Welcome to Middle School English A! I am excited to introduce students to new books, to unearth literary elements, and explore various writing styles. We will dig into literature and draft essays in MLA format, a necessary evil that will help students master academic writing in high school. The work can be tedious, but it can also be rewarding.
It is imperative that each student read independently on a sixth-grade level and craft basic sentences without help. (If your student struggles with grammar and punctuation, I highly recommend signing up for a Grammarly account.) There will be instruction on how to build complex compound sentences when we start writing papers, but basic subject-verb agreement and a general understanding of punctuation, capitalization, etc., needs to already be in place.
Please pick up a copy of the MLA Handbook (7th Ed.), which is readily available at McKay’s Used Books and on Amazon. You may also click here to download a PDF of the entire book, if you prefer, and I will have a couple of extra copies with me if someone needs to use it in class. (The 8th edition is fine if you cannot find the 7th.) Please bring the MLA Handbook to class every day.
Please know that a few of the books we are reading this year have sensitive words and scenes in them. I expect only the upmost respect and maturity during class discussions. Parents, if you would like your students to read alternative books, please contact me.
Today we reviewed the last chapters of Fuzzy Mud and talked about the difference between Third Person Limited (readers only know what the main characters know) and Third Person Omniscient (“God’s Eye View” – readers know more than what the main characters know).
Then we group critiqued outlines and I offered the following feedback for everyone:
- Keep to the third person (no mention of I, us, we, etc.)
- Concede the other side on at least one major point. A proper argument is multi-sided, so whatever argument you’re making, you need to give credit where credit is due. If you can’t offer support to a counter-argument, then your topic isn’t arguable.
- The thesis should be a command, not an informative sentence. Instead of saying, “Vegetarianism is a healthy way of eating because it cuts down on factory farming, which is bad for the environment.” Instead say, “Factory farming should be eliminated because it is a major contributor to water and air pollution.”
- You must have at least three sources.
Homework: Write the rough draft of your formal argument and email it to me no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19. If you didn’t have an outline today and are still working on it, please email me before writing your rough draft. Do not start the rough draft until I’ve approved your argument.
Also, be sure to bring your MLA Handbook to class next week.
Today we discussed Ch. 11-22 of Fuzzy Mud, specifically addressing the elements of the story that make this a thriller. We know the “Heath Cliff Disaster” is coming, but we aren’t sure yet how it will all pan out. Finish the book this week to find out.
We also talked about the third and final paper of the semester, which is a formal argument. For some, this will be the hardest paper to write thus far. Not only does it require you come up with your own position to defend, but it also requires you do some research. Please read the handout carefully. Please contact me if you need help. You have all of November to work out your thoughts, but please don’t waste time.
Here’s a run-down of our timeline for the rest of the semester:
On Thursday, Nov. 14: Group critique on outlines!
Due Tuesday, Nov. 19: Email your first rough draft to me.
On Thursday, Nov. 21: We’ll go over rough drafts together, but keep in mind that you may need to keep working and send me a second draft.
Your final draft of the formal argument is due either Dec. 5 or Dec. 12. If you’re prepared to turn it in Dec. 5, great! If you need the extra week, no problem! Turn it in on the last day of class.
Homework: Finish Fuzzy Mud. Then, take some time to think about a position you want to argue as it relates to bullying or conservation/environmentalism. Read the handout I gave you again and draft an arguable position with three reasons/points that support your position. If you need help brainstorming, talk to your parents or contact me! Bring in three copies of your outline to class next week.
Yesterday we reviewed the first ten chapters of Fuzzy Mud, a story that presents readers with an ethical and moral dilemma regarding the creation of a “clean energy” solution. This book sets students up to write a formal argument in a couple of weeks.
We discussed a few literary elements too – how part of this story is told through an epistolary feature (writing through letters and other mediums) and the recurring motif of mathematical equations to how the microbes are reproducing exponentially.
I collected final response essays, so if your student didn’t turn one in, please do it via email this week.
Homework: Read Ch. 11-22 in Fuzzy Mud in preparation for a reading quiz. Also, complete the Works Cited list you started in class. Please type it as if you’re drafting a real Works Cited and bring it in next week. This is tedious work, but I’m trying to make you more familiar with the handbook. 🙂
In preparation for reading Fuzzy Mud, we talked about genre and sub-genre. People are always familiar with the word, but few people understand what it actually is. Genre is our way of categorizing written works. I explained three primary umbrellas of genre (poetry, drama, and prose) and the various sub-genres that fall underneath. For what it’s worth, Fuzzy Mud is an eco-thriller.
We went on to discuss the difference between ethics (externally designed) and morals (internally defined), which will come in handy as we read a book that prompts us to grapple with ethical dilemmas. Students will write a formal argument for their final paper this semester, FYI.
I also reviewed – again – expectations for the response paper (citations, how to draft the Works Cited page, what the paper is even supposed to be about…). Some students are really struggling, and I’m not sure how to best help everyone except on an individual basis. Please be in touch with your student – look at his/her rough draft (if you haven’t already). Email or call me. I’m happy to help outside of class.
If I didn’t return a rough draft to you today, that means it’s still sitting in my inbox. I’ll email you feedback and suggestions for edits tomorrow morning.
- Read Ch. 1-10 in Fuzzy Mud in preparation for a reading quiz (which will include questions about things we discussed today about genre, ethics, and morals)
- Finalize the response paper and bring in a fresh, clean copy on paper next Thursday
- Bring your MLA Handbooks to class next week!
We group critiqued outlines today for the response essay, and here are a few things I noticed:
- Some students are missing a paragraph about their personal response to the maxim, a reflection of their own lives and experiences that prove the maxim to be true. You don’t have to have a pet to be “tied” to something or know what it feels like to be responsible for something. Since a response is a reaction, everyone needs to include a paragraph that defends the maxim from a personal point of view.
- Please reference BOTH The Little Prince and A Mango-Shaped Space. In doing that, you aren’t restricted by the obvious – the little prince and the rose, and Mia and her cat. The concept of taming (being tied to something) is bigger than pets and plants. Really dig. Take time to consider other ideas that support the maxim.
- You do need to include the author’s name with the book title in the first reference (in the introduction), but save that wordiness for the sentences between the hook and the thesis. Your thesis statement is your main argument for proving the maxim true. Everything that follows points back to the thesis and serves as your evidence.
I handed out an informational sheet about the response essay, which we went over together. Please read it again before sitting down to write.
Homework: Rough drafts are due via email no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22. I will print the rough drafts, make comments/edits, and return them in class next Thursday. Also, make sure you grab a copy of Fuzzy Mud. You’ll start reading it next week. Email me if you need help!
Today we reviewed the second half of The Little Prince, primarily chapter 21 with the fox. It’s in this chapter where we get our maxim: You are responsible for what you tame. The Little Prince encountered a series of characters on his year-long journey, and whether their interactions were long or short, each had a lesson for the young traveler – and for readers.
For the purposes of the paper, taming is less about the literal translation of domesticating a wild animal and more about creating a meaningful relationship between the two things that have been tied together. The Little Prince feels an attachment to the one rose on his planet, not to the rose bushes he encountered on Earth. He is responsible for and to her, not all the roses in the world. As the fox explained, when you are tamed to someone, you feel excited to see them. You anticipate being together. You miss them when they’re gone. This is how relationships work, and this is why losing Mango was so hard on Mia. She felt as though she’d abandoned her cat in his time of need.
So, after reviewing the book, students pulled out their organizers from last week and I handed out blank outlines for them to start working, thereby giving them less to do over fall break. I answered questions, we talked about expectations, and they worked about 20-30 minutes on them. We will do group critiques on outlines on Oct. 17 when we meet again.
Note: Some may find this paper harder to write than the first one. It can be hard enough to explain how you feel when speaking, but it can be even more challenging when writing. It may help to talk through your thoughts with someone before sitting down to type.
Homework for Oct. 17: Type your outline notes into a document according to the proper format and print three copies to bring to class on Thursday, Oct. 17. Remember, this paper is a response to the maxim, so I expect the essay to reflect your own observations on its meaning. Writing in the first person is appropriate here, as long as you aren’t starting every other sentence with, “I think…” Also, you must include what you learned from both A Mango-Shaped Space and The Little Prince. This will require more thought and contemplation that you likely realized. Talk to a parent about it if you need help fleshing out your ideas. I will be out of town all of next week, but if you email me, I’ll respond to you by Monday, Oct. 14.
We talked about the first 14 chapters of The Little Prince and the maxim we’re working with for the response paper: You are responsible for what you tame. This is the lens through which to read the book.
I handed out an organizer to help students write down their thoughts as they continue reading. Please bring this organizer back next week filled out!
- Finish The Little Prince in preparation for a reading quiz.
- Complete the organizer I gave you today and bring it back next week with your thoughts and ideas ready to go. You will use the organizer to start your outlines in class. We will do a group critique of outlines in class after fall break, so the more you work on them IN CLASS the less you’ll have to accomplish AT HOME.
- A few of you are still working on your literary analysis, which is fine. Please email me your final paper by Wednesday so I can grade it and return it to you before fall break.
Today I reviewed some some common mistakes made on everyone’s rough drafts. While improper format is easily fixable, the hard work some students have to endure is digging into the topics a little deeper and pulling out examples from the book. Every body paragraph should have cited information from the book. (Citations aren’t necessary in the introduction and conclusion.)
Remember, a literary analysis is about 1) making a claim, and 2) providing evidence to support it:
If you claim A Mango-Shaped Space has a Coming of Age theme, then I expect at least three reasons why that’s true, followed by three examples from the book to support those reasons.
If you claim that A Mango-Shaped Space fits the requirements set forth by Freytag’s Pyramid, then I expect you to have three or four body paragraphs pinpointing what the inciting incident is (and why), what the rising action is (and why), and what scenes make up the climax and resolution (and why).
Cite your source by including page numbers and add the Works Cited page if you haven’t already.
Please hear me: If you need help between now and next Thursday, reach out via email or phone. If I don’t hear from anyone, I’ll assume help is being given by parents or everything is going smoothly.
- Finalize your paper on A Mango-Shaped Space (including a separate Works Cited page at the end) and bring in a beautiful, fresh copy to me on Thursday.
- Read Ch. I-XIV in The Little Prince in preparation for a reading quiz.
Today we had our first group critique session on outlines, and most everyone looks to be in good shape. There are a few students who either didn’t have an outline today or had an outline that’s a little too loose or vague. No worries, though! The outline is not a graded assignment. Rather, it’s a lesson in organizing thoughts and putting thoughts to paper. The real challenge comes this week – it’s time to write the first rough draft of the year.
Please look over your critiques and see the areas where you need the most help. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my paper really about?
- Am I being clear about the direction I’m going with it, or am I kinda all over the place?
- For every claim I make, do I have supporting evidence? Have I pulled text from the book, and is it cited correctly? (Look at the example I gave you to make sure.)
- Am I writing about literary elements (theme, conflict, characters, plot, etc.), or am I just summarizing facts? (This paper is not a summary!)
- Do I have smooth transitions from one topic to the next? (See the handout I gave you for extra words!)
- Am I so stuck that I need to ask Mrs. Miller for help? (Email me!)
Remember: Your paper needs to be a minimum of two pages, typed in Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced, with a one-inch margin around the edges. The Works Cited is a separate page.
Homework: Write your rough draft and email it to me (either you or your parent) no later than TUESDAY, Sept. 17. I will print off your rough drafts, edit them, and return them to you next time we meet. (Your final paper will be turned in on Sept. 26 in class.)
If you don’t have The Little Prince yet, now’s the time to get it!
We wrapped up A Mango-Shaped Space today by identifying the climax of the story (the maximum points of tension), followed by the falling action and resolution. We went on to review the homework from last week and then started talking about the first paper.
Students can choose the topic they’d like to write about for their Literary Analysis, as long as it’s one of the suggestions I made or it’s been approved by me. I handed out information about what’s required, including an example of an outline. Please read it again and contact me if you have questions.
Type your outline in MLA format: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double spaced. Every outline and essay will be typed in this format.
Homework: Choose a topic related to the novel for your Literary Analysis. Review my suggestions and see what strikes you. Draft an outline in MLA format and include scenes/plot points to support your claims. For example, if you decide to write about Identity as a theme in A Mango-Shaped Space, you’ll want to mention how hurt Mia felt when classmates called her a freak in the third grade. You don’t have to have complete sentences for every section in an outline, but please be as specific as you are able. Remember to bring three copies to class next week.
9 a.m. students: Please complete the MLA worksheet I handed out at the end of class. We’ll review it together next Thursday.
Today we started with a quiz on Ch. 6-10 and then reviewed the high points of those pages. We are still in the rising action of Mia’s story, but the tension is getting higher on account of increasing conflict. (We talked about the three main types of conflict, which will likely show up on the next quiz!)
We also identified this novel as having a Coming of Age theme, and we listed all the reasons why it fits.
We ended the class with a brief overview of the basic structure for a five-paragraph essay. I’ll be assigning the first paper next week, so in preparation, students need to understand what the skeleton structure looks like.
Homework: Finish A Mango-Shaped Space in preparation for a reading quiz. Then, print the Basic Outline for a Five-Paragraph Essay and use it to fill in the blanks for this worksheet. We will go over it together in class, but I want students to take a stab at it on their own first.
We started class with a quiz – half of it was on the reading, the other half was review from last week. (Taking notes in class pays off because the quizzes are open notes!)
We moved on to summarize the first five chapters of Mango, as well as to discuss the characters and setting. As promised, here is a quick video on synesthesia, the condition our main character, Mia, has. Please show your students:
We went on to talk about tone, mood, theme, and subject, which was a brief introduction to the many literary elements we encounter when we read fiction. Part of this week’s homework will be to read more about them.
Homework: Read Chapters 6-10 in A Mango-Shaped Space. Print these pages on Literary Terms and use it to complete this worksheet. If you didn’t do the homework from last week, please go back and finish it.
Don’t forget to bring your MLA Handbook to class every Thursday!
Great class today, everyone! I hope you’re all excited about the new academic year. I thought carefully about the books I chose, so I hope you’re pleased. If you end up reading farther ahead than what’s assigned, that’s fine – but please keep spoilers to yourself when in class 🙂
Recap: We started with a brief history about the basic plot diagram, also known as Freytag’s Pyramid. Gustav Freytag was a Polish/German writer in the 1800s and a student of philology. He argued that every dramatic plot has FIVE main acts, a concept inspired by Aristotle’s Theory of the Tragedy. Hopefully you all took sharp notes and will have no problem filling out the worksheet for homework.
Homework: Read Ch. 1-5 in A Mango-Shaped Space in preparation for a reading quiz, and complete this worksheet about Freytag’s Pyramid. There will also be elements about Freytag’s Pyramid on the quiz.