Alice C. Linsley
I recently finished an 8-week writing skills class for middle school students and we had a blast! They were asked to build their vocabularies by reading great literature and using unfamiliar words in sentences. We then discussed their sentences in class and sometimes found we needed to clarify the word's meaning.
We started all our sessions with each student reading aloud the opening paragraph of a classic. We then discussed what made that paragraph great. Some of the books we discussed include:
Sir Walter Scott
R. L Stevenson
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Crime and Punishement
The Call of the Wild
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncles Tom's Cabin
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Valley of Fear
A Tale of Two Cities by
The Last of the Mohicans
The Count of Monte Cristo
Three Three Musketeers
The Red Badge of Courage
I found that middle school students aren't ready for the content of many of these great works, but they are able to read, understand and appreciate the book's opening paragraphs.
We also read and discussed some short creative essays since each student was required to produce an essay of publishable quality. I selected the essays for brevity, humor, insight and as samples from a range of centuries. Here are some of the essays we discussed:
G. K. Chestertown (1874-1936)
"A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls"
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
"A Meditation Upon a Broom-Stick"
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)
"Of Charity, or the Love of God"
Before discussing the essays, we identified the main ideas. We then evaluated how the writer was able to take what may be mundane and explore it's glorious side. Or how something as glorious as the love of God can be brought down to earth and yet remain untarnished.
I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach middle school students! They are eager to explore ideas and they want to please. That made it possible for me to accomplish a great deal with them. All five of the students had at least 2 published works by the end of the eight weeks.
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