. Brigham Young University recommends that freshman applicants have at least four English credits and two History credits.

In my state the required English courses are named English I, II, and III. The fourth required credit can be just about anything from Creative Writing to British Literature to Journalism. If your state has similar requirements it will probably benefit your student to just use their recommended course names. However, the content of those courses is entirely up to you!

When deciding how you want to go about English, there are a few things to keep in mind. What is your goal? If scoring high on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT exams is important, your English curriculum should be tailored that way; with a lot of emphasis on vocabulary, analogies, grammar, reading comprehension, and the basic five paragraph essay construction. However, most homeschoolers prefer a more holistic approach. Their focus lies not with standardized test scores, but with developing students who are well read and conversant; who can communicate effectively both orally and in writing. That end is best served through the study of good literature, along with basic grammar structure, and logic.

Any English course you develop should have grammar and mechanics incorporated into it.  A few choices for high school grammar:

Winston Grammar and Winston Grammar Advanced. It is clean, inexpensive, and an eighth or ninth grader can understand and move through it pretty well.

Analytical Grammar teaches grammar, punctuation, and usage over 3 years for 6-9th grade students. The publisher includes a timeline for teaching this course faster to older students. They also have high school reinforcement workbooks for students who have completed grammar study, just to keep the skills fresh.

You may want to consider adding some logic and analogies work, as well.

For very basic logic work, try the Mindbenders series from The Critical Thinking Company. Start with A1 no matter how old your student is. They may go through it quickly, but it is important for learning the structure of logic puzzles. The workbooks are inexpensive and easy to use. They also have some fun science logic puzzle books.

For additional, free, logic work go to http://www.logic-puzzles.org/init.php. They provide lots of online, interactive logic work.

You may want to include some work with analogies with your English curriculum, as it is a big part of SAT and ACT testing. The website a4esl.org provides many free, online quizzes and tools for teaching English. Most of it is geared towards ESL (English as a Second Language) students, but I have found it useful for all students. There are even bilingual quizzes that you can use in the reverse of what they were designed for by including them in your foreign language study. My favorite part of this website, though is the interactive analogies quizzes at 

These should make up about half of the English course for the year. The rest should be assignments in reading, analilyzing and writing about various works of literature. This is where you can combine your English studies with your History.

English and History studies go hand in hand so I like integrating them. In fact, many colleges are combining these two courses into one big class. The English assignments are taken directly from the History course of study. This integrated approach is useful and effective. The literature pieces I choose for my students relate directly to what we were studying in History. Research and writing assignments were built around those historic events, as well. Vocabulary studies grow naturally out of the literature assigned. Only the grammar and mechanics is independent of the History studies.

My favorite way to teach History is by using a basic ‘spine’ text and then further exploring the events touched on through literature, source documents, field trips, and projects.

If you have no idea where to start, check into these curriculums to see if they will meet your needs.

For US History 
The History of Us by Joy Hakim 
The 5000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen
United States History and LDS Perspective vols. I & II by Dan Hunter
Wise Men Raised Up with LDS Commentary Vols I & II by Brent and Kolleen DeGraff

For US Government studies
The Making of America by Cleon Skousen
Threads of Liberty by DeGraff and DeGraff

For World History
The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer (the first two volumes will need substantial embellishment to qualify for high school level work, but it is still a good outline to follow)
The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer
Beautiful Feet Books  (be sure that the study guide you want to use is high school level work)
The World Before Christ an LDS Perspective vols I & II by Dan Hunter
The World After Christ an LDS Perspective vols. I, II, & III by Dan Hunter

A quick google search will turn up many additional resources. 

Once you’ve settled on the History course you want to follow, you can start seeking the literature to go with it. If you don’t know where to start looking for appropriate source documents and literature recommendations visit www.schoolofabraham.org, or check the reading lists for the US History and World History cores atwww.sonlight.com.

Make History come alive through historical fiction, field trips, and projects associated with your studies. Our favorite is to include food in our History work. We research recipes and cooking practices of those we study and try them out as best we can. To this day one of my kids’ favorite History books is one called Eating the Plates by Lucille Recht Penner. It is not a high school level book. In fact, it is written toward a 5th grade audience. It is a fascinating book about what and how the Pilgrims ate and was a real eye opener for my kids when we first covered it in elementary school. However, it found it’s real value in our family as my kids remembered it during their high school years and pulled it off the shelf again. Using that book as a springboard, they thought more and dove deeper into the subject, finding branches of it to follow into ancient maritime history, science, and health. Everything they studied they internalized and remembered, because it was interesting.

Now….it’s time to write! If your student has no idea where to start, it may be beneficial to start with just talking about what they are reading and learning. Ask leading questions and have them answer you in complete sentences. Then have them practice making an outline while you talk, just based on the conversation. After the outline, help them construct sentences based on the outline to flesh out a paper. If you’d like more formal writing help or instruction, you may want to try a writing program designed for younger students and just work through it faster. Look into Writing StrandsThe Institute for Excellence in Writing, and Writing with Ease, by Susan Wise Bauer.

One great homeschool English writing resource is the Purdue Owl (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/). This website is maintained by faculty and students at Purdue University, and has over 200 resources for teaching grammar, mechanics, writing, research, and is a good place to find current MLA and APA writing guides (VITAL for juniors and seniors writing research papers).

No matter what you decide to do, keep a record of everything you consider to be part of either History or English. Keep a log of time worked  on each subject – it takes 80 hours of work to receive one high school credit. Remember, you can’t double dip. Time spent working on one paper cannot be counted for both English and History, so you will need to decide which course to assign the time to. But ANY time spent on these subjects counts, including dinner table discussions, related kitchen experiments, field trips, and time watching movies or reading books related to the subject. It is not difficult at all to develop an English and History course of study for your high school student that will not only satisfy the basic high school graduation requirement, it will prepare your student to excel in college and the adult world by providing them with the skills to understand and communicate clearly and effectively.

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Katrina