Middle School English

Menlo Middle School students use iPads to enhance reading in English class. Photo by Pete Zivkov.

Writing. Reading. Thinking.

Throughout the Middle School English program, students learn to think and read critically, articulate their ideas through writing and speaking, and develop an independent voice. We organize instruction and assessments around seven key English skills:

  • Speaking and listening skills: using evidence, questioning, responding to others, making connections, and clearly presenting ideas
  • Reading volume and comprehension of a range of texts 
  • Analysis and interpretation of texts, in writing and/or speaking 
  • Purpose, organization, and detail in writing across a variety of genres
  • Written expression, including word choice, sentence structure, and attention to voice and language nuances 
  • Understanding and application of grammar and mechanics
  • Vocabulary development and use

A prioritized goal of the department is to instill in students the habits of lifelong readers. Through whole-class shorter texts, such as stories, poems, speeches, and essays, we teach targeted literary elements and expose students to a wide variety of voices, styles, and messages. Furthermore, students study whole-class novels, participate in book clubs, and read self-selected independent texts for a goal of 18 books read per year by each student. 

Students use the writing process of studying mentor texts, brainstorming, drafting, and revising to compose both creative and analytical writings. To hone speaking and listening skills, students frequently engage in book clubs, group discussions, and student-led Socratic circles. Additionally, students explore the finer points of the English language through the study of vocabulary and grammar. 

Three enduring understandings guide the curricular philosophy of Middle School English:

  • Literature expands our understanding of the world, humanity, and ourselves
  • Used strategically and with purpose, language empowers 
  • Language sparks joy, inspiration, beauty, and meaning 

Our ultimate goal is for our students to stretch themselves through the richness that English has to offer.

Meet our Middle School English faculty.

Course Catalog

  • English 6

    Sixth grade English exposes students to structured writing, literary discussions, and a wide variety of genre readings. As the year begins with The Giver, students explore this dystopian novel and question the necessity for choice and emotional capacity in humans. With this text, students practice defining vocabulary words in context in addition to using textual evidence to support their claims. The short story and poetry units that follow focus on specific literary devices that authors use to enhance literary themes. Students read pieces that illustrate character development, figurative language, irony, symbolism, conflict, and imagery. After processing and digesting the craftsmanship demonstrated by notable authors, students apply their understanding by crafting their own creative writings. Toward the end of the year, students read Counting by 7s, in which the protagonist overcomes personal challenges with help from a surrogate family. With this novel, students explore messages of empathy and resilience and examine word choice and character development. Throughout each unit, grammar concepts are introduced, practiced, and applied in all of their writing. This course serves as a foundation for both English skills and academic habits.

  • English 7

    The seventh grade English course focuses on building students’ analytical skills through close readings, discussions, Socratic circles, and writing. The course begins with the study of ten multicultural coming-of-age short stories, culminating in a comparison essay on a thematic similarity between two stories. The heart of the course centers on a thematic and critical study of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which students track eight themes, including outcasts, race, gender and status. This work culminates in a substantial analytical essay to prove a thesis of their own creation. A long and rich list of vocabulary words are drawn from the whole-class literature, and students learn their meanings before they encounter them in their readings. Throughout the year, poetry is explored. Students identify literary devices in action in the poems, which often supplement the whole class texts thematically or connect to our studies in grammar and writing. Toward the end of the year, a concentrated poetry unit focuses on the voices of immigrants to build empathy and perspective. Students also compose a variety of their own poems in response to those they study. Grammar lessons ask students to induce patterns in syntax, identify those patterns in mentor texts, and apply those patterns to create variety and impact in their writing. In addition to analytical writing, creative writing assignments target key skills. For example, a description of a person challenges students to build a unifying dominant impression through showing details. A 66-word story forces students to be highly selective in word choice. The course underscores the natural interconnectedness of reading, writing and language usage.

  • English 8

    The 8th grade English course centers around voice. The course begins with the classic Of Mice and Men. Students engage in a deep study of characters to discover how authors create complex, interrelated, and dynamic figures through writing. They also critique how authors address the voices of marginalized populations, especially within historical texts. Next, students read and write poetry to understand the power of word choice and poetic devices. In the contemporary fiction unit, students read and analyze the novel Bear Town through the lens of voice and truth. To conclude the year, students compose a “This I Believe” personal essay to voice a truth in their own lives. They will draw from our class readings, world events, personal experience, and their self-selected readings from throughout the year. Grammar instruction is integrated in each unit and focuses on the necessity for clarity to communicate effectively. For vocabulary development, students identify and collect words from their reading to incorporate into their speaking and writing. These lists are individualized and ask students to take ownership and be lifelong learners.