Essentials in Writing & Essentials in Literature Level 10 Mid-Year Update

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Dr. Melissa Felkins gives a mid-year update on how Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature Level 10 are working for her homeschool high school.

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We are halfway through our first year of using Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature Level 10 in our homeschool high school, so it’s time for an update!

Both Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature are still working well for my senior and my freshman. We have tweaked things a bit to fit our needs, but the framework that is provided in the programs is really solid.

As I mentioned in our First Impressions post and videos, we have chosen to modify our schedule from the one that was suggested in the Essentials in Writing book. My kids do a unit of writing then a unit of literature.  

This is just a personal preference for us. You’ll have to decide what works best for your students.

Essentials in Writing Level 10

Essentials in Writing Level 10 covers

  • Sentence Structure
  • Paragraph Structure
  • Essays
  • Research Papers
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Essentials in Writing Level 10

We have worked through the sentence and paragraph structure sections, and we’re currently doing essays. Watch this video to see how the sentence and paragraph sections worked for us!

Essay Writing

Mr. Stephens carries the paragraph structure that he teaches over into the essays very nicely. The essay structure is really just an expansion of the paragraph structure.

He continues to deliver small chunks of information at a time, but he’s very thorough. He gives examples of each part of the essay, showing quality vs. ineffective writing samples.

Then, he walks through the editing process with the students, so they can understand how to present their best work.

Grading Essentials in Writing


The two checklists that are provided for the students to use as they write each essay are really helpful! The first one is a simple paragraph checklist to make sure they’ve included all the elements for each paragraph.

The second one is a longer essay checklist. It prompts the student to look for specific elements, not only in the paragraphs but also for the overall document to make sure they’ve covered everything well.

Essentials in Writing
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Essentials in Writing checklists help homeschool high school students include all necessary elements in their writing.

For us, this is the biggest part of “grading”, if you want to call it that. We tend to go for a mastery approach, which means we keep working on something until we’ve got it.

With the checklists, my homeschool high school students are able to make sure they’ve done everything they can to write a great essay before they bring their final copy to me for feedback.


If you’re not familiar with rubrics, they are a great tool for objectively grading written assignments (and other projects). They provide a framework by which you can award points based on how well the student executed different elements of the written work.

Here’s an example of the rubric for the “Compare and Contrast Essay” in Essentials in Writing Level 10:

Essentials in Writing
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Rubrics provide consistent grading for both teachers and students using Essentials in Writing.

In this example, you award 1-4 points in each of four areas based on where the student’s work fits best. You add the points for all sections together and divide by the number of total possible points to get the percentage grade.

Having a rubric makes it much easier for a teacher to grade fairly and consistently. It also makes it clearer to the student why they received the grade they got.

Most of us probably have had the experience of getting a paper back from the teacher with a grade on the top with no explanation as to what we did right or wrong. It just seemed so random, and we sometimes questioned where they came up with the grades, didn’t we?

Having the rubric available to the student from the beginning of the assignment lets them know what is expected of them. It creates self-confidence.

There’s nothing that will suck out a kid’s self-confidence and excitement more than thinking they’ve done a good job on something and then finding out after they’re finished that they were expected to do it completely differently.

A kid that has experienced that is not going to go into the next project with much enthusiasm. Giving them the rubric up front for every writing assignment and then sticking to it when you grade will create consistency for your kids. You’ll be able to see their confidence grow as you give them clear expectations every time.

Scoring Service

Essentials in Writing does offer a scoring service for an additional fee, but they have limited spots available each school year. It might be a good option if you’d rather have your students receive feedback from someone other than you.

Essentials in Literature Level 10

Essentials in Literature Level 10 is also broken down into four sections:

  • Fiction
  • Drama
  • Novel
  • Figurative Language/Poetry
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Essentials in Literature Level 10

We spent the first semester doing the fiction unit. I think we might be moving a little more slowly in literature since we’ve been putting a little more time into writing this year. That’s okay, though.

It’s not necessary to completely finish every curriculum every year. I think it’s more important to choose the things that will provide the most benefit for your students.

With that thought in mind, when we came back from Christmas break, we were ready for a novel. We’ve spent a lot of time reading novels together over the years, and it’s time that we cherish.

Since Essentials in Literature Level 10 only includes one novel, we decided to skip right to it. We’ll go back and cover at least part of the drama unit and finish the year up with some poetry.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Essentials in Literature
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To Kill A Mockingbird is the only novel used in Essentials in Writing Level 10.

The novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, is one of the main reasons we chose Level 10. The history of prejudice and racism in our country is something with which we all need to be confronted.

It’s a book that is hard to read. It uses language that was common for the era in which it was set and exposes the horrendous racism that was openly prevalent in communities across our nation.

Reading it out loud, I can’t bring myself to use the words that are written. I have to explain to my kids beforehand that I’m replacing derogatory terms, but I make sure they understand how easily those terms (and attitudes) were tossed around as an acceptable way to talk and think.

When I chose Essentials in Literature Level 10 so that we could study To Kill A Mockingbird, I had no idea that the world would have an eruption surrounding racial injustices before this school year began.

My husband and I have had many discussions with our kids about this topic, but reading this book together is giving us another opportunity to teach them, to listen to them, and to learn together.

How the Novel Unit is Set Up

Essentials in Literature Level 10 has the novel unit set up to be done over 26 school days, not including the summative assessment and the culminating activity. The reading is divided into six sections.

We’re not taking quite that long to complete it. We’ve taken two days to read each of the six sections, and we do two days’ worth of the lessons every day, as well.  

It’s not expected for you to complete every activity that is offered in the text, and we don’t. All the activities are good, but often we find that we’ve already addressed the topics in our natural conversations about the story as we read.  

I also don’t require my kids to do the writing that is included. We discuss things out loud instead. I just feel like they’re doing enough writing already.

Plus, the discussions allow them the opportunity to learn how to effectively communicate their opinions and consider the opinions of others in conversation-a skill that seems to be lacking in our world today.

Of course, if you’ve followed me at all, you know that I am all about individualized education! Always make the curriculum work for you. Use it in a way that fits best with your student’s style of learning.

Grading Essentials in Literature

Since I talked about grading the writing, I guess we need to talk about grading with literature. Here’s the deal…I’m not grading the literature!

I’ve always had a hard time assigning grades to literature studies. I’ve never understood how things like author’s purpose, theme, and symbolism can have right or wrong answers. It’s just too subjective.

So, while I do think it’s important to keep records for your homeschool high school students, I choose to give literature grades based upon participation and effort. If my students have completed all of their assignments in a thoughtful and reflective manner, they get full credit.

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I realize this might not work for everyone, and the grading process that is set up in Essentials in Literature Level 10 is simple and straightforward for those who want to assign grades.

There is a guide in the front of the Resource Book that breaks down the point values that you can assign to different activities. The written activities in the Resource Book also have a place to record points (or mark complete if it’s not a graded activity).

You add the points earned and divide that number by the total number of possible points to get a percentage grade. Just make sure to exclude any activities you’ve skipped over in your total possible points.

Student Tip: Mr. Stephens suggests that as you start each unit, read over the sample written responses to get an idea of how to construct your responses.

Essentials in Writing
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Mid-Year Thoughts

I’m still glad that we chose Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature Level 10 for my senior and freshman to complete together this year.

They have both shown a lot of progress in their writing skills, and I feel like the foundational methods they are learning will stick with them for a lifetime.

The literature has been thought-provoking. I appreciate the maturity that I’ve seen as we’ve discussed difficult topics, and they’ve become aware of how different life experiences can produce different perspectives.

I hope you’re enjoying following our experiences with Essentials in Writing and Essentials in Literature so far. I’ll do an end-of-year update at the end of the school year to let you know how it all came together for us!

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I love to share my passion for family, faith, learning, and adventure! I am a worship pastor's wife, a homeschool mom, a former public school teacher and counselor, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology. My heart is to encourage and support families who are homeschooling kids with ADHD, homeschooling high school, and raising teenagers. I'm so excited for you to follow along on this joyous journey!

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