MS English A

No Class on Thursday, January 20

Hey there! You’ve likely heard that we don’t have class this Thursday, so I wanted to clarify homework expectations. You are welcome to finish Part I of A Study in Scarlet and take the reading quiz by today, but you can certainly wait and finish it by next Wednesday instead. You are also welcome to start reading Part II of A Study in Scarlet if you want to, but I won’t post the reading quiz until next week.

Whatever you decide, be sure you’re taking notes on any of the five elements of suspense you identify in the story. For example, the crime scene details definitely apply to Atmosphere. Blood on the walls certainly provides readers with an element of suspense, don’t you think?

Bring your notes to class next week so we can talk about what you’ve discovered. 🙂

Thursday, January 13

Today we kicked off the semester talking about genre – the way in which we categorize literary works and manage expectations for the books we read. We’re doing a unit on Mysteries and Thrillers, both of which involve crucial elements of suspense (conflict, pacing, atmosphere, red herrings, and high stakes). As we discussed in class, please take notes on these elements in each of the three books we’re reading. You’ll need those notes when it’s time to write your paper in March.


Read Part One of A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. Take notes on elements of suspense as you read and bring those notes to class next week.

When you’re finished, click here to take the reading quiz.

Click here to view and print a working syllabus for the spring semester. Please know things are subject to change if we need to speed up or slow down. 🙂

Thursday, December 16

Great job finishing the semester, everyone! I will grade tests over the weekend and email parents your grades early next week.

Get your hands on a copy of A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle by the week we return. (You don’t have to read it yet!) See you on January 13! Have a lovely holiday and stay well 🙂

Thursday, December 9

Good review time today, everyone!


  • Edit your personal narrative, if needed. Print off a final version and bring to class next week.
  • Make sure your notes are organized. Come to class on Thursday prepared to take your semester test.

Be in touch if you have questions!

Thursday, December 2

We did a group critique of outlines today, so most of you should be ready to start writing your personal narratives. Use the questions written on your outline to help guide your paragraphs.


Write the rough draft of your personal narrative and share it via Google Docs by Tuesday night, Dec. 7. (If you need more time, be in touch.) Use the following checklist to help you write the best possible paper:

  • Did I fully explain what happened? (including who, when, where, why, and how) 
  • Did I fully examine how this event impacted me? 
  • Am I still processing what I’ve learned? 
  • Have I chosen descriptive language over generic words and phrases? 
  • Does the story flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next? 
  • Have I run a spell-check or tended to any grammatical errors? 
  • Have I given this story a title?

Please read your paper out loud before submitting it! I promise you that this is one of the best editing habits you can establish for yourself 🙂

Come to class next week with all of your notes from the entire semester. We’ll review for the test together.

Thursday, November 18

Today we talked about how the structure of a Personal Narrative is a blend of the traditional academic essay and the five-act plot diagram (Freytag’s Pyramid). I sent home with you an example of both what the outline should look like and how that translates to an essay that tells a story. Now it’s your turn to decide what true story you want to tell me.


Decide what you want to write about and draft an outline. Look at the example I gave you. Review the guidelines of the essay to help you brainstorm your topic. Talk to your parents if you’re unable to come up with something. I’m sure they’ll brainstorm with you.

Bring your printed outline to class on Dec. 2 for group critique.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and stay well! 🙂

Thursday, November 11

Today we wrapped up Within Reach and dove straight into brainstorming sensory details for the scenes students chose to write about. I gave students four options to choose from, so we worked together to come up with as many details as we could to further along their scenes. The goal here is to present a scene or story that is so descriptive that the reader feels like he or she is there.

This exercise is designed to get students in the mood to write their final essay of the semester – a personal narrative. We’ll talk more about what that essay looks like structure-wise next Thursday.


  1. Finish writing your fictional scene using sensory details and other literary elements. Type your scene or story and bring it to class next week. I’ll read them out loud to the class.
  2. Click here to read three examples of a personal narrative. This is to help you understand what I’m asking you to write. We’ll talk about them on Thursday.
  3. Decide what you want to write about. Come to class prepared to talk about the topic.

Thursday, November 4

Today we worked on elevating our language with descriptive, sensory details. (If you misplace your worksheets, click here for the first one, then click here for the second one.) As you finish them this week, really dig into your imagination. Practice closing your eyes and imagining yourself in these specific scenarios so you can pinpoint sensory details. Endeavor to describe what things look like, sound like, smell like, etc. with as much detail as you can muster. Create new elements to the scene if you want to. For example, if you chose the zoo scene, add a sudden thunderstorm to the mix. If you chose the sledding scene, imagine stealing a carrot nose off of a nearby snowman and eating it. There are no limits here. Maybe aliens land in Manhattan during the Macy’s Day Parade!


Finish reading Within Reach. Then take the reading quiz.

Complete the worksheets on descriptive language, and come prepared next week to write a couple of paragraphs in class about the scene you chose.

Thursday, October 28

Click here to vote for your favorite yearbook cover by Sunday night!

Good job taking notes on genre and creative nonfiction today! I know it felt like a lot, but we’re switching gears here, so there’s a lot to say! It might be helpful if you read through what you’ve written to make sure it makes sense. If not, rewrite your notes and ask me for clarity next week.

This week we’re moving from fiction to nonfiction – specifically to memoir. Remember, this is different from autobiography, which encompasses the bulk of someone’s life. Memoir is contained by time and/or topic. It might cover a short season of someone’s life, or it might cover a specific issue or theme. For our purposes, Within Reach is specifically about Mark Pfetzer’s attempt to climb Mt. Everest. This book was written when he was still a teenager.


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

Finalize your Compare/Contrast essay and bring it to class next Thursday. If you need more time, no problem. Just let me know.

Thursday, October 21

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 
  • Same age and stage of life
  • 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 Tuesday, October 26

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

  • 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 (Click here for more details about your paper structure. We reviewed this in class, but just in case your notes are hard to read…)

Keep ahold of the worksheet you finished on Figurative Language and the MLA worksheet we started today. We’ll finish going over those things in class next week. This week, focus on your paper. If you need more time to complete the rough draft, let me know.

Thursday, October 7

We’ve made it to the halfway point of the semester! Well done, everyone! I hope everyone has a restful fall break.

Homework Due by Wednesday, October 20

Finish reading A Mango-Shaped Space and take the reading quiz. When we come back to class on Oct. 21, bring your notes on Mia and Esperanza so you can outline your Compare/Contrast paper in class. If you haven’t been working on your Quill assignments, now is a good time!

Thursday, September 30

Today we wrapped up Esperanza Rising by spotlighting some key plot points that pushed Esperanza towards maturity (which is the definition of a Coming of Age novel). Be sure you have notes on Esperanza as a character and you’re confident that you understand her overall character arc.

Keep Esperanza in mind as you start A Mango-Shaped Space this week since you’ll eventually write a Compare/Contrast paper about her and Mia. Do take notes on Mia as a character. Bring those notes with you to class next week so we can start fleshing her out 🙂

Homework Due by Wednesday, October 6

Read Ch. 1-7 in A Mango-Shaped Space. Then take the reading quiz.

Finish the worksheets on Denotation and Connotation, and keep working on your Quill assignments!

Thursday, September 23

Today we talked about three common types of Conflict that add tension to a story. Hopefully you took some notes so you’re able to explain to me what conflict is on the semester test 🙂

We also talked about Esperanza as a character – what her personality is like, how she is with her family, how she adjusts from being in a wealthy family to a day laborer in California, etc. Pay attention to how different conflicts in the remaining story prompt her to change. Remember, you’ll be writing a Compare/Contrast paper in a few weeks, so you’ll want to have notes on Esperanza to refer to.

Be sure you understand the grammar bits we’ve reviewed over the last few weeks. If, on the semester test, I ask you to give me an example of a Superlative Adjective, you should be able to do so! 🙂

Homework Due by Wednesday, September 29

Finish Esperanza Rising. Take notes on how she changed as a character towards the end of her story. When you’re finished, take the reading quiz.

Please sign into your Quill account and work on the activities assigned to you.

Thursday, September 16

Today we talked about two types of stakes and how crucial they both are to a good story. We also covered a little ground with adjectives and adverbs. Be sure to log into your Quill account to see what activities have been assigned to you regarding grammar work.

Great job on muscling through your first paper. We’ll start on the second paper soon! As I explained in class, it is to your benefit to take notes while you read Esperanza Rising. You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to start the Compare/Contrast essay after fall break.

Homework Due by Wednesday, September 22

Read pgs. 1-139 in Esperanza Rising. As you read, jot down information you think is important about the main character, Esperanza. For example, what is her personality like? What is her family like, and how does she interact with each member of her family? What is the setting of her early childhood? What are some big events that shape who she’s becoming? When you answer questions like these, write down the page number for scenes or dialogue that you’ll want to reference later.

When you’re finished reading, click here to take the quiz.

Bring your notes on Esperanza to class next week 🙂

Thursday, September 9

I am pleased with everyone’s rough drafts! I can tell you’re working hard to get them in the best possible shape. Look over the comments I made on your Google Docs and let me know if you have questions. Some of you a bit more writing to do, but others only have a few things to fix. Well done, everyone!

Today we went over some grammar basics and talked more about varying sentence structure in academic writing. The activity we did in class should be finished for homework (and typed!).

Homework Due by Wednesday, September 15

  1. Edit your rough drafts. When your paper is completed, print it out and bring it to me on Thursday. Don’t forget the Works Cited page!
  2. Finish working on the sentence structure worksheet we started in class. Type your polished paragraphs and bring them to class next week too. Remember to put the text in the correct format (Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced…)
  3. If you haven’t signed into your Quill account, please do so this week to see what grammar activities have been assigned to you. Some of you have more work to do than others, so don’t drag your feet 🙂

Be sure you have a copy of Esperanza Rising by next Thursday!

Thursday, September 2

Today we reviewed the major plot points of Stay Where You Are and Then Leave – all the scenes and scenarios that pushed Alfie’s story forward. Remember, you aren’t writing a paper on Exposition or Resolution. Whatever you decide to write about needs to fall between the Inciting Incident (Georgie coming home in a soldier’s uniform) and the Falling Action (Joe Patience comes to tell everyone that Georgie is in his living room). There are a lot of options in between those two events.

I showed you the process of taking an overall topic (major turning points in the story) and creating three arguable claims that Alfie’s risk-taking resulted in expectations meeting reality. I hope that exercise is helpful to you as you write your rough draft.

If you are still unsure about where or how to start, please reach out to me sooner than later. I can help you brainstorm. Here are some suggestions to help get you going:

  • the ongoing tension/conflict between Margie and Alfie (there are plenty of scenes you can use to prove how their secret keeping and inability to communicate added tension to the rising action)
  • Alfie’s limited knowledge of Georgie’s situation (again, there are a number of scenes you can use to prove how Alfie’s ignorance about PTSD/Shell Shock created more tension in the rising action and created an explosive climax – “I lost him!” pg. 228)
  • the author’s use of high-stress scenarios to drive home how serious Georgie’s situation was (the hospital setting, meeting the soldier on the train, the train station incident – all of this contributed to the tension right before the climax)

Homework Due by TUESDAY, September 7

Use your notes and the information I’ve given you thus far to write a rough draft that connects major plot points to the inciting incident, rising action, climax, or falling action as those things are defined. Remember the following guidelines:

  • Aim for 500-600 words
  • Follow MLA format for font, size, and spacing
  • Refer to the Basic Outline of a Five Paragraph Essay when it comes to the hook, thesis statement, topic sentences, and other elements of an academic paper
  • Be sure to QUOTE scenes from the book and site them properly (Check this handout again, if needed)
  • Don’t forget the Works Cited page!

Email your rough draft by TUESDAY night, if you’re able. If you need more time, please email me beforehand and I’ll give you an extension.

DO NOT STRESS. 🙂 Your rough draft isn’t graded. Just do your best work and I’ll help you morph it into a final, polished paper.

Thursday, August 26

Great job today, everyone! I know the tedious work of learning how to structure a paper can be confusing. Take heart! We will go through every step together.

Be sure to bring the 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook with you to class next week.

Homework Due by Wednesday, September 1

  1. Finish reading Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Then click here to take the reading quiz.
  2. Print this example of a Basic Outline of a Five Paragraph Essay and this worksheet on paper structure. Use the outline to fill in the blanks on the worksheet. Bring BOTH to class next Thursday.
  3. Create a Works Cited page using Stay Where You Are and Then Leave as your source listed. This isn’t a graded assignment, but please do your best to figure out what the entry will look like (in proper font and format). Bring it with you to class next week as well.
  4. If you haven’t taken the assessments on Quill yet, please do so. Instructions are in the Introduction post below.

Thursday, August 19

Welcome to a new school year! I hope you will find some enjoyable parts about Middle School English A. As you get started on the work this week, remember that you can reach out to me any time you need extra help.

If you want to print off the list of assignments for the semester, click here.

Hopefully you have an understanding of Freytag’s Pyramid – the basic five-act plot structure. We’ll definitely talk about it more throughout the semester, so if you’re still fuzzy on a few parts, no worries.

Please make sure you have a gmail/Google Drive account set up!

Homework Due by Wednesday, August 25

  1. Read Ch. 1-6 in Stay Where You Are and Then LeaveClick here to take the reading quiz.
  2. If you haven’t joined the Quill classroom yet, please do so (class code: match-pie). 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. 🙂
  3. Make sure you pack your MLA Handbook for next week!


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 on a regular basis. The class is on a two-year rotation with books, so students are welcome to take MS English A in back-to-back years.

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 Steinbeck
Fantastic 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 classroom online by the first week of class (class code: match-pie). 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 Thursday, August 19!