How Many Classics Should Students Read in a Year?

I got the following question about reading classics and high school literature from a reader, and after answering it, asked her if I could share it. I think this is something that many people wonder, so this seems a good time to answer it! Both the question and answer have been edited to eliminate personal details.

Excellence in Literature curriculum for grades 8-12.Q: Do you have any recommendations as to how many books a student should read per year — is there a set number?  I like them to read for comprehension, not just speed — no point reading 100 books, if you don’t take them in — but I wondered if there is an average?

A: As for how many books to read — it’s an individual thing, and a lot depends on the books. For example, I could read several Jane Austen books in a row. She’s light and funny, and her books go quickly for me. On the other hand, Dickens, Cooper, Cervantes, or Hugo are longer and often slower moving. I probably wouldn’t read more than two longer classics in a month, but I’d also be reading lighter books at the same time (I always have multiple books going at any one time).

In Excellence in Literature, students read one full-length classic (the “focus text”) every four weeks, plus context readings that provide information about the author’s life, relevant historic events, and art and music that is in some way related to or derived from the author’s experience or the book itself. If the student is doing the honors option for the curriculum, there would be additional reading and writing. I chose this pace so that students could deeply absorb the literature, write thoughtfully about it, and — if all goes as planned — end up loving great books.

My suggestion would be to have plenty of good literature availablea designated daily time for reading classics; then let them go at their own pace, reading classics that appeal to them. As long as time is built into the day, and an array of good books are available, they will be able to explore and learn in a way that allows them to fall in love with some authors, and become at least familiar with others.

Q: Is your literature course geared to an age or grade, or just any high school student?

The Excellence in Literature curriculum was originally developed as online classes for students from grades 8-12. Each of the five years is designed to help students think and work like college students, so many people start at the first or second level, no matter what age or grade level their student is. I’ve had students take the upper levels, then finish up by going through the first two levels. Everything is written directly to the student, so that he or she can learn to study independently, but it’s adaptable to a more hands-on approach for parents who want to use it in that way.

The first two levels build skills in context-oriented literary analysis and writing, and the American, British, and World literature levels use, and continue to build, those skills while doing a college-style survey course in each type of literature. The literature chosen for each level increases gradually in difficulty, especially in the early semesters of the British and World Literature (the older it is, the more challenging the vocabulary and ideas, in many cases). Many of my students who have followed the honors track take CLEP exams at the end, earning college credits for their knowledge.

There is a lot more information about the curriculum in the article and links on the Excellence in Literature page, and we have an entire Excellence in Literature website dedicated to resources for students reading classics and studying literature.


SAT Deadline extended: The late registration deadline for the October SAT has been extended to 11:59 p.m. EDT, Friday, September 19, 2008, for registrations made online or by phone. You can read more about this at

Hurricane Help: Thinking of the inconvenience of having my internet service down, I am reminded once again of all those who are living through the aftermath of hurricanes. My thoughts and prayers will continue to be with them.

HSLDA Essay Contest for 2008: In this year’s essay contest, homeschooled students must “evaluate the worldly wisdom contained in two international folk proverbs. Students may choose which they want to argue and whether they are for or against.” Entries must be received between October 1 and November 1, 2008. You can get more information at the HSLDA site.

Constitution Day is September 17. Visit for a wealth of interesting information and links. (Thanks to Kathleen, the editor of the HEAV Update!)

The Carnival of Homeschooling should be up later today at the Nerd Family blog. Perhaps they’re having trouble with their internet service too!

1 Response

  1. Henry Cate says:

    I like the line about it isn’t important how many books you get through, but how many books get through you.

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