Questions about using Excellence In Literature in a co-op

FAQ about using Excellence in Literature in a co-op or classroom.

I received an e-mail this morning from a co-op leader, inquiring about the Excellence in Literature (EIL) curriculum. When I receive detailed questions like these, I know that others are probably wondering some of the same of the same things, so I’ll share the questions and answers here. If you have a question you’d like to ask, just email me, and I’ll respond as quickly as possible (M–F during daylight hours).

Using Excellence in Literature in a Co-op

Q: How easy is this program to adapt to a co-op setting?

A:  I designed it to be easily adaptable to a co-op or school. I taught an earlier version of it online for a few years in order to test it, and that helped me tweak it so that it was easy to use. One thing you don’t need is something that requires a lot of prep time, so there are week-by-week lesson plans for each unit, with carefully crafted assignments. In addition, there is a brief chapter with a number of specific suggestions for ways of using Excellence in Literature in a classroom or co-op.

To use Excellence in Literature in a co-op, the leader would need to scan the context materials and be familiar with the focus work. The “Introduction,” “Something to think about” and “Be sure to notice” sections, as well as the “Questions to consider as you read” page and the assignments themselves, will provide starting points for discussions. The Resources section in the back offers additional suggestions for books you may use to learn more about each author or work.

Excellence in Literature curriculum for grades 8-12.


Q: Do I have this correct: the focus work are the complete novels? Are the context readings included in the package?

A: The focus works are, in most cases, the complete novel, play, or epic poem. There are a few modules in which a portion of a long work is read. One example of this is the Spenser/Gawain unit that is organized around the Arthurian legend. Students read the entire story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but only one of the six books of The Faerie Queene. There simply isn’t time to read the entire FQ, which is a lengthy and challenging work, though fascinating.

Context materials are listed with each module, and most are internet links. I chose a variety of unique, academically sound reading, listening, and viewing materials that would maintain student interest while providing the sort of information a student might hear from a professor in a classroom discussion of a particular work. An additional result of this multi-source way of providing information is that students become acquainted with the type of reliable resources they’ll use in college or real-life research.

Q: What other books are required to complete the courses?

A: Focus texts; honors texts if you will be doing the honors option; and reference books such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and writer’s handbook.

I recommend owning the focus texts if at all possible, so that students can underline and write in the margins as needed. Used books are perfectly acceptable, but I strongly recommend looking for quality trade paperbacks with scholarly introductions from such publishers as Ignatius Press, Modern Library Press, Oxford, Norton, or Penguin. You will find a list of recommended editions at Everyday Education.

Low quality mass-market paperbacks or hardbacks, such as the 2-for-$1 classics that used to be sold at Walmart, are often fuzzily printed on low-quality paper, with small print and little or no margin space for notes. This may seem like a small thing, but an unfriendly book that looks hard to read and is hard to hold open can spoil the reading experience, especially for students who aren’t accustomed to challenging reading. I do not recommend these unless there is absolutely no other option.

Q: Are there optional resources that would be helpful?

It can be helpful to have Norton Anthologies for American, British, and World literature while studying those EIL levels. These can easily be found as used books online (, and others), and older editions are excellent. They contain a chronologically-arranged selection of context material, and are useful for additional context reading.

In a similar way it is helpful to have a good chronological art history book for context. I used my college text, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, plus a DK art history book and The Annotated Mona Lisa as well as brief artist biographies and other resources. I would also suggest a comprehensive world atlas or globe and a simple timeline to place authors, artists, and composers in their historical context.

Q: Does it include vocabulary work or will that need to be added in?

A: There are two ways to approach vocabulary with EIL. The first thing I recommend is that students create a list of unfamiliar words as they read each book, then after the reading session look them up and write the definition, which will provide them a contextual vocabulary list to study. Since they’ve encountered these words in context (something that I feel is very important), they’ll be more easily remembered. If you feel that additional vocabulary work is needed, I recommend Dynamic Literacy’s Word Build or Vocabulary from Classical Roots.

Q: Can you recommend a junior-high literature course to prepare students for your courses?

A: Three resources might be helpful:

For an introduction to literary analysis, Adam Andrew’s Teaching the Classics DVD course with Worldview Supplement is a good resource. This user-friendly foundational course can be helpful at any level. Your students may even benefit from reviewing the DVDs at the start of each year from grades 7-12 or so.

Concurrently with that, or following shortly after, the Windows to the World literature course by Lesha Myers is a good junior high literature course. Like Teaching the Classics, WTTW uses short literature to introduce literary analysis, and they are compatible with EIL.

The final resource I’d recommend would be Lesha Myers’ The Elegant Essay Writing Lessons. It’s a wonderful, concise introduction to the building blocks of the essay, and it’s structured so that students can work straight through it, or use it as a reference when they need specific help with a portion of the essay, such as transitions or conclusions.

If students go through these three items, they’ll be amply prepared for EIL. I’d suggest Windows to the World for 7th or 8th grade, with the other two items used as foundational curriculum in whatever level they are needed. They can be used concurrently with EIL, because they explain HOW to analyze and write, while EIL provides WHAT to write about — a selection of classics, context works, and assignments with which students can prepare for college or life while practicing writing and analysis.

Q: Do I need to add a grammar program?

A: Please don’t, unless your student has not done a formal grammar program at all. By high school, your student needs to be focused on practicing grammar in the context of more advanced writing assignments. Additionally, students should be taking a foreign language, and in doing so, they will typically learn and understand more about English grammar than they would learn through another grammar workbook.

If your student has struggled with grammar in years past, consider immersing him/her in the rhythm and cadence of well-spoken language by listening to many audiobooks. This can help them begin to hear when somethings “sounds right” or “sounds wrong.” For a foreign language, do at least a year of Latin (good programs are available from Memoria Press or Classical Academic Press), as it is the most regular and structured, and provides the clearest view of the structure of language.

Q: We are thinking of using Excellence in Literature in a co-op, and wondered if you offer a discount for co-op or class purchases?

A: We offer a co-op discount for co-ops or schools that order several copies in the same shipment. Just email me with the number you need, your shipping and billing address, and I will let you know the discount and shipping charge for the number of books you need. If you would like to proceed with the purchase, I will send a PayPal invoice, then ship when payment is received.


This week’s blog carnival is hosted by Amanda Dixon’s The Daily Planet, and it has an anniversary theme. There are some excellent posts, so be sure to visit. I found the article on words dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to be especially interesting, though appalling as well. Don’t miss the edible Viking ship or the writing offices– they’ll be sure to spark your creativity!

If you’d like to teach your children a bit about finance, geography, and how the rest of the world lives, visit, a micro-lending site. You can read about real people in developing nations seeking micro-loans for various entrepreneurial endeavors, and you can choose someone you’d like to loan money to. You can loan as little as $25, and together with loans from others, you may help a widow purchase a buffalo or pig, or provide a weaver with money to buy more raw materials. It’s interesting to read individual stories and see people come together to help others.

1 Response

  1. Kathleen Wagner says:

    I am seeking a Norton’s anthology for English Lit. I am very confused regarding Vol, 1, 2 etc. Is there an older version (which you seem to favor) that is complete or is sold in volumes? If so, which volumes do I need?

    Thank you for your reply,


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