Middle School Literature and Composition

Monday, November 29

Good job reaching the end of the semester! I know this class has been a challenge for some of you, but that’s okay. The end goal is to get you used to harder work, to improve your study skills, and get you ready for high school.


Over the break, please read A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. If you need to listen to it in an audio version, that’s fine too. The writing style is likely different from anything else you’ve experienced, and the story may be hard to follow, particularly since it’s presented in two parts. Just do your best! You have plenty of time, so don’t rush through it.

Click here to take the reading quiz by Sunday, January 23.

Have a wonderful holiday and I’ll see you on January 24!

Monday, November 22

I hope you all feel relieved that the semester test is over! Now you can enjoy Thanksgiving without that worry over your head. 🙂

Rest easy over the holiday and I’ll see you next Monday. Be ready to talk about Sherlock Holmes and Mystery as a genre.

(If you haven’t submitted your Personal Narrative, please do so.)

Monday, November 15

It’s time to get ready for the semester test! We reviewed all the high points today in class. If you didn’t finish filling out the review sheet, please do that for homework and get the rest of your notes in order. All of these materials can be used for the final test, so it’s a good idea to be organized.

If you did not submit the rough draft of your Personal Narrative, please do so as soon as possible.


Organize your notes and come to class next week prepared to take the semester test.

Also, finalize your Personal Narrative. Read through the comments and suggestions I left on your Google Document. Read your paper out loud prior to printing it. Bring your final essay to class on Monday. Be in touch if you have questions.

Monday, November 8

Today we swapped outlines and helped one another build creativity into personal narratives. You should have plenty to work with this week as you write your rough draft. Keep in mind the tips I’ve given you:

  • Start with context. Present a setting so I understand when or what time frame you’re in. Common hooks might be: “When I was seven years old…”, “The first time I thought about doing karate was when…”, or “My last summer vacation was nothing like I thought it would be…”
  • Only offer details that add to your story. If it doesn’t add anything, let it go.
  • Show, Don’t Tell. Instead of writing, “I was very happy to get a horse,” try writing, “I was buzzing with excitement as I rode my new horse for the first time.”
  • Elevate your language. Omit filler words. Use a thesaurus if you need to.

Before submitting your rough draft, read your narrative out loud. Make sure every sentence doesn’t start with I or We. Fix grammar or punctuation mistakes. Reword sentences that don’t flow well. Give your story a title after the heading.


Write the rough draft of your personal narrative. This is your best effort without my help. Remember MLA format (font, margins, etc.) Share it via Google Docs by this Friday.

Come to class next week with all of your notes from the semester. We’ll review for the test together fill in the gaps with things you might have missed.

Monday, November 1

We finished talking about Within Reach and then went on to work more on descriptive writing. I hope you find this type of writing more enjoyable than academic writing. It might still be challenging for you, but figuring out how to describe snowfall is – at the very least – more enjoyable than figuring out how to cite a scene in MLA format. 🙂

I handed out three things to help you get started on your personal narrative outline: 1) a detailed description of what’s required for the paper, 2) an example of an outline, and 3) an example of a personal narrative. You can click on any of those links if you need to print the papers out again or need to reference them quickly.


Decide what you want to write about for your personal narrative. Talk with your Mom or Dad if you need a memory boost. Be sure it’s a story with purpose – an experience that taught you a lesson, an event that changed you, something about you that is unique, etc. Then, draft an outline for that story. Look at the example I gave you. Use the example to help you with format and sequence of events. Be as detailed as you’re able. Remember, the structure of the personal narrative is a mixture of the traditional five-paragraph essay and Freytag’s Pyramid – a true story told well.

PRINT your outline and BRING IT TO CLASS. We will swap outlines, help one another with descriptive writing, and start drafting paragraphs in class. Please come prepared to write. If the weather is nice, we’ll go outside.

Here’s a quick reminder of what to expect in the last four classes of the semester:

  • Nov. 8 – Workshop outlines, improve descriptive writing. Homework: Write the rough draft of your personal narrative.
  • Nov. 15 – Review rough drafts; Test prep together! Homework: Finalize personal narrative and print it out. Make sure notes are organized for the semester test.
  • Nov. 22 – Semester test (open notes) Homework: Finish any Quill assignments you haven’t completed.
  • Nov. 29 – Intro to Sherlock Holmes and mystery as a genre. Homework (due Jan. 24): Read A Study in Scarlet and take the reading quiz online.

Monday, October 25

We’re shifting gears from academic writing to creative writing for the remainder of the semester, which some might find more enjoyable. We’re reading Within Reach to introduce students to memoir as a genre but also get them in the mood for personal storytelling, as this will be the final writing assignment for the semester. We’ll talk more about the Personal Narrative next week.

Today we worked on replacing generic words with specific words, using similes and metaphors to create imagery, and brainstorming sensory details for various scenarios. Hang onto the sensory detail worksheet you worked on outside. We’ll continue working on it next week in class. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we can go outside again.


Finish Within Reach. Then take the reading quiz.

Also finish the Descriptive Exercises worksheet we started in class. (If you misplaced it, click here to print a new copy.)

Monday, October 18

Today we talked a lot about Creative/Literary Nonfiction, which is best defined as true stories told well. Nonfiction writers are tasked with not only telling a true story but also telling it in a captivating way. This is why they utilize many of the same literary elements fiction writers use, such as dialogue, imagery, and conflict. Pay attention to these elements as you start Within Reach this week.


Reach Ch. 1-10 in Within Reach. Then take the reading quiz.

Finalize your Compare/Contrast essay. Read over the comments I left on your Google Document. Accept the suggestions I’ve made. Be in touch if you have questions. Bring a final copy of the paper to class on Monday.

Finish the the MLA worksheet we started in class and bring it with you next week. We’ll go over it first thing.

Monday, October 11

Today we charted the similarities and the differences between Esperanza and Mia. Here’s a short run-down of what we brainstormed:


  • Significant deaths in the family
  • Difficult inter-personal relationships
  • Inner conflict about self-identity
  • Both achieved a level of maturity and self-confidence by the end of the story


  • Different eras presented different conflicts (Esperanza’s story takes place in the 1920s; Mia’s story unfolds in contemporary time)
  • Different family make-up (Esperanza was an only child; Mia was the middle child)
  • Self-perception (Esperanza struggled to adjust to a new social class; Mia struggled to understand her neurological condition)

Both characters go through Coming of Age experiences – circumstances that prompt them towards maturity. However, their experiences couldn’t have been more different.

Homework Due by Friday, October 15

Write the rough draft of your Compare/Contrast Essay, including the Works Cited page, and share via Google Docs by Friday.

  • Aim for 600-750 words
  • Keep to MLA format (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, separate Works Cited page)
  • Cite scenes/dialogue in all of the body paragraphs (not the intro or conclusion)
  • Follow either a Topic by Topic structure or a Character by Character structure

To help you better understand the structure of your Compare/Contrast paper, I’ve drafted outline examples of what I’m looking for. Click here to read/print essay guidelines. Read it carefully and let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, September 27

Today we recapped how Esperanza grew from a spoiled, inexperienced child amid a tragedy into a young women who is capable of caring for her family and taking on challenging concepts in the working world. Hopefully you’ve taken some more detailed notes on Esperanza as a character since you’ll need them in a few weeks when it’s time to start writing the next paper.

We also did some more writing work, this time talking about denotation and connotation and how to choose specific words over generic words. As I told you in class, my goal is to help you improve your writing over the course of the whole academic year. By the time you submit your final paper next spring, hopefully you will have learned how to expand simple sentences into complex, compound sentences and how to express yourself more thoroughly, accurately, and concisely. I understand this work is tedious, but I promise you it’s all for a good cause.

Homework Due by Sunday, October 10

Read A Mango-Shaped Space and take the reading quizzes. (Quiz 1 on Ch. 1-7 and Quiz 2 on Ch. 8-15)

Be sure to take notes on Mia as you read. Come to class on October 11 ready to talk about this characters and outline your Compare/Contrast paper with the similarities and differences between Mia and Esperanza. For an updated syllabus, click here.

Monday, September 20

More grammar today! Thanks for hanging in there. Enduring the review now will help you later.

Today we mapped out some of Esperanza’s characteristics, and you’ll continue doing so as you finish the book this week. We’ll flesh her out fully next week before jumping into A Mango-Shaped Space.

Homework Due by Friday, September 24

Finish Esperanza Rising. Take notes on how she changes at the end of the book compared to who she was at the beginning. When you’re finished, take the reading quiz.

Also, please sign into your Quill account to see what’s been assigned to you. There are too many of you who aren’t doing this work. Be in touch if you have questions.

Monday, September 13

Today I reviewed the most common edits I made on your rough drafts, so hopefully some things are a little clearer now. To my knowledge, I’ve read and left comments on all of your papers. If you didn’t receive feedback from me, let me know ASAP.

We also covered some ground with grammar. I presume it’s review for most of you, but based on the Quill results, I know a few of you can use some grammar help. That being said, log into the Quill classroom to see what activities have been assigned to you. Some of you only have a couple of assignments, but others have more to do. We’ll continue with grammar work over the next few weeks. Basic things will show up on the semester test, so taking notes is helpful!

Homework Due by Friday, September 17

  1. Sign into Quill to see what activities have been assigned to you.
  2. Read pages 1-139 in Esperanza Rising. Then take the reading quiz.
  3. As you read, take notes on Esperanza as a character. What is her personality like? What are her circumstances at the beginning of the book compared to the middle of the book? What is at stake for her and her family? Write down whatever jumps out at you. Bring these notes to class so you can share your thoughts with everyone.
  4. Finalize your essay on Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Print and bring to class to turn in.
  5. Edit the paragraphs you wrote in class today and type them in a new document. Make sure each paragraph has varying sentence structures! Print and bring to class next week.

Monday, August 30

Today we mapped out the major plot points of Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Hopefully you all took notes because they’ll be helpful to you over the next 10 days as you write your rough draft.

We also worked on drafting your thesis statement and accompanying paragraph topics, so you should have plenty in your notebook to use as a starting point.

Remember, sometimes it helps to start with a thesis QUESTION so you can develop a thesis STATEMENT:

  • What do you want to write about? What parts of the book stood out to you as important? (Really endeavor to answer this question before you start writing.)
  • What were the major turning points in the story? Where in the story does Alfie’s journey take a new direction, and why?
  • What parts of the story prompted an emotional reaction in you?

Once you’ve formed a working thesis statement, start mapping out what your body paragraphs will cover. Make sure your body paragraphs support your thesis.

Guidelines for your essay:

  • Write an expository essay (just the facts! no opinions!) that connects crucial plot points in the novel to the concept of Rising Action, Climax, and Falling Action.
  • Draft your essay in a Google Document
  • Aim for 500-600 words
  • Keep to the third person point-of-view
  • Use proper format: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, one-inch margins, plus a heading, title, and a Works Cited page
  • Write a catchy hook at the beginning and put your thesis statement at the end of the introduction
  • Quote directly from the book in your body paragraphs to support your claims. (I passed out this example in class.)

Homework Due by Friday, September 10

Write the rough draft of your essay with a Works Cited page in a Google Document and SHARE it with me by Friday, Sept. 10. Please be in touch if you have questions.

Monday, August 23

Good morning! I wish we could be together in class today, but since we can’t, I’ll lay everything out for you here.

The first thing you need to do is print out the Basic Outline for a Five-Paragraph Essay. Place it in front of you as you listen to the audio lecture. You are welcome to make little notes on the outline as I go over it.

In the audio lecture linked below, I review the outline and Works Cited page, along with what your first essay will cover. We’ll go over all of this in class again next week, but do your best to follow along today.

Homework Due by Sunday, August 29

  1. Click here to listen to the audio lecture. It will open in a separate browser. Make sure you’ve printed out the Basic Outline for a Five-Paragraph Essay and have it in front of you.
  2. Finish reading Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, then take the reading quiz online.
  3. Answer the following questions about plot points in the novel and bring them to class next week so we can discuss them: 1) What is the inciting incident of the novel, and why? 2) What are the major plot points that make up rising action? 3) What is the climax of the novel, and why? 4) When does the falling action begin?
  4. Print this worksheet on essay structure. Use the Basic Outline for a Five-Paragraph Essay to fill in the blanks. Bring it with you to class next week.
  5. Use your MLA Handbook to draft a Works Cited entry for Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Print and bring to class next week so we can review them together. Be sure to use the proper font format 🙂
  6. If you haven’t completed the grammar assessment on Quill, please do so as soon as possible. Instructions are in the homework list from last week.

Monday, August 16

It was lovely to meet all of you this morning! Whether or not English is your favorite subject, I hope you’ll enjoy some of the things we read and appreciate learning how to write an academic paper.

Today I talked about how the class will be structured – reading books, writing papers, taking weekly quizzes at home, and taking an open-notes semester test on the last day of class. (Please take notes each week! You’ll be grateful on test day.)

We briefly touched on MLA Format and why that monster exists. Admittedly, it is NOT the most fun part of English class, but once you learn how to use the handbook, it will make paper writing much easier in the future. Be sure to bring your MLA Handbook to class each week.

We spent the rest of the class time talking about Freytag’s Pyramid. The notes you took today will certainly show up on a test later. Be sure you understand the five main acts of a plot structure (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution), along with a few extra elements (Inciting Incident, Complications, and Reversals).

Homework due by Sunday, August 22

  1. Read Ch. 1-6 in Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Click here to take the reading quiz.
  2. Read pgs. 10-13 in your MLA Handbook (8th Edition), starting at the bottom of pg. 10 where it reads “Evaluating Your Sources.” Then spend a few minutes observing pgs. 14 and 15. It may go over your head, but we’ll talk about it in class on Monday. I just want you to get familiar with some of the terminology before we meet again.
  3. If you haven’t joined the Quill classroom yet, please do so (class code: mixing-net). I have assigned two grammar diagnostic assessments to see where everyone is grammar-wise. These are not graded, so don’t stress! Just do your best. 🙂

Be in touch if you have any questions or if have trouble signing up for Quill.

Click here to view/print upcoming assignments.


This class is designed to help 6th through 8th graders identify literary elements in novels, analyze plot details, and write academic essays in MLA format.  There will be weekly reading assignments and quizzes, several essays throughout both semesters, and several tests. We’ll also work on grammar in class and through Quill.org on a regular basis. 

Please get a copy of the 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook. Students will need to use them both in class and at home.

Books are listed in the order we’ll read them:

Fall 2021
Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
Within Reach: My Everest Story by Mark Pfetzer

Spring 2022
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
Call it Courage by Amrstrong Sperry
The Pearl by John SteinbeckFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

*Short stories will be provided

Students need access to Google Docs and a gmail account, either their own or access to a parent’s, so they can submit rough drafts to me and receive feedback in a timely manner.

They also need to join my Quill.org classroom online (class code: mixing-net) by the first week of class. Students will take a diagnostic assessment first so I can see where everyone is grammar-wise, then they’ll have assignments to complete throughout the semester.

See everyone on Monday, August 16!