Literature—Eighth graders are expected to analyze literature with critical and original thought and identify various literary concepts in their readings. At the beginning of the year, students analyze both of our thought provoking summer reading novels: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Children of the River by Linda Crew. Throughout the year, students read Night by Elie Wiesel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Pertinent information from our studies are used to develop five-paragraph analytical essays focusing on the theme from these intriguing literary works. Students also compare and contrast important issues and related themes depicted in both The Book Thief and Night. These texts are used throughout our Holocaust unit in preparation for our visit to the Holocaust Museum inWashington, D.C. in the fall of each year. Excerpts from various novels, as well as articles, poems, and short stories are used to support related themes, literary devices and concepts in all the texts that we read in class. Additionally, students read four outside reading novels from various genres and complete writing and analysis assignments for each. See below for examples!
Comprehension—Reading comprehension and in-depth analysis skills are explored and practiced, taking students to higher levels of understanding the following competencies: sequence, cause and effect, main idea, details, comparison, inferences, fact and opinion, proper support, and point of view.
Writing—Properly written paragraphs are extended into organized, cohesive five-paragraph essays supporting a clearly written thesis statement based on the theme of the chosen novel. The development of a clear, concise thesis statement is revisited often. In essays students are required to communicate a central idea and give it detailed, concrete support, analysis, and commentary. Eighth grade students are required to use varied sentence structures, correct word choice, subject/verb agreement, proper tense choice, and high level vocabulary. Students learn that effective writing involves a process of pre-writing, outlining, writing, proofreading, editing, and revising. Students learn to communicate effectively through various forms of writing such as expository, creative, narrative, interactive journals, article writing, and poetry. All students complete an essay required for the NTCE Promising Young Writers Program. (See examples below.) A panel of Saint Andrew’s faculty and staff members chose the one entry that represents our school. Other writing contests are entered throughout the year. Students also create personal resumes in preparation for the high school application process.
Vocabulary—Our primary vocabulary text is Vocabulary Workshop by Sadlier-Oxford.Important competencies include: definitions, parts of speech, synonyms, antonyms, spelling, and understanding words in context. Students also expand their vocabularies and improve their spelling skills through literature studies and be required to apply these skills to daily writing.
Grammar—Students learn to improve their understanding of language structure through careful study of grammar, language mechanics, and usage. Grammar is taught as a separate discipline, as well as through daily writing and revisions. Sound grammar and punctuation is expected on every assignment in every subject in school, not only in English class!
Writing Exploration - Our accomplished 8th grade journalists craft beautiful newspapers based on various, exciting, young adult literature novels. Students create fabulous articles demonstrating background history, setting, characterization, and plot, as well as special edition sections creatively depicting important themes and significant events. Each newspaper has a unique title and layout showing individuality and extraordinary thought. Please feel free to stop by our room and enjoy reading our newspapers anytime and marvel at our journalists’ excellence in writing!
Equally exciting is a special “Newspaper Reading Day.” Students are given a journalist peer evaluation sheet and read four student newspapers of their choice thoroughly, rate them on a scale of 1-10, and give sound evaluation comments with evidence through specific praise and constructive criticism. As a special treat for all their hard work, the students also enjoy bagels with cream cheese and our famous "Chai and Chocolate" while they read. Yum!
Literature Analysis -
During our exploration of To Kill a Mockingbird, we focus on conducting a Socratic Seminar analyzing key questions in depth. I am always impressed with the students’ willingness to publicly debate serious issues and discuss various conflicts and stand firm in their beliefs. We learn through classroom discussions, the important issues of prejudice, pride, and justice (or lack there of in TKAM). Students visit their journals often, writing about their thoughts and feelings towards the significant issues we cover and discuss in class.
Student choice is ever present as we embark on a journey through a TKAM assignment menu that includes four different learning modalities and three levels of difficulty. Students must choose four extensive assignments out of approximately forty choices; and one from each modality. For example, one student may choose to rewrite the ending of TKAM, and another might choose to write a poem regarding the prejudice and injustices present in Maycomb, Alabama, and yet another student will perhaps choose to write a song about oppression and sing it to the class. Additional modalities include self expression through art and illustration techniques, etc, and every student experiences all modalities.
More Writing Projects and Contests
American Author Comparative Analysis and NCTE Promising Young Writers Contest
Throughout the year there are many exciting and challenging writing projects: the 8th graders choose two novels written by one popular American author for one of our outside reading projects. Students write a biography regarding their chosen author, read both novels, and compare/contrast the two novels focusing on similarities and differences in theme, style, genre, perspective, etc.
Additionally, students also complete amazing writing pieces for the National Council of Teachers of English Promising Young Writers Contest. Students are given a writing prompt that required them to "think critically about 'who they truly are as a person' in difference circumstances in their lives." They are able to choose any writing discipline they preferred, including essay, song, play script, journal, poetry, etc. Additionally, they are asked to describe how they might show different sides of themselves with various people in their lives. In the end, they have to literally and figuratively demonstrate who they are in their writing piece. The writing pieces are absolutely stunning and impressive! A panel of faculty and staff at Saint Andrew's read the top ten choices to choose one winner, and the students literally move their readers to both laugh and cry.
Warm wishes to all for wonderful and successful year!