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Notebooking with Living Books for High School or Don’t Kill a Living Book

Notebooking with Living Books

Charlotte Mason homeschoolers strive to offer the best literary experiences to their children. Part of the recipe for an enriching literary life is a library of living books. Like food to a hungry person, living books provide fuel for thinking, motivation for learning, and a sense of satisfaction to the eager reader.

  • A living book can spark a love for adventure, an appreciation for an artist and his art, or provide a lesson in being an everyday hero.
  • Living books stir up the thoughts and give children (and moms) plenty to build and grow on. They open doors of the imagination and sweep away weariness.
  • They stick with you long after you have read them…they can become part of a beloved childhood memory. They are the sorts of books you want to own and keep lined up on a shelf for future generations.

As our homeschooled children reach high school age, the options for books widens and the need to choose wisely from that growing library of books is more necessary than ever. There will be trusted sources of book lists and recommendations from homeschool friends with like-minded ambitions to draw from. Now the test is going to be how you use the living books and ideas with your high school age children.

Notebooking Doesn’t Kill A Living Book

Is it possible to kill a living book? I think so. I have killed plenty of good books by squeezing the life out of them with too many questions, worksheets, and over-analysis. Now that I know better, I do better…or least I try to do better. Using living books along with notebooking in high school has been the answer in our family.

Notebooking for High School @harmonyfinearts

Notebook pages are not the same as worksheets – They provide personalized learning by keeping a record of thoughts and interesting points gleaned from reading good books. Worksheets have a preset answer in mind but notebooking helps the student make their own connections. No more true/false, fill in the blanks, multiple choice, or mindless vocabulary work. What gets written on the notebook page is straight from the child’s experience…narration at a high school level.

Notebook pages can fit personal learning styles – Notebooking allows for different types of learners to share in a way that makes sense to them. There are different styles of notebook pages to match every kind of learner.

  • Boxes for sketching, map drawing, and diagrams
  • Lines for summaries – good for fiction or non-fiction
  • Places for lists – people, places, events, vocabulary, characters
  • Space for as much or as little as your child is motivated to do in recording their follow-up work. The availability of free notebook pages online or reasonably priced collections make using notebook pages simple and affordable.

Quotes: Living words from living books – Notebooking can be a sort of commonplace book with room for quotes, organized by topic or author. Meaningful quotes can come from fiction, biographies, non-fiction, speeches, or videos.

Ask and then answer a question – High school age students should be forming relationships with books and authors, a sort of conversation with the material. Our family uses this technique with many of our history books-ask a question and then find the answer. Notebooking provides a place to organize the questions and answers. Many times these pages form the basis for a more formal writing project.

Writing an Essay Using IEW and Notebook Page

Background on the author – A living book is written by a living (or once living) author. Including a biography of the author in your notebook makes the learning more connected to the time period in which the book was written, the author’s point of view and background, and brings the writing into focus by understanding a bit more about the author. Who influenced the writer? Who was also writing and creating at the same time? You can glean many points by adding the book to a notebook timeline, either by when it was written or by recording the time period written about. Here’s another entry you might like: How to Set Up a History Notebook.)

NotebookingPages timeline

No more pointless literary analysis – Much of what we do in the name of “analysis” is really just one more way to extract the life out of a living book. In our family I have noticed that as the years have ticked by, my sons have been able to easily pick up on literary terms by casual use and recording their work on notebook pages. An author’s style becomes more apparent as they read several books by the same author. They can easily describe setting, characters, and point of view.

Note: I admit that we have gone to a more formal program to cover literary analysis in our senior year’s courses (IEW’s American Literature and Succeeding on the AP Literature Exam) but this was made easier by the many years of groundwork laid by using notebooking as a form of narration in middle and high school. We have not beat every piece of literature to death by analyzing it in depth. We also have done very informal and light literary analysis along with our poetry study.
Free Notebooking Pages Sampler

These are my favorite notebooking pages for customizing for high school. I especially like the History Notebooking Sets. You can buy the individual sets or you can purchase the Treasury Membership and have access to ALL the notebook pages on Please note these are affiliate links to products I have used in the past and loved. Highly recommend them!

Poetry for High School Boys – Updated

Mt. Diablo Rock City - Raven

Poetry is about the business of words and picking just the right words to match the tone and mood of the subject. The words in a poem are what bring it to life. Collecting words and arranging them in just the right way is what makes a great poem.

“Great artists who create poetry, stories, paintings, architecture or music are able to express and show the rest of us part of the wonderful visions that Imagination has revealed to them. And we can appreciate and enjoy their work because our own Imagination does the same thing for us in a lesser degree. Our Imaginations make us pictures and poems inside the private room of our minds.” Charlotte Mason, volume 4 page 48

I think this is what I appreciate about Mr. B the most lately. He is reading so many great classic books as part of his homeschool and in his free time as well. He often comments that he wishes people would still talk like the characters in these books. The richness of the words is enjoyable to him. I see him using those words in his writing and hear them in his speech. Great literature and poetry are like that….they seep into your brain and into your heart….sometimes even giving us a bit of a thrill.

Offering a healthy heap of poetry alongside regular high school literature will enhance your study of words. Poetry is like art with words and like art, tastes will vary. We will not like every poet so I try to offer a variety of styles and voices as a way to expose my boys to new ways of expression. Honestly, they do not always enjoy it as much as I do. But, it is like everything else and we must take a nibble of a poet in order to know if we like them or not.

Nibble a taste of Edgar Allen Poe’s: The Raven on

Poets my boys have studied and enjoyed:
Langston Hughes, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling, Longfellow, Tennyson.

My Poetry Lesson Plans (high school)
My Poetry Notebook Pages (high school)
My Review of IEW’s Poetry Memorization program (all ages).

Shakespeare – Something To Think About

Coffee Mug from Dayspring
Don’t you just love my new mug? I love the scripture, the handle, the little bird that is painted on the inside of the cup, and it keeps my Kona coffee so deliciously warm. I received it as part of my prize package for winning the Homeschool Blog Award for Best Nature Study Blog of 2011. My thanks to my readers for voting for me and to Dayspring for the nice gift. 

Now for a little Shakespeare Talk~

When you read some authors you can nibble and taste, but with Shakespeare you need to just dive in and eat the whole thing. Once you start, you need to just keep going….the dialogue at first can seem incomprehensible, your ear doesn’t process the sounds and words as part of the English language. It takes a few pages before your brain snaps into focus and you really do start to understand what is going on.

  • Over the years I have learned that for our family the best way to offer Shakespeare is to listen to audio books read by professional actors (on 
  • When we tackle a new Shakespeare play, hearing the words read correctly helped us to imagine the play being acted out on a stage like it was originally intended. 
  • At least for the first time through a new play, we fire up the audio version, sit with books open, and follow along. 
  • Mr. B pauses the audio when we need to check the modern version for understanding. 
  • The vocabulary in a Shakespeare play can be quite challenging and we enjoy learning a good new word. We look up words we don’t know as we go along.
  • Shakespeare is also good for a few new phrases. We often recognize a saying we use all the time and we were just not aware that it came from Shakespeare. That makes it fun.

Shakespeare has a way of giving you something to think about in a way you never thought of before. Perhaps it is the reason his works have remained so popular through the years. We just finished reading the Merchant of Venice (Mr. B’s turn) and it was full of things to talk about, ponder over, and glean new points of view from. We listened while following along and then we watched scenes on YouTube, my favorites are the ones with Al Pacino as Shylock. (This is a link to YouTube…as always, preview for appropriateness for your family.)
It is my goal to include Shakespeare in our literature study each term.

It is always worth the effort and gives us much to think about.

You may be interested in reading from my archives: Shakespeare for Christians.

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