Homeschooling High School: Organic Writing Instruction

I don’t know about you, but when I used to think about homeschooling high school, it wasn’t just the thought of chemistry labs and calculus that shook my confidence. It was also writing. The thing about Charlotte Mason writing instruction is that most of us can’t intuit how to transition from written narration to the types of writing our children will be asked to do when they are grown. On the one hand, narration is a wonderful training ground for writing. On the other hand, there is a mental disconnect between narration and other types of writing — or, at least, there has been for me.

Karen Glass’ new book, Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, if the two chapters I’ve read are any indication, is going to be a great help in closing this gap. But today, I’m not talking about Karen’s book. Instead, I want to highlight another book: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, an option listed in the upper years of AmblesideOnline. The question is what to do with it. Just read it, narrate it, and move on?

I don’t know exactly what AO wants us to do, but we’ve been having a good time with the book, and so I thought I’d share.

The Part I preliminary chapters are what you’d expect, laying out the principles of good writing. My student didn’t just read and narrate these chapters. I also asked him to put what he read into practice. So, for example, after reading the chapter on clutter, I asked him to review a week’s worth of written narrations (all unedited first drafts) and find his own clutter.  His next written narration was to aim for “clutter-free.”

We had good discussions about clutter after that. We discovered that aiming for clutter-free in a first draft might be a bad idea. It can slow you down, impeding the flow of words. Perhaps it is better, we decided, to let the whole mess out first and then edit down from there.

Part II focused on methods. We found less to work with here, but the chapter on leads and endings was our favorite. We tried our hands at perfecting our endings according to Zinsser’s advice.

Part III is where we are now. It covers different forms of nonfiction writing — travel writing, sports writing, science writing, and so on. We don’t travel much, but travel writing is actually writing about places, and what place does a person know better than their own hometown? We live in a city that people talk about in a derogatory manner — California’s equivalent of flyover country. Could he describe this place with love and respect, sans jargon? That was the challenge, and his first draft impressed me.

“How did you come up with this?” I asked. (It was seriously good.)

Mary Austin,” he said. You never know when those old narrations will come in handy.

This week, we read the chapter on science writing. Choosing an assignment was not hard because Zinsser says this early on:

The science assignment that I give to students is a simple one. I just ask them to describe how something works. (p. 148)

I underlined these sentences and wrote in the margins, “And this is what YOU get to do this week!” He knows the drill: replace one written narration with this assignment.

We’re only in tenth grade. I still don’t know that I’ve done well, or done enough. But I’ve seen beautiful growth so far this year, and never once have I had to ask for formulaic writing to get it.

Before he leaves home, I know we’ll have to cover longer papers (I’m assigning one this year, actually, and I’ll write about that after we’ve done it). I know we’ll have to learn proper methods of citation. But for now, my student is improving his writing the way I improve my writing: reading books and essays on the subject and applying the ideas with my own pen.

I think of this as “organic” writing instruction because it’s born out of our real life interaction with books and other sources, rather than any structured writing curriculum. I’ve tried prepared curriculum (mostly out of fear that I was Missing Something), and I’ve always tinkered with them to make them more Charlotte Mason … almost to the point that they were no longer recognizable. I’ve plundered them for great ideas, used them to improve conversations, but never could I bear the thing they seemed to ask for most: bad writing.

There. I said it.

I feel like there has to be a way to learn to write that always asks for the best the student can give — that always draws out of the student his best expression and ideas — that isn’t boring, and doesn’t make him think writing is a chore.

So I keep circling back around to this book-based approach. For now, I’m happy with my student’s progress. Ultimately, good writing shouldn’t be so hard to attain, if we’re giving our students the habit of thinking. After all, Zinsser himself said:

Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. (p. 147)


The post Homeschooling High School: Organic Writing Instruction appeared first on Afterthoughts.

Our 9th Grade Homeschool Top Picks

Our 9th Grade Homeschool Top Picks is a post from Confessions of a Homeschooler. If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to follow Erica on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+! Also be sure to stop by her Community to join the discussion or her Store to see her latest items!

Hello friends! Today I’m sharing our top 9th grade homeschool curriculum picks. I know choosing curriculum can be a challenge, so hopefully this post will help give you a good starting point to choosing your own!



So let’s get started! Here are the basic subjects that we are covering for 9th grade. Of course you’ll want to make sure to check with your state requirements to make sure you’re including anything specifically required by your district. The * indicates subjects that are usually optional.

  • *Art
  • Bible
  • Math
  • English/Grammar
  • Foreign Language
  • *Music
  • Literature/Reading
  • Social Studies/History
  • Science/Health
  • *PE
  • Typing /Computers
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing

To see what my 9th grader will be doing this year watch our 2017-2018 9th Grade Homeschool Curriculum video here! If you’d like to see how I organize our 9th grade homeschool schedule, click below to see what our typical 9th grade daily schedule looks like!


–>> Download a copy:



  • I really like the Home Art Studio DVDs they’re a great way to do art class at home. They are sold by grade level, which might not work as well if you have multiple-grades represented in your home. But I’ve found that for the most part, if you pick a DVD closer to the upper grades in your home, you can have everyone do a project from one DVD and it will still be okay. The DVDs may cost a bit more, but they also take the pressure off of you to teach a lesson. If you’re not comfortable teaching art, you can simply gather the required materials and let the DVD do the teaching for you.
  • YouTube: A great resource for my 9th grader and art has been YouTube. I have parental controls set for our YouTube and restrictions within the app as well. But there are a ton of free art videos available and my daughter absolutely loves to watch them. She’s created an entire drawing notebook full of really cool artwork just from watching drawing tutorials online. Of course with the content available on YouTube I refer you to this with caution and definitely suggest that you set up restrictions for it as well before letting your 9th grader search for tutorials online.
  • Atelier Art is also a great DVD based art curriculum for older students. It is sold by grade level and includes principles of art, art-history, media exploration, creative self-expression, cultural appreciation, drawing techniques and more.



  • Word of Life Champion Quiet Time Devotions . These are great for starting to teach independent Bible study for kids. They come by grade levels so you can get one that is appropriate for your child. We do one per day, and they only take about 5-10 minutes each. These are my favorite right now because they can be done independently.
  • Character Studies: I have a series of FREE character studies available for download on my website. They’re great for teaching basic character skills to your kids while having a fun and engaging Bible study at the same time. You can find them all here on my Bible printables page, I hope you enjoy them!
  • Kay Arthur Discover 4 yourself: These are great for kids who are good readers and ready for something a little more in depth. They have a reading assignment each day along with some specific Bible markings to help them remember the text and think about what it means in a more critical manner. These books are great for encouraging 4th-high school grade students to study their Bible more independently. I do NOT get the teacher’s guide for these book as they’re fairly self-explanatory in each lesson.



  • Spelling You See: Most curriculum don’t focus much on spelling anymore past 7th grade. But I actually still have my students do the SYS program. It’s basically a copy work and dictation type of curriculum. But I really love the fact that they learn a variety of information in the passages. Each grade level has a different theme so students learn the information as they’re copying the passages. I recommend level G if your student is still struggling in this area, it’s currently the highest level they have at this time. I really don’t usually use the TM for this grade, there are dictation assignments, and for that we just tear out our worksheet and I read from their book.
  • All About Spelling Level : This is the highest level of spelling for AAS at this time. So if you have completed all of their levels I wouldn’t add in anything else for spelling for 9th grade unless your student is still struggling in this area. One thing that you should note with this curriculum is that it’s teacher led, and we spent about 15-20 minutes each day working on our lessons. The books come with about 26-30 lessons for each level, and so I split the lessons into two parts. We do the new teaching one day, then the word writing and practice the following day. they use letter tiles to help students spell words which helps with really seeing and sounding out each sound, popular vowel teams, and consonant teams. At this point they’ve really learned most of the phonics rules and are working on harder word lists. Note: You will need the teacher manual’s for AAS as the lessons are only in the TM!




  • IEW Fix it! Grammar & Fix it! Grammar:  I really enjoy the IEW writing program, and have loved their Fix It! Grammar program as well. Students go through and edit a pre-written story from beginning to end. The stories are taken from popular literature, which is also a nice addition to their studies. The stories increase in difficulty as you progress through the levels. You can also move on to their theme based writing units once you feel your student has mastered the grammar side of things. They also offer a high school literature program as well.
  • BJU Press Fundamentals of Literature 9: BJU Press offers an excellent literature curriculum for 9th grade covering fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama and critical thinking. Literary works are analyzed using scriptural applications.



  • Math U See Geometry: We have used Math U See for all of our kiddos for years. We have tried a couple of other math programs, but ended up going back to MUS because it’s just a much better fit for us. I like that it comes with DVD lessons, so I don’t have to teach them. I simply facilitate their work during the week, and help out when they have questions. Even though the skills are taught in a different order than traditional math where kids do a little bit of everything each day, I find that the MUS philosophy of mastering one skill before moving on to the next has worked well for our kids.


Foreign Language: You’ll want to check with your state requirements to see what is required for graduation for high school. Some of the more common foreign language curriculum available does not count for high school credit. We have not used the below courses at the time of this post, however I wanted to include them as I believe they do count for high school credits.



  • BJU Online Learning: We are using BJU Press online learning for history and I absolutely love it! I have a full video review of BJU Press Distance Online Learning here if you’d like more information. I love that it is more student independent rather than teacher intensive. I also like that I still have some control over their grading. BJU Press makes it quite easy for me to log in each day and check their work as well as adjust any grades as needed. I also like the video lessons, the teacher is very clear with the content as well as any expectations she has of your student. They also offer quizzes and tests as well.
  • Abeka History 9: Abeka is a great option for those of you looking for an open and go type curriculum. It requires very little prep work on the teacher’s side. That said, there aren’t as many hands-on activities included. However they are easy and short daily lessons and can be purchased by grade level. One thing I like about this curriculum is that the reading assignments are really appropriate for each grade level and so I didn’t feel like I was teaching above my students understanding. One thing that I like about this curriculum is that you can assign these out for more independent work as well, having your student do the reading on their own. It’s a great way to continue teaching them critical study skills so they can learn how to read a text, take notes, then study from those notes to prepare for a quiz or exam. This curriculum is also great if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require much preparation on your part.


Literature and Reading: Depending on my student’s skill level, I do not normally do a formal reading program for 9th grade. If they are reading well, I will often search for an 9th grade literature book lists and let my student choose books off of that. I’ve found that they tend to enjoy reading more when they can pick something they’re interested in as opposed to doing a more structured reading curriculum. We still do comprehension practice with all of our reading units. That said, here are a few more formal curriculum choices to get you started.

  • IEW Literature: Students put literary analysis skills into practice as they study and write about great works of literature. They offer American Literature, British Literature, World Literature as well as novel writing and others.
  • Abeka 9 Literature: Abeka offers a literature unit for your 9th graders that includes popular literature as well as a compilation of selections based on pioneers, pilgrims, patriots, professional athletes and other famous people. They include quizzes, speed tests and comprehension tests as well.
  • BJU Press Literature 9: BJU offers a literature curriculum for 9th graders that is a compilation of stories, poems, and essays from a variety of authors. Each one includes a critical thinking section to help students with comprehension and critical analysis of what they’ve read as well.
  • Book Shark: We used this curriculum from our options program last year. And while I didn’t love all of the books, there were definitely a good selection to choose from. The curriculum also comes with a history section, so you can use this for both history and reading. They also have a full curriculum selection which includes other subjects as well, however we just used the reading portion. Since this program was free for us through our options program it was a good addition to our homeschool. However it can be quite expensive if you were to purchase the curriculum new. If you are interested in this program, I would probably try to get the TM used online, then get a hold of the books from your local library or used if you can find them as well.



  • Music lessons: Instrument lessons depending on child’s interest. We’ve also done Teach Yourself Piano, private lessons, guitar, etc. I will say that the Teach Yourself Piano is a great starting point, but if you want to progress you’ll want to move onto private lessons at some point. The lessons are short, and students learn songs right away which is a nice motivator. They do label your keyboard with number stickers then later on letters which help students learn.



  • The Rainbow Science: The Beginnings Publishing house has a great high school level science curriculum complete with labs. We used this for 8th and 9th grade and have so far enjoyed it. You can see my full review of The Rainbow Science curriculum here.
  • Abeka Science 9: Abeka science is also a good option if you’re looking for easy short lessons with not much fuss on your part. There are a few experiments included, though the curriculum as a whole is not that hands on. I do like that it is fairly independent work for your student and teaches them basic study skills where they can learn how to read a text, take notes from that and then prepare and prepare for quizzes and tests on their own. Lessons are short and to the point, and you really don’t need much prep work. It does cover an overview of a variety of topics in one year which is nice, and like I said it’s fairly easy with little prep work for you. I usually get the TM, student text, and any accompanying flashcards, quizzes, and activity sheets. You can often find Abeka used, so check used sites before buying new! Abeka also offers online courses as well.
  • BJU Press Science 9: This science is similar in format to Abeka. Students have required reading with some scientific experiments pertaining to the reading. There is a bit of preparation on your part, but nothing too difficult as long as you plan ahead a bit. You will need the teacher’s manual, student tests and answer key, along with the student activities manual if you plan to do those. BJU Press also offers online courses as well.



  • Extra-curricular sports: Because we do a variety of sports in the afternoons/evenings depending on our children’s interests, we don’t do a formal PE program at this time. Right now we’re doing a mix of swimming, ice skating, 4-H, horseback riding and ice hockey. We’ve also done dance, gymnastics, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, and cheerleading. I suggest finding something your child is interested in and get them involved in a sport. It’s a great way to get exercises and have fun at the same time.



  • Udemy is a wonderful online learning area where your students can find classes on just about anything. We love to use this for computers/programming skills and have enjoyed quite a few smaller courses found on the site.
  • Typing Web (free online typing program): We’ve been using Typing Web for a few years now and I find that it’s a great way to improve typing skills. One thing I’ve found that helps is doing typing on a daily basis. So we’ve scheduled it for 10 minutes per day 5 days per week. The best part is that the lessons are free. You just sign up as a parent account and then add your students under your account. If you haven’t done typing yet, I would highly encourage you to start now. To get more typing practice in I typically allow my students to type their reports and writing assignments by grade 7. I’ve found 10 minutes is short enough that they don’t mind doing it, but enough practice to help them become relatively fluent typists over the course of the year.



  • Vocabulary Workshop Grade 9: I’ve found vocabulary workshop to be decent as far as vocabulary goes. It’s basically a workbook with a reading selection, word lists, and then worksheets using the vocabulary presented in the reading portion. It’s not very exciting, but seems to work well. They also offer SAC and ACT test prep as well.
  • Fix It Grammar The Fix It! Grammar is both an English/Grammar curriculum but also includes vocabulary words that students look up and write down the definitions for. They only do one word per day, so depending on how rigorous a vocabulary program you want, that’s something to take into consideration. We have found this sufficient and haven’t supplemented with anything else.



  • Institute for Excellence in Writing: We’ve used IEW for a couple of years now, and I really like how it teaches writing skills. I have definitely seen an improvement in my student’s writing as well. IEW has DVD based lessons, then assignments that correlate with the video lessons. I really like that I don’t have to teach this particular subject, but instead I can just facilitate the homework. We all watch the video together, then my students complete the assignments as directed. I really like the teaching method they use and thing that the check lists have really helped my children learn how to write interesting and properly formatted paragraphs. I also love that it has a banned word lists as well as a check list so students are encouraged to use more colorful words and they have a clear outline of what’s expected of them for each assignment. I suggest starting with their Student Writing Intensives and then you can move forward from there. This year we are using one of their History Based writing curriculum. They also have high school level writing curriculum along with how to write a novel which I think sounds amazing!


Final Advice for 9th grade: When preparing your curriculum for 9th grade I think the best advice I can give you is to continue focusing more on independent work for your student. If you haven’t already I encourage you to start teaching them how to read a text, take notes, then study and prepare for quizzes and exams from those notes.

–>> Check out my Study Tips 101 video series here!

Since the workload is a bit more serious at this point, I still like to plan in a few fun field trips wherever we can fit them in or where they correlate with our lessons. I also make sure to keep track of my student’s workload when planning the year. I use a sample schedule (see above) to chart how long each subject will take before buying curriculum at this stage.

I also like to include more student independent work to help prepare them for high school where they will be required to work more on their own. Online courses are a great way to do this.

If time allows I also like to choose an elective curriculum that is more hands-on and engaging. My daughter really enjoyed the The Foto Finch Composition photography curriculum, and I am teaching her Photoshop skills as well.

Continue teaching them how to work diligently and more independently where appropriate. I like using the workbox system to help my students learn to complete tasks more independently, and yes we still use them for 9th grade! Here’s a video on our workboxes and how we use them in our school!


I hope this has helped you in planning your homeschool curriculum for your 9th grader! Make sure to check out our other top homeschool curriculum picks here! Don’t forget to stop by the COAH Community to see what others use for 9h grade too!

Have questions? Start your own discussion!



Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means I get a small percentage if you purchase through my link. That said, please know that I do NOT recommend anything unless we like and use it!!

The post Our 9th Grade Homeschool Top Picks appeared first on Confessions of a Homeschooler.

2018 Week In Review: Week 2

I debated skipping a week in review for this week as it was an unusual week for us, especially being week two. But I’m also big on sharing that while we have a lot of great days, everyone has bad ones. It’s just a matter of one foot in front of the other when they occur. So, despite having a semi chaotic week, I figured I’d share about it anyway.

We started out with all new material, but I realised that we’d worked at half pace in some areas & full pace in other areas. So on day 2 we decided to play “catch-up” with the half-paced subjects as well as continue forward movement in math.

Jayde had some catching up in science to do. He really loves the EE science scheduled in his HOD this year. I’m glad, all though I am not a fan. Ironically I’m not a fan of the Apologia science the other one uses & enjoys. Okay, let me be REALLY honest, I don’t really feel the love for most science programmes, but that’s another story altogether.