8th Grade English Language Arts with Trish Manwaring
Our reading centers around class novels, where students track big ideas to formulate answers to an essential question, discuss their thoughts in Socratic seminars, and then write argumentative essays. In addition, class novels build community and create opportunities for students to investigate issues that matter to them. We start by examining what it means to come of age in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Next, we read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, asking what is a person’s responsibility to fellow human beings. Finally, we read Elie Wiesel’s Night to examine identity in relation to community during a historical moment in which the consequences of individual choices could not be more dire. All three novel units strengthen students’ ability to take on multiple perspectives and consider the ethical implications of the choices we make.
The year is divided into genre-specific writing units, where students read and study the kind of writing they are producing - memoir, short fiction, poetry, book reviews, and valedictorian speeches - always breaking down writing into a multi-step process, with pre-writing, brainstorming, drafting, peer conferencing, revising, editing, and proofreading. Eighth-graders are expected to employ conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and they expand upon their writing skills by considering purpose and audience and crafting their language to suit narrative, informational, and argumentative purposes.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
We also develop student literacy through a year-long, systematic vocabulary program designed by MVMS teachers. Over the course of the year, students master 39 Greek and Latin root words and 100 associated vocabulary words, meaning they are able to identify root-meaning inside words, recall definitions, synonyms and antonyms, and use words appropriately in their own writing and speaking. Most weeks, class begins with a “word warm-up” centered around 1-2 root words, such as “graph” and “scrip,” the roots meaning “to write or record.” In addition to solidifying understanding of how word-parts carry meaning, these word warm-ups teach speaking and listening skills, spelling, and the parts of speech, all in the context of regular discussions on how we parse meaning from sentences.
The thread that runs the whole year in Language Arts is developing a voice, which goes hand in hand with figuring out what matters to us. As we write and as we read, we continually ask the question “So what?” Why does an early memory from our childhood still matter? What specific details can we incorporate into our writing to show readers what we care about? What are the big ideas that resonate with us in a story? Where do we see the author presenting a perspective on those ideas? How can we best tell our own stories, speak up on topics that we care about, or communicate our feelings? Every day in our classroom, we are building the skills to answer the question “So what?” for ourselves and for our communities in meaningful, articulate ways.