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How to Plan a High School Elective Course

By Carol Becker and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants

An elective course is an opportunity to customize! Elective courses add educational content to your high school plan and can motivate your teen in areas of interest. Because electives are part of your teen’s academic record, treat them like any other high school course: for each elective, you should evaluate your teen’s work to issue a letter grade, determine how you will award credit, and remember to include the course on your teen’s transcript. Let’s define what an elective course is, explain how to develop one, and give some samples to spark your creativity.

Defining an elective

“Elective” means that a course falls outside a high school program’s required subject areas; instead, a student chooses to take it. Although some electives fall within the core academic subjects of English (language arts), math, social studies (history), science, and foreign language (e.g., speech, geography, business math, logic, creative writing), other electives are nonacademic (e.g., band, physical education, photography, first aid, woodshop). We encourage you to use electives as a way to investigate your teen’s interests, introduce or hone skills, or clarify career goals. Electives enrich your teen’s education—so actively look for opportunities to include them.

Sometimes parents confuse elective courses and extracurricular activities. This article offers guidance on how to differentiate between these two important aspects of your teen’s high school program. One family may choose to define a particular activity as extracurricular, and another family may use the same activity as part of an elective course. There is no right or wrong methodology; teens benefit from both electives and extracurricular activities. Electives will appear on your teen’s transcript, whereas extracurricular activities will be documented on his or her resume (or extracurricular sheet).

Planning an elective

Although you can purchase curricula and unit studies for a wide range of electives, your family may enjoy developing some elective courses yourselves.

In co-op settings, one or two parents can build an elective for a group of students. Some ideas for these elective courses include yearbook, journalism, speech, financial management, and car maintenance. Sharing the teaching load with one or more parents allows many families to benefit and can be very helpful when designing electives that require special equipment (such as industrial arts, carpentry, construction, sewing, quilting, tailoring, and fashion design) or special skills (such as orchestra, dance, web design, and computer programming).

These steps can help you organize your thoughts and efforts as you create an elective course:

  1. Begin the process by brainstorming with your teen about areas of interest. You may already possess the skills required to teach an elective. If not, talk with friends, neighbors, extended family, associates, and referrals to identify people who have both the requisite skills and the time to invest in teaching the course. It helps to distinguish between beginning, intermediate, and advanced skills when designing an elective. If you and your student don’t expect too much too soon, this heightens the satisfaction that gradually developing skills can bring.
  2. Research to find materials and resources to build into the elective. Include the public library, online resources, craft stores, building suppliers, training videos, community centers, hospitals, fire departments, local businesses, tradesmen, co-ops, extension courses, etc.
  3. Determine how much high school credit the elective should earn. You can simplify the process of counting hours for credit by giving your teen a log to track the date, details, and time duration (0.25 hours=15 minutes) whenever he or she does a course activity. At the end of the course, total the hours recorded in the log for a good idea of the credit to assign. Remember that you can take advantage of summer breaks and other school breaks, not just the regular school year, when scheduling an elective.
  4. Determine a method to grade the course, and let your student know how you will evaluate his or her work. As part of the evaluation process, consider having your teen develop a presentation or demonstration of the skills learned. Grading the presentation can include how the student handles content, organizes information, adds visual aids, clarifies procedures, answers questions, and so on.

Sample electives

These sample electives may spark your imagination and boost your confidence for offering a customized elective in your homeschool program.

  1. Career development: Begin with career aptitude testing to narrow avenues of investigation. Research education or training requirements, workplace environments, geographical demand, and other factors that various careers involve. You can then determine whether a college degree, an apprenticeship program, or a trade/tech school is required for a specific career. Summertime job shadowing opportunities can help your teen decide if a specific career path makes sense to pursue.
  2. Art appreciation: Find and read several books covering the work of prominent artists or an interesting period of art, watch videos explaining great works of art, visit an art museum (local field trip or online virtual tour), and present an oral report, project, or paper on an individual artist.
  3. Construction: Work with someone remodeling a room to learn framing, drywalling, mudding, molding, adding trim, and painting. Remodeling kitchens and bathrooms can add basic tiling and plumbing skills (such as replacing a faucet).
  4. Cooking: Watch and record one or two episodes of a favorite chef or baker’s cooking show; select some recipes to try at home. Generate a shopping list, purchase groceries, and determine caloric content. Rewatch pertinent sections of the episodes and pause so that the various steps of the recipes can be completed. Gather the family to taste and evaluate the results. Repeat for each recipe.

One of the great rewards of homeschooling through high school is your ability to customize electives for your teen. Enjoy the process of planning and developing electives that not only interest your teen but also prepare him or her for life after graduation!