Middle School English
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 reading. Through whole-class texts, such as novels, stories, poems, speeches, and essays, we teach targeted literary elements and close-reading skills and expose students to a wide variety of voices, styles, and messages. However, to build skills, students need to read far more than we have time to analyze in class. Therefore, students participate in theme- or genre-based book clubs and read self-selected independent texts for a goal of 18 books read per year by each student. Students benefit from the differentiation that both book clubs and independent reading permit in both reading level and interest so that they are each reading in their “Goldilocks zone.” We believe that reading volume builds reading stamina and comprehension, and the best way to build reading volume is by giving students choice and ownership in their reading.
In English classes, students write for a variety of purposes: literary analysis, poetry, personal essays, descriptions, letters, narratives, book reviews, and persuasive essays. Students work the full writing process, which includes studying exemplary model texts, brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revision, editing, and publication. As part of the writing process, teachers provide lessons with examples on communicating with clarity, precision, and conciseness and developing control of sentence structure. Often students are asked to apply newly-learned vocabulary and grammar concepts to their writing. Ultimately, the goals of the middle school English department are to support students to feel confident in this challenging yet essential skill and to find their unique voice.
To hone speaking, listening, and collaborating, 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 capture and 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 and power of words.
Sixth grade English introduces students to the foundational reading, writing and language skills needed throughout Middle School English.
Sixth grade English blends book clubs, a whole-class text, and a supported independent reading program. Book clubs on contemporary realistic fiction, dystopian novels, and fantasy stories are opportunities to collaborate effectively and analyze literary elements, such as characters, themes, and symbolism. The whole-class novel The Giver asks students to question the necessity for choice and emotional capacity in humans. With this text, students learn how to annotate and use textual evidence to support their claims, which culminates in a literary analysis essay at the end of the unit. Independent reading is supported throughout the year by a classroom library, monthly class visits to the Menlo School library, and dedicated reading time. Students apply reading skills taught in class to their independent reading selections.
After processing and digesting the craftsmanship demonstrated by notable authors, students illustrate their understanding by composing their own creative writing pieces, such as a 100-word memoir and a personal vignette. Toward the end of the year, students practice argumentative writing through an editorial piece that combines their personal interests with a call to action.
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.
Seventh-grade English continues the work of building reading, writing, and language skills but with increased sophistication and nuance.
The reading goal of seventh-grade English is for students to expand their reading horizons through a balance of whole-class texts, small-group book clubs, and high-volume independent reading. The whole-class texts include extended studies of both poetry and short stories. These units are designed to expose students to multiple authors and their distinct cultural perspectives and writing styles, as well as teach close reading skills. Additionally, students participate in three in-class book clubs centered on the genres of novels in verse, historical fiction, and memoirs. Lessons about each genre’s distinct characteristics support readers in diving more deeply into their chosen text. Finally, students engage in high-volume independent reading and expand their reading horizons by meeting requirements for a range in genres, identity commemoration months, and book awards. The idea is for students to try less common genres, experience reading as “windows” or “mirrors” to a variety of cultural identities, and to read quality titles recognized by recent American Library Association book awards.
In seventh-grade English, students learn that good writing is really revision. They come to see that revision is more than just slight tinkering, but a committed endeavor to delete, add, and rearrange, always to master the piece’s purpose. The writing assignments alternate among analytical writing, authentic writing, and creative writing. Some of the major writing pieces include a book review, literary analysis of poems, poems, a description essay, a letter to an author, and an extended comparison of two short stories. The course also emphasizes precise word choice and serious attention to detail as essential elements of powerful written expression.
Vocabulary words are drawn from the whole-class literature and from students’ book club choices and independent reading titles. Students engage playfully with new vocabulary in quiz games and “vocab slams.” The goal of vocabulary instruction is for students to enjoy and find power in learning and using new words. Grammar lessons are targeted to enhance student writing skills, rather than to be grammar for grammar’s sake. 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.
This course underscores the natural interconnectedness of reading, writing and language usage.
Over the course of 8th grade English, students learn to take a stand and develop their own ideas regarding complex issues of culture and justice.
Central questions in the course readings include: “What should an ideal society be based upon?”, “When should the needs or ideals of society outweigh the realities of individuals?”, “Is there a difference between justice and revenge if both justice and revenge are interested in settling a score?”, and “Is civil disobedience a moral responsibility?” To consider these complex questions, students read a wide variety of shorter texts, including nonfiction essays, excerpts from autobiographies, famous speeches, and dystopian stories. The year concludes with a close reading of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. In addition to whole–class texts, students complete their middle school years of independent reading by intentionally planning and metacognitively reflecting on their journey as readers, pushing themselves toward more challenging texts, both in topic and syntax.
As students examine how cultural experiences shape and impact the world around us, they learn how to synthesize their ideas into cohesive arguments through expository writing, argumentative writing, and rhetorical analysis. Students learn to provide a thorough rationale for their arguments with concessions and refutations. Students continue to refine these skills as they craft their deeply personal “This I Believe” essay and their culminating literary analysis of Things Fall Apart. A key strategy in helping students form their ideas and arguments is dialogue through Socratic circles and peer collaboration. These tools help students translate their emerging ideas into crisply written expressions.
Students engage in a deep analysis of complex vocabulary and discover how precise word choice is used to create dynamic messages related to an author’s purpose. Grammar instruction focuses on the necessity for tailoring sentence structure when communicating messages to a specific audience. After examining the syntax of the wide variety of authors in the shorter whole-class texts, students emulate patterns of syntax in their own writing. Furthermore, students identify and collect complex vocabulary words from readings to incorporate into their writing and class discussions.
The course challenges students to find their voice in the world and express it well.