This is a highly readable and experience-based guide that high school English teachers will find useful, especially now when many students are learning from home, at least part time.

Canadian Teacher Magazine, winter 2021

This book contains the best teaching ideas developed by the author, Robert Thomson, during his years teaching high school English. “Home Study Projects” has two main objectives: (1) to give teachers a method for getting their students happily involved in home-based projects and (2) to share with teachers ideas for enlivening their classroom.Writing projects out of class often is a frightening idea for students.

Thomson suggests that students can overcome their fear if they work with three kinds of templates: book reports, movie reports and song reports. A fourth template consists of a method for analyzing paintings (Norman Rockwell is featured.) Readers will find detailed instructions on how to teach all four templates. Once students know how to use the templates writing a report becomes much easier: the report will consist of templates strung together by an expository narrative.

A project on Van Gogh might include a short introduction, a book report on Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life”, a movie report on the eponymous 1956 movie (starring Kirk Douglas) and an analysis of a few paintings by Van Gogh. Such a project demands considerable time and effort but the student who accepts the challenge will learn a lot: new skills, new ideas and new vocabulary. The student would also experience the satisfaction of researching a topic that really interests him/her.

The second objective of “Home Study Projects” is to share with teachers classroom activities that will spark students’ interest: (a) teaching songs with cloze outlines. Clozes provide a good exercise in careful listening and a review of basics such as spelling and how to use contractions. Some songs address issues of importance to teen-agers (parental neglect in Cat’s in the Cradle, the problem of extreme poverty in Streets of London).

Streets of London can lead to a discussion of a poem on the same theme: Robert Southey’s 1798 Complaints of the Poor; (b) teaching musicals (West Side Story) using clozes then discussing its themes and comparing it with Romeo and Juliet. (c) using a Time Magazine article on John Lennon’s killer to introduce students to abnormal psychology. (d) using select columns by Ann Landers to get students thinking about important questions: e.g. how to become more skillful at making friends, what qualities to look for in a future mate; (e) using documentary movies to hone skills such as bias-detection and note-taking; (f) modeling for students how to analyze a painting.

The focus is on paintings by Norman Rockwell that will interest adolescents: e. g., The Girl with the Shiner, Breaking Home Ties, Sunday Morning in America.A key concern of the author is to help students understand the challenges that they face at their stage of development and to help them organize their thoughts Thomson recommends keeping a journal. Another goal of “Home Study Projects” is to inspire students to read challenging books and make a habit of balancing books and movies in their life.

There are several pages explaining how to achieve these goals. Although the author developed his ideas in the English classroom he believes his book will interest teachers in other fields as well: history, psychology, ESL, home-schooling, and guidance counselling. Many pages will interest teachers who advocate project-based learning.

Numerous activities in this book utilize audio-visual aids and draw on multi-media resources. This helps to make the book accessible to visual and auditory learners. “Home Study Projects” includes: a step by step approach to teaching each activity, a list of A-V equipment needed, printed handouts for students (readings; templates, samples of students’ writing), sample questions, and suggestions of topics suitable for home-based reports. A sample passage: “When we read a good book we follow the intricate pathways of an author’s mind. Walking along this pathway we learn new words and new ways of expressing things, new ways of thinking and feeling.”