Holt's "Elements of Literature: Second Course" mostly includes selections from literature of the 20th century and later, such as Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gary Paulsen, Carl Sandburg and Langston Hughes. The contents of the textbook offer more than 40 selections by various authors. Some authors, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Abraham Lincoln, are from older American sources, but most authors are from the 20th century.
"Elements of Literature: Second Course" is designed for middle school or high school students to learn basic concepts in literature. Activities include how to read, write and critique prose, poetry and plays from well-known authors. Eight units break down subjects such as "Tales of the Strange and Mysterious" and "Talk to the Animals."
Some selections have parts of famous works, such as "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Angelou. "The Diary of Anne Frank" is included in its entirety. The Holt, Rinehart and Wilson website offers supplementary materials to help students analyze pieces from the textbook by asking critical thinking questions.
Students learn how to avoid run-on sentences and sentence fragments while also learning how to compose different kinds of literature. The course teaches various concepts, such as critical approaches to literature, reading non-fiction works and how to write an autobiography. The main idea of the course is to get students to appreciate reading and writing literature on their own.