November 21, 2019

Taking Literature Further with LitWits Kits {Product Review}

LitWits Kits {Product Review}
I love teaching literature and I especially love teaching it in a unit study style. The challenge is finding a program that does all the "hard work" for providing hands-on projects as well as literature comprehension work. This is especially true for me when I took on the new role of teaching a literature class at my co-op to ages 12-16. It was a small group and I wanted to offer them more than the typical read and discuss literature experience. I had eyeballed several programs in the past, including a lesser-known resource called LitWits. Imagine my joy when I had to chance to review the LitWit Kits! I finally decided on My Side of the Mountain, The Phantom Tollbooth, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and Around the World in Eighty Days. I really hoped it would be just what I was looking for to take our literature studies further and make them more meaningful and enjoyable for all!

About the Product

LitWits Kits are a product from LitWits. These are online literature kits that help you bring beloved classics and modern books to life. These kits help teach literature into kids "in hands-on, fun, and meaningful ways." A LitWits Kit is a web paged devoted to bringing a book to life with unique ideas and downloadable activities, as well as a collection of teaching points and teaching printables. There is even a PDF for easy printing of the whole kit. 

Each kit provides:
sensory prop ideas:  see, hear, smell, and feel what the characters did
bookbites ideas:  taste what the characters ate
creative project ideas & instructions/templates:  make what a character made
kinetic activity ideas & instructions/prompts:  do what a character did (or might/should have!)
academic handouts:  learn the story’s narrative arc, vocabulary, setting, and more
creative writing handouts: write what a character wrote or felt
takeaway topics:  know what the characters knew
learning links:  learn more about what the characters’ world was like
audiovisual links:  see and hear what the characters’ world looked and sounded like
CCSS alignment:  check off lots of boxes!
You can do as many or as few of the activities you want, and it will still ensure an experience of literature your child won't forget. There are 46 LitsWits Kits available for many of the popular classic literature selections. Here are their eight most popular kits to give you an example of the books they have kits for...

There are also quite a few lesser-known (to me at least) books with kits like The Good Master, The Circuit, The House of Sixty Fathers, The Big Wave, and more...Most of the lesson planning is geared for ages 8-12 but can be adapted based on the reading level of the books themselves.

You can even explore this sample LitWits Kit for Little House in the Big Woods.

Each kit is available with lifetime access, making them an excellent resource that can be used over and over again!

Our Thoughts

The company generously allowed us to get up to four kits--so you bet your boots I maximized! I snagged the LitWits Kits to My Side of the Mountain, The Phantom Tollbooth, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and Around the World in Eighty Days. It was hard to make the decision on these, but I picked them with a purpose! We were working through My Side of the Mountain with our literature club at our local co-op, so it was something I could add in aspects of right away. The Phantom Tollbooth was the next selection we were going to read as a group. I picked Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, because it is the read-aloud assigned with our third unit in our home history curriculum, and I picked Around the World in 80 Days because it is the primary book for the final unit of our Geography curriculum later this year. 

My boys are grades 4 and 8, making them the ideal range for these units which are geared for upper elementary/middle school. However, I was initially concerned about using the kits for my literature group in our co-op as they are ages 12-16. But, I hoped that they would enjoy a unit style for learning, especially the addition of the hands-on elements. 

Once you have placed your order for your LitWits Kits, they send them to your account. You can find them (after logging in) on your orders list. From this point, you can click "access my kit" to get started. 
You can click "ways to use" for ideas on how to easily incorporate the material if you want to have a starting place. I just went to my kit. The link pulls up a welcome page with a colorful navigation bar across the top for quick reference.
To the upper right corner, you can see the little printer icon--this is what you can click on if you want to just print out the entire kit instead of using it online. It's nice to have that option for some of the projects. The Welcome and Overview is pretty much the same for every kit, so you really can skip ahead to #3 Prop Ideas.

#3 Prop Ideas is a list of various items that can be used for discussion or for creating a story space. These are a collection of different items somehow connected with the storyline itself. For instance, in the My Side of the Mountain prop list, there are small clay pots, flint, a reed whistle, botanical drawings, and more. Each of these is connected with the story of Sam in the woods. The Phantom Tollbooth has items like cookie letters, abacus, "synonym rolls", a blue envelope addressed to Milo, bottled words, etc. All of the props make sense if you read the story, so adding them in for discussion points are a great extra. 

Our focus was on My Side of the Mountain and The Phantom Tollbooth. I brought in props for My Side of the Mountain that included charcoal, switchblade knife, twine, botanical drawing book, and a book identifying plants and trees. Through our discussions, we were able to connect each of these items to our story. When we pick back up The Phantom Tollbooth after our holiday break, I will be bringing letter-shaped cookies, magnetic words, and other items of the sort. 

Props are a fun way to give books a visual connection.

#4 Hands-On Fun is where you get some ideas to bring things from the book to life. There are several hands-on activities included in each LitWits Kit. The Phantom Tollbooth has five hands-on activities. My Side of the Mountain has four activities. Some of them require more preparation than others and are also geared more to a group setting. This is where you will find any art projects that go with the unit. I was working My Side of the Mountain additionally with my literature group at our co-op and chose to have them complete Sam's Sketches project. I adapted it however since we were meeting in the library and I didn't want to bring in dirty things. LOL. For this project, they are to look at live samples of some of the plants Sam would have sketched and sketch their own version onto pieces of bark. 

I chose a different angle--I gave them actual pieces of artist's charcoal (instead of the felt tip marker) and had them follow botanical line sketches of a few of the things from the book onto paper. They learned that charcoal is actually hard to sketch with (it smears) and decided Sam would have probably used his as a burnt stick for better control. This was an enjoyable activity for them, even the ones who claimed they couldn't draw.

One of the boy's work
I have plans to do two of the Hands-On Activities from The Phantom Tollbooth as we continue further in the book. We will be doing the Chromography activity and the Have You Ever Heard activities. I love having the activities already planned out for me.

The 5th section of the kit is Book Bites. And as you may guess, here you bring FOOD into the unit. There are recipes and other ideas for tasty treats to match the book. My Side of the Mountain made pancakes and jam. The Phantom Tollbooth has letter cookies to "DIY" words and "Synonym" rolls. I am looking forward to using the Book Bites suggestions for our two additional LitWits Kits when we get to them later this year. (They will get to try fresh Mangoes for Around the World in 80 Days, and Hard Tack, Jerky, and Oranges for Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.)

Section 6 is TakeAways. This section explores more deeply aspects of the book. For instance, in The Phantom Tollbooth, it explores wordplay, the value of education, and visualizing ideas. These are more open discussion topics where the teacher can add in things.

Section 7 is Handouts. The LitWits Kits offer a collection of handouts to go with each unit. These usually explore elements of literature, vocabulary, etc. The Handouts included with The Phantom Tollbooth include: setting (choosing kingdoms), setting (depicting places), narrative arc, vocabulary (idioms), creative writing (homophones), and math (averages). These are all printable and have answer keys. I really loved using these. My Side of the Mountain also had the narrative arc and we filled it out as a group to summarize the story. The Phantom Tollbooth has great handouts and we worked on two of them in our class. We filled out part one for Setting (depicting places), and the creative writing study of homophones. 

Drawing their idea of what the Doldrums kingdom looks like
They really enjoyed the homophones worksheet. It talked about how you can use a different homophone and it will give a completely new meaning. Then it mixed some up for them and told them to be creative in what it described. One student decided a Chocolate Moose was a rare breed of Moose, much prized for their sweet meat. LOL. This activity brought quite a bit of grins.

As we continue the story, I see myself using the rest of the handouts that are part of The Phantom Tollbooth kit. They are varied and interesting and provide great comprehension and exploration. There are notes regarding any Common Core connections these handouts relate to. 

The 8th section of the LitWits Kit is Learning Links. This section is exactly as described: full of links to help you explore the subjects of the material or the author or the book even more. I used the links to show pictures of Thoreau for My Side of the Mountain and to show pictures of the Catskills Mountains. I really like having all of these in one place. I did discover that not all the links are actually active, so you have to look through them. 

Section 9 is for Great Quotes--and the company suggests going to look at Goodreads for great quotes from the book.

All in all, I am 100% satisfied with what these LitWits Kits have to offer. Even with my literature group being older than the age the lesson plan was geared to, it was still enjoyable for all my students. The kits are IDEAL in a group setting--like multiple family members or a co-op to maximize the hands-on activities. There is a blending of sensory styles provided from the material so that you can tweak it and adapt for all the children to be able to enjoy. These are GREAT springboards into exploring further, and seriously help jump-start the teacher's brain! I will definitely be considering purchasing MORE LitWits Kits for my literature co-op group in the future!

Want to Know More?

For the last several weeks, we've been exploring what LitWits Kits has to offer on the LitWits website. We've been enjoying the kits for My Side of the Mountain and The Phantom Tollbooth, and I look forward to exploring our other two kits later on in our school year. There were 46 different kits available, so I encourage you to visit fellow crew members to see which ones they picked and how they used them!
LitWits Kits {LitWits Reviews}


1 comment:

Becky and Jenny from LitWits said...

Lisa, this was SO fun to read! Thank you for exploring some of our favorite books with us, and for taking the time to so thoughtfully and thoroughly share your LitWitting experiences with your readers. We love the way you presented and adapted My Side of the Mountain to suit your group and environment... that's so great! Here's to many more years of LitWits fun and learning together! :D --Happy Reading! - Becky and Jenny