There is so much you have to teach every year. Math, Reading, Writing, Science, History, Art, Music, Sports...
Let me try to take care of Reading and Writing for you.
Last week I attempted to explain how I interpret and use the standards. Another tool that teachers get is a framework of what exactly we are supposed to be teaching every week of the school year. Usually after the first month we have given up on every actually meeting this because we are teaching a classroom of 30+ students, all at different levels, who are nowhere near on the same timeline. But it does give us a good idea of what we SHOULD be teaching every year.
It boils down to these categories:
And a few more extra things thrown in there
Annotating & Note taking
Here is what I try to teach in my classes during 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. During these grades, I'm not going to teach it just once and be done. I'm probably going to teach these skills over and over again all three years, knowing that the repetition is going to cement it into their developing brains. I might even teach certain skills multiple times within the same year, depending on the student and what they need.
That's definitely a benefit of homeschool or small group schooling. If a student needs longer with a skill set, I can take the time to rewrite a lesson and ensure they get what they need to master it.
One of the most important things you can do when picking your fiction texts is to remember your audience. This is not about you. It is about your student!
Make sure that the books you are picking are relevant & interesting to kids!
Don't choose a book just because you read it in school. Something that we read in the 90's is not going to be as interesting to a kid born in the 2010's.
Here's something they taught me in Library School. If the book has a setting from before the audience reading it is born, it's considered Historical Fiction. That means books about 9/11 are Historical Fiction for today's kids.
Listen to what your kids are interested in and find books like that. Even if you are having them read a book again, that's okay. This time they will be reading it slower, with a critical eye, and doing activities related to your lessons. The books that you pick should encourage critical thinking and prompt questioning. If you go to author's websites, many of them have already created book club discussion questions or even teacher guides to help with this.
You also really want to focus on the Story Elements. This is Plot, Setting, and Character. Dive into each of these separately, and then look at how they interact together and rely on each other. The Point of View of the story is also important. This means whether it's first, second, or third person. Talk about how changing that point of view could change the story, or even changing which character is telling the story could affect the ending.
And the last big element I hit is Figurative Language. For middle school, I like to make sure students understand the difference between similes and metaphors, personification, imagery, and oxymorons. If you can get to more, that's great. But those five are enough for now.
Middle school is when students really start learning how to write research papers, but first they need to know how to do the research. As a librarian, nothing bothers me more than hearing a student say, "I read it on Google."
When reading research, or nonfiction, students need to be able to understand the difference between fact and opinion. This is actually a fairly difficult skill to understand (many adults still struggle, just watch the news). They should be able to read an article and understand if the author's purpose is to entertain, inform, or persuade the reader.
As a librarian, a big part of my job was to teach students how to properly research. That means not going to Google and using the first search result that comes up. Students should be able to understand the difference between a primary and secondary source, and where to find those (Google vs. academic databases). When doing research on the internet, students should also understand the steps to evaluate a website for reliability. And finally, they need a have a general understanding of Copyright and the consequences of plagiarism.
At the beginning of middle school, students should be able to write a well thought out paragraph. This will have a clear topic sentence, three to five supporting details, and a conclusion sentence. At least one of those supporting details should be a quote that is pulled from the article they read.
By the end of the year, they should be writing 5-paragraph essays with a thesis statement.
All of this writing should have a formal and objective tone. Students should be able to follow MLA formatting of the papers, and have a List of Works Cited at the end of their paper.
Research has shown that kids who read a lot of fiction are more empathetic adults. This is because they have been able to put themselves into the shoes of numerous individuals and understand how they feel. The same goes for writing. Even more so!
Getting students to imagine a new world (even if it's set in this one), with three dimensional characters, is not an easy skill. Many students (and teachers) struggle with this. They don't know how to activate that imaginative part of their brain. However, it is so important.
In almost any job, you are going to need to imagine how someone else is feeling, acting, working, interacting with others, going about their daily life, etc. For example, in advertising, if I'm trying to sell a pair of running shoes, I need to imagine who my audience, in what situation they would be wearing them, and then craft a marketing campaign that is as eye catching as possible for that demographic. If I'm an investigator, I have to look at the clues I'm given and then imagine a scenario in which the subject would carry out that crime. If I'm an architect, I have to listen to what my client wants in their dream house and then imagine the angles, colors, and design coming together for their family.
Creative Writing can help with that! A good program is going to focus on taking the elements learned the Reading Literature units and turning it around into writing. Earlier we learned how this author showed us how she crafted a three dimensional character. Now let's see if we can craft one like her. Students should add the figurative language the recognized in fiction into their own writing.
All those extra bits
One of the very first things I teach, and I repeat at the beginning of almost every unit, is how to annotate. This is the act of writing in and taking notes directly in your book. This forces the student to SLOW DOWN and actively participate in their reading. Or, you know,
ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK!
Vocabulary is incorporated into each class. Every book has a vocab list of new words. At this age, it's more about learning words in context to what they are reading. This leads them to learn skills like connotation and inference. It's also helping them to build a smart vocabulary. A mom told me she heard her son repeatedly say "Aye, there's the rub," to his friend on the phone. At one point he said, "Dude, it's Shakespeare. Have you read it?"
Grammar is also incorporated into each lesson, with each class growing more and more in depth. This allows the student's revising and editing skills to grow as his Research Writing skills grow. The goal is not to know how to diagram a sentence down to the past participle with a dangling modifier and a dead prepositional phrase (I don't even know if what I wrote was real). It's about creating complex, interesting sentences with varying sentence structures.
And the last part is poetry. Every year should have poetry taught in some way. Poetry is something that makes me cringe when I think about writing it, but I understand it's importance in our world. Students need to be reading it AND writing it. They need to have that element of beauty.
This is everything that I cover in my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English Language Arts curriculum. Each year grows on the next to be a little more difficult. Tomorrow, I'll give you an explanation of my high school curriculum.
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