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Help me figure out what I need, please! Reading/teaching the classics

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I don't even know what I want, so I really don't even know how to ask this question. I'm hoping that someone out there can point me in the right direction.

Background: Oldest is in the 3rd grade and the last time I read anything "great" other than the Bible was in high school.


Today: I'm really starting to lay a "concrete" literature/history plan for my dc. I've spent the day going through the WTM and other sources, looking at the list of recommended lit. books at various grades. I've come up with a basic skeleton outline of some of the books that I'm sure that I want them to read. I would like to start studying some of these books now myself (in order to be able discuss the books with dc at the appropriate time). Honestly there are books on my 5th grade list that I've never read. I'm looking for something to help me "learn" (explain??) the literature as I read it. Clear as mud, I know. I've looked at the samples of Omnibus, and really like the commentary. I really don't know what I'm looking for. I think it would be something other than Cliff notes. Some of the other things I've googled, seem to be list of essay type questions with no "given" information, that's not what I want either. I want something to take the place my high school A.P. teacher who would stand at the front of the class and explain in depth what we had read.... kwim??


Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.

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Have you read The Well Educated Mine? I love it. It was very easy to use with my boys, even though I haven't had much literature myself. There is a set of general questions to answer about each kind of literature (novels, poems, plays, etc.). Because the questions are the same for each work, it is easy to keep them in mind as you read. There is also a short history of each kind of literature, written for people who know nothing about literature. You can use the questions with any book of your choosing from Peter Rabbit to The Iliad to science fiction stories. I like being able to pick my own books. I found that the general questions in TWEM sparked discussions between my children and me, whereas questions in literature guides written for a specific book got me one word answers. Even better, because the questions were the same each time, my children began applying them on their own. They would come home from a movie they had been to with the scouts and tell me about it, using the questions as a base. It was very cool! I used it starting in 5th grade with my youngest.



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If you want something more in-depth than, say, Sparknotes (which are actually quite helpful, if you're a complete novice to literature) you could try to find books of essays on any given author. If you're reading Shakespeare, for example, you can't beat The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom. And a lot of the more scholarly editions of books will include a selection of essays about the author and the work. Any kind of anthology that covers a large list of great books isn't going to go very indepth, though it's a good jumping off point.


If you're really in a pinch, the wikipedia entries for classics are surprisingly helpful, and often link to other good sources.

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I want something to take the place my high school A.P. teacher who would stand at the front of the class and explain in depth what we had read....



Invitation to the Classics might be a helpful "launchpad". It has background info and context on at least 50 authors and classic works, plus major themes and things to look for when reading the works.


How to Read Like a Professor is a book which explains how to see the most common themes and symbols in literature, while Susan Wise-Bauer's "The Well Educated Mind" gives you a general method or structure of how to go about reading classic literature, and the questions to be asking yourself as you read. The curriculum "Teaching the Classics" is similar in that it teaches you, the parent how to teach your students to really dig into literature and analyze it through a framework of questions.


Sparknotes is a free online analysis of almost all classic literature, plus a "No Fear Shakespeare" section which gives you side-by-side original and modern translation of a number of Shakespeare's plays. (And speaking of Shakespeare, "Brightest Heaven of Invention" is a wonderfully in-depth analysis of 6 Shakespeare plays!) The analysis portion of Sparknotes is great, in-depth analysis of characterization and plot developments and how they contribute to major themes, symbols and motifs.


Don't forget to check out Cliff's Notes online, and look for articles on specific authors and works at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia!



Glencoe's Literature Library is a free online set of guides; they have particularly lengthy and helpful background info on the authors/works, while Shmoop has some free online articles and analysis of classic works


The Great Books is series of guided discussion guides from a Christian worldview point of view; while those are for a fee, the website does have some short, free audio lecture downloads on various classics, with ideas of what to look for when reading, and then a little discussion for after reading. Also try google searches for other free literature lectures online; here is one hit I just now turned up: Learners TV. Do be aware though, that every lecturer has their own worldview/agenda/interpretation -- and that The Great Books support a number of interpretations; it's much more fun to start reading and see what YOU discover in the work of literature! :)


Also, see if your library has any of the Teaching Company lecture series available on DVD or audiotape/CD. They have some very nice lectures to explain various classic works of literature.




But best of all is if you can discuss WITH someone, or a group of someones. And of course, come here and post a thread to start a discussion! That's part of what this board is about: "self education"! :) Here are two past "book club discussion threads" (lol):

- Janice in NJ initiated a great conversation on Jane Eyre in this thread

- Beth in SW WA started this great conversation on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight



Enjoy entering into the Great Conversation of reading The Great Books! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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