Lightning Lit & Comp - Junior High - Grades 7 & 8 {Review}

Friday, April 7, 2017

Well hello there, you book lover, you! Who else would click on such a blog post title? Choosing a literature program can be a difficult task given the many options that are available. I've always been a lover of classic books, but I could never find a program that chose the kinds of books I would have on my personal list of favorites. When I happened upon Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Literature last school year, my heart skipped a beat. Not only did it include many of the books I already hoped my kids would get the chance to read, but it included writing lessons based on literary elements used by these fantastic authors. Not only has my son especially enjoyed the books, but he has also learned to love writing. What mom wouldn't smile about that?

I found Lightning Lit halfway through 7th grade. I remember hearing of it here and there, but I had never taken a close look. I wish I had found it sooner because it was exactly what I had been looking for all along! After posting my review of Lightning Lit American and British lit for high school, I had many requests to review Hewitt Homeschooling's Lightning Lit for middle school. Thank you all for being so patient with me. This review has been in the works for a while.

There are two sets of Lightning Lit books available for middle school that would cover both 7th and 8th grades. These are all the books you will need for Lightning Lit 7th grade.

There is a Teacher's Guide, Student Guide, and Student Workbook for each middle school level.

Each Lightning Lit level includes whole books, short stories, and poetry. I really love that this program uses whole books instead of excerpts. Excepts to me are like eating the ice cream cone and forgetting about the ice cream. You can get the flavor of an author from the excerpt, but a story needs to be experienced from beginning to end in order to understand the author's intent. How can you only read about Tom and the white fence, but not experience his interactions with Huck?

And for the record, my son asked if he was reading Huck Finn next year, because (gasp), he was going to read it on his own if not. Yes, even a 14 year old boy in today's world would read a classic on his own if he had the opportunity to be exposed to them early on. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer made it to his Top 5 favorite books of all time. It also made mine. I hadn't had the chance to read it until this year. It was laugh out loud funny. Truly, this book is the quintessential classic.

Each book, short story, and selection of poetry is used to illustrate a literary element. I've listed the books and correlating lessons for each guide.

"Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling from Stories & Poems - Plot Line
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - Plot Line in a Novel
Selected Poems from Stories and Poems - Introduction to Poetry and Rhyme
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - Creativity
"The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" by Stephen Crane from Stories & Poems - Dialogue
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller - Autobiography 
Selected Poems from Stories & Poems - Sounds in Poetry
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - Writing about Other People

One thing I really appreciate about Lightning Lit is that most of it is non-consumable. I will only need to repurchase the student workbook when my youngest son gets to this age.

I love that the book and assignments are broken up by week rather than day by day, so we can go at our own pace.

The first thing I will do is walk you through one lesson. The Student guide always introduces the lesson. We first read an introduction about the author, which always provides a picture of why they wrote what they wrote during the time in which they lived.

One of Aedan's favorite books in the 7th grade set was Alice in Wonderland. If this book doesn't capture your imagination I really don't know what would. My boys have always loved fantasy books and out-of-this-world settings. My son loved this book!

 The student guide includes comprehension questions and vocabulary. We always read the vocabulary words together. I have my son read the word and definition out loud.  Letting him try to pronounce difficult and unfamiliar words is still good practice even at this age.

When he is finished reading I have him orally narrate what he liked most about that chapter, and then I go over the comprehension questions. I try not to belabor comprehension questions as it can sometimes sap the joy out of reading. Instead of asking the question directly I might ask him to tell me about a character or event. Often this open-ended approach is met with a better attitude than super specific questions would be, although those have value as well.

After we finish the book we move on to the workbook, but before we do we read a literary lesson. The Literary Lesson for Alice was about Creativity, of course! It discussed how to bring two things together in a creative way: how to invent or tweak a real thing; and how to use creative language.  It explored the "What If?" creative technique that Carroll employed by asking "What if a little girl fell down a hole and found a new world there?"

One of my favorite things about Lightning Lit is that we don't start written work until after we have enjoyed the novel or work in its entirety. Nothing is less fun than tediously dissecting a book with workbook pages What's especially awesome about Lightning Lit Workbook pages is that they are actually meaningful and are directly related to the style of writing presented in the book. This gives our kids an opportunity to try on this style for themselves. On this one he combined two different beings into one.

Then he changed something into another thing.

He answered some "What If?" questions.

He worked on figures of speech.

He also worked on similes. There is usually also an additional Mini Lesson that is sometimes related to workbook pages. The Mini Lesson in Alice was about "Nonce Words," which are words an author might invent. Aedan had fun with that!

The book suggests that you complete the workbook pages before attempting the writing assignment for each unit. The workbook pages develop the ideas and skills necessary for completing the assignments. I really like how there are a variety of writing assignments. They range in difficulty and style. I usually let my son decide which one he would be most interested in trying to write. They do suggest trying to do at least one writing assignment per unit, but you may do more if your child is interested.

On to 8th grade! Lightning Lit 8 is far more fresh on my brain because we are living it right now. I was so excited to start Lightning Lit this year from the very beginning. We are currently on the final book, To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are a few additional books as we are one grade older this year. These are all absolutely fantastic books! We used Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children for All Ages last year in the 7th grade program. This book alone is worth having on your shelf. It's such a treasure trove of poetry and short stories.

I really love that Lightning Lit throws in a few less familiar titles, or at least they were to me. A Day of Pleasure was a wonderful peek into the life of those living in Hasidic Jewish communities around the time of WWI in Warsaw. This tied in perfectly to our study of history this year. My son also really enjoyed My Family and Other Animals. It reminded me so much of my animal-loving boy at that age. He really enjoyed reading about the lives of pirates in Treasure Island as well! We had already read The Hobbit in a previous year, so we reluctantly skipped that one. I wish we could have approached it in the Lightning Lit way.

"A Crazy Tale" by G.K. Chesterton from Stories & Poems - Author's Purpose
Treasure Island by Robert L. Stevenson - Setting
A Day of Pleasure by Isaac Bashevis Singer - Sharing Your Culture
"Wakefield" by Nathaniel Hawthorne from Stories & Poems - Details in Writing
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Character Development
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - Conflict
"Reflections" by Lafcadio Hearn from Stories and Poems - Symbolism
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - Humor
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Writing a Literary Analysis
Various Poets (Whitman, Emerson, Keats, etc.) - Vivid and Figurative Language & Meter

Lightning Lit 8 follows the same format as Lightning Lit 7. The reading assignments become longer, and there is a little more written work as should be expected. Having seen the progression from Lightning Lit 7 & 8 up through American and British Lit for high school, the progression upward is painless because each year expects a little more, but not so much that it's overwhelming.

One of Aedan's favorite books this year was A Christmas Carol. The literary lesson and writing assignments on Character Development for this book were especially fun for my son.

The first thing we did before starting to read A Christmas Carol was to read a short introduction to the author.

I've approached vocabulary the same as I did last year. We read the words together before each chapter, which gives me an opportunity to see which words he knows or those that would be new to him. It helps to be prepared for when he runs into those words in the text.

Lightning Lit 8 (like level 7) has comprehension questions in the Student Guide and the answers in the Teacher's Guide. I try to pre-read the books, but sometimes I can't. The answers help me if I haven't read ahead, and also help me refresh my own memory if I my reading was in the distant past.

After completing the reading, we read a lesson on Character Development in the Student Guide. It walked us through how to make a character sketch, how to use description, the opinion of others, back story, actions, speech, and how to use change to develop a character.

There was also a mini lesson on how to use a narrator to develop a character.

The workbook walked us through all of the ideas presented in the literary lesson.

Aedan had fun developing his character Man-Super.

His character was really silly, but he had a lot of fun working on it. I love when I see him not doing the bare minimum. It means he is actually enjoying himself.

He worked on the back story of Man-Super and his actions to show what he is like.

He developed how his character speaks and a change the character goes through.

There was an additional lesson on Tone and Mood in the workbook.

The teacher guide will often give you answers and help with how to work through the workbook.

Lastly, he did his writing assignment. He chose #1, which was to write a story with the character he developed in the workbook pages. He wrote a very wild story, about Man-Super and his evil twin, that was fully illustrated. I love that he had so much fun doing a lesson that used a classic like A Christmas Carol as a springboard for inspiration. We ended up watching both movies of the story (old and new) and contrasted which was closer to the book. 

I hope I've given you a good picture of how much we love this program. I will definitely use it for my younger son. That is often a question I ask when people say they love a curriculum: Would you use it again? The answer is often very telling. 

Do you have any questions about Lightning Lit? I love chatting about things we love using. Please feel free to ask away!


  1. What a (another!) great review!! This review has convinced me that THIS is what I'm looking for. :) It is definitely something special to find a Literature study that isn't dry and boring. LL looks like a truly engaging lit program.

    Question: how do you integrate this with HOD? Do you use it every day, or do you just use it in place of the days that suggest DITHOR? I am looking into switching out 2 different things next year in HOD's RtR (writing and grammar), and it scares me to go off course since everything is so neatly planned out for me in the guide. I know you went on your own this year with science in CtC - was it burdensome on you?

    Thanks for taking the time for another great review! Hope you have a lovely weekend. :)

    1. Amber,

      We really do love LL :) We just do it instead of DITHOR. It's an easy switch for literature. We won't do HOD writing next year either, but we will continue with R&S. I played around with that, and we returned to it. I like how HOD schedules it for only 2 days.

      I chose to use RtR science this year because my son wanted to learn astronomy instead of animals. I actually really love that Land Animals book, but he had covered animals 2 if not 3 times in previous years. We will use the History of Medicine book from CtC with Apologia Anatomy book next year. He has been asking to do Anatomy for a few years. I usually try to let them give me some input about what they are most interested in learning when it comes to those extra subjects. It wasn't burdensome at all. I already had a schedule written from when we did RtR before, so we just used that. I made notebook pages, and that made it easy to implement.

      Don't be scared to go off course. You know what's best for your kiddos :) Sometimes it's nice to feel you have the choice rather than being bound to the exact thing anyway. You're welcome to email me anytime. It sounds like we are on the same course with HOD. I love chatting about this stuff :).

  2. I'm very interested in trying out this literature program. My oldest will be using HOD Rev to Rev next year. We had planned to use an IEW program for writing (my kids love Andrew Pudewa), but I don't want to overwhelm them with too much writing. Is there just one writing assignment per story/book read? I don't want to overwhelm them with too many writing assignments!

    1. First you read the book, and then there are workbook pages. Those take usually a week to get through give or take. Then they have a choice of a writing assignment after they have worked through the workbook assignments. They can choose to do more than one assignment, but we have only done one per book/story. You can totally leave off the assignment if you want :) I like that it's really flexible.

  3. Thank you for this review! It helped me choose LL, and I ordered the student guide and workbook already, but I can't tell how important it is to have the teacher's guide. I've already read most of these books and won't need the answer key; would you mention what else it has? (I hate buying teacher guides and then not using them.) Thanks!

    1. The TM does have a helpful schedule, answers to the workbook assignments, additional discussion questions and also more information on how to present the lessons. It was worth if for me to have the TM :)


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