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Middle School English: Literature, Writing, Public Speaking

The Scarsdale Middle School English Program encompasses literature, composition, critical thinking and speech. The teaching of these components is integrated across the curriculum.

The objectives of the Literature Program are to encourage a love of reading, to develop vocabulary, comprehension and analytical skills, and to expose students to a wide variety of good literature. The Intensive Reading unit focuses on exploring thematic connections among works selected from a range of reading levels. From this group of titles, each student reads three books over three weeks; they also engage in a variety of activities where they explore and discuss the connections among their books. Independent Reading assignments (where students are required to read books of their own choice outside of class) and use of the library support this objective. Class study of major literary works provides guided practice in analysis through discussion and writing. The reading list includes The Pearl, Johnny Tremain, Tom Sawyer, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as more contemporary works, plus short stories, poetry, and nonfiction.

The Writing Program offers students a variety of writing experiences arising from the study of literature and includes both creative and analytical writing. As students move through the grades, greater emphasis on expository writing prepares them for the demands of their later academic lives. The department makes full use of the school's computer and library resources in the writing process. The teaching of grammar and its application to the mechanics of writing is sequentially organized; concepts taught in sixth and seventh grade are reinforced in eighth grade. Instruction on spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, and parts of speech is applied to editing and revising skills.

The aim of the Public Speaking Program is to provide students with experience in expressing themselves confidently in front of an audience. Through a six-week seventh grade unit and a four-week eighth grade unit, a sequence of speeches from two to seven minutes in length emphasizes a less formal delivery style to a class-size audience.

In addition, students in sventh and eighth grades participate in an integrated Speech Contest unit, which includes research, organization, and writing skills, and culminates in a more formal speech given by each student to the class. Students may then choose to enter the annual Speech Contest, a school-wide competition.

The Middle School Speech Contest, which is conducted each March for seventh and eighth graders, includes five speech categories:

  • Personal Experience: an important event that has happened to the speaker
  • Poetic Interpretation: a memorized recitation and analysis of a poem
  • Original Oratory: a formal speech on an issue or topic important to the speaker
  • Dramatic Interpretation: a memorized recitation and analysis of a scene from a play, book, or short story;
  • Humor: a speech with a humorous theme, not simply a series of jokes.
Emphasis is placed on the structure and content of the speech as well as the manner in which it is delivered. Many students choose to use the constructive criticism garnered from class to improve their speeches for the speech contest.

Sixth Grade
The sixth grade English curriculum immerses students in a rich and rewarding celebration of the English language, designed to spark students' interest in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and to create a strong literary community. Students make connections, take ownership in individual and team projects, and become actively engaged in their own learning. Higher order thinking skills are stimulated as students learn to analyze literature and discuss their findings. Interdisciplinary connections are made with other subject areas, bringing their world and their lives into play with their study of literature.
Literary Texts
We encourage students to be analytical readers, responding to what they read with journal entries or specific assignments. Literary analysis begins with learning and applying key literary elements such as characterization, point of view, theme, symbol, conflict, setting, and foreshadowing. The school year begins with a character sketch related to a required summer reading book, and culminates with a benchmark essay on a specific short story. Literature circles, discovery stations, and project-based learning are key components of the program.

A varied collection of poetry is used to make thematic connections as well as to teach poetic devices such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, personification, point of view, rhythm, and rhyme. Students read and discuss classic short stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Monkey's Paw,” “The Necklace,” “The Moustache,” and “All Summer in a Day.” A selection of novels read by the whole class is chosen year-to-year to teach critical reading and literary elements; such novels include A Day No Pigs Would Die and The Outsiders. In our intensive reading unit, which focuses on the theme of “Coming of Age and Discovering Identity,” we encourage students to read as much as possible, and to apply the critical reading skills they learned in class. Intensive reading books include Among the Hidden, Dave at Night, Flush, One Fat Summer, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Tangerine, A Single Shard, Stargirl, and Where the Red Fern Grows. Reading class gives students time to read independently almost every day.

Grammar and Writing Skills
Students learn the mechanics of formal, written English and refine their editing skills throughout the year. Work begins with expository paragraph writing and learning the objective tone. Students learn the stages of producing finished copy: prewriting, drafting, revising, conferencing, editing, and finally publishing their papers and projects.

Essential grammar and mechanics lessons include parts of speech, sentence fragments, common sentence errors, sentence combining, homophones, punctuation, and spelling. As part of learning writing structure, students examine a variety of genres such as memoirs, poetry, essays, research papers, news articles, and letters. Students incorporate an inquiry-based method of research into a final demonstration of their work.

Throughout the year, students have opportunities to read aloud, discuss, and present their work in small groups and individually.Students complete a speech unit as part of the English curriculum, which introduces them to the basics of public speaking, including pitch/tone, gesture/poise, voice/volume and eye contact.

Seventh Grade
In seventh grade, students continue to encounter work presented through a team approach, with a strong connection made to their social studies work in American history up until the Civil War. Students also begin a more formal study of public speaking, through both the speech unit and the public speaking course.
Literary Texts
At the end of sixth grade, students choose three books from a list compiled by seventh grade English teachers for summer reading. The study of literature in seventh grade begins with discussion and an introductory writing exercise based on the students' summer reading.

Seventh grade students encounter a variety of classic literary works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Julius Caesar, and The Miracle Worker. The social studies curriculum on slavery in the United States is paralleled through the study of the historical novel Chains. In addition, students also read selections from Insight and Outlook, a collection of short stories, and a variety of poems including works by Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, and Carl Sandburg. The Intensive Reading Unit bookcase in each seventh grade classroom includes a wide selection of thematically related books. Students choose three titles from the collection that must be read during the unit. Students respond to the thematic elements in these books related to the idea of survival in a variety of ways, including small group discussion, blogs, and short comparative essays. Titles include Treasure Island, Z for Zachariah, Homecoming, Call of the Wild, Alive, and The Hunger Games. Students are also expected to read books of their own choosing in addition to the ones covered in class. Students reflect on their reading through a variety of oral and written presentations.

Grammar and Writing Skills
All seventh graders must write a formal literary essay as part of their final exam. The teachers have shared a common set of expectations for the assignment in regard to content, grammar, and mechanics. During the school year, students study the parts of speech, punctuation, quote usage, subject/verb agreement, capitalization, and sentence structure.
Public Speaking
In seventh grade, students take Public Speaking during Related Arts rotation. The six-week session focuses on how to write and deliver speeches. Students learn how to give speeches with the use of technology, as well as live demonstrations before a class audience. In addition, students will spend time fine-tuning their listening skills by studying the strengths of historical and modern speakers.
Eighth Grade

The eighth grade program is the final year in a sequential study of literature, critical thinking, analytical writing, creative writing, drama, and public speaking. It is intended to prepare students for high school, while maintaining the Middle School philosophy of teaming and interdisciplinary teaching.


Literary Texts

The Intensive Reading unit addresses common themes: identity, character-building, moral courage, and decision-making. All students read a common novel as a summer reading assignment. Interdisciplinary connections with twentieth century American history include such titles as All Quiet on the Western Front, Night, Farewell to Manzanar, Out of the Dust, Inherit the Wind, Bread and Roses, Too and Warriors Don’t Cry. Selected poetry and short stories are also read.  Additionally, the classic drama unit includes an in-depth study of Romeo and Juliet. Classroom drama productions are a highlight of the unit.


Grammar and Writing Skills

The writing program provides a variety of writing experiences growing out of the study of literature, with a greater emphasis in eighth grade on expository writing. Thesis statement refinement, outlining, writing clear introductions and conclusions, and applying quotes for support are staple lessons. At the end of the year, all students are expected to write an essay to assess mastery of writing skills.


Grammar and writing mechanics continue as a sequential study in each house setting. Reinforcement of parts of speech and punctuation is taught both in isolation and through writing assignments. Emphasis is placed on identifying writing errors and becoming familiar with usage terminology.


Public Speaking

As in seventh grade, eighth graders encounter a public speaking unit as part of their Related Arts rotation. In this four-week session, students move away from traditional speeches and focus more deeply on public speaking arenas in their daily lives. They start by learning the proper format for debating, and study the history of debate. They also study presentations of television news anchors, radio commentators and Internet sound bytes. They then try their hand at formal and group debates, simulated press conferences, broadcast journalism, voice-overs and “poetry slams.” 

Writing Expectations

Sixth Grade
  • Paragraphs start with a topic sentence
  • Supporting details are logically organized
  • Paragraphs are logically organized
  • Students follow a prescribed format for essays (I-B-C)
  • Essays “funnel” from general to specific to general


  • Topic sentences contain general ideas and support thesis statements in essays
  • Supporting details are specific and relevant to topic sentences
  • Students begin to analyze and interpret their supporting details in an effort to explain and validate their arguments
  • Ideas combine to create a convincing argument that is clear and sound throughout


  • Students use Objective Tone: no direct references to the 3 “R's” -- reader (you, etc.); writer (I, etc.); or writing (this quote; in this essay; etc.)
  • Students avoid unnecessary repetition of words or phrases, as with “chaining” (echoing previous sentences in subsequent sentences)


  • Students keep verb tenses consistent
  • Students transfer conventions of grammar from classroom instruction into their writing
  • Wording is clear and easy to follow

Seventh Grade


  • Students follow prescribed format (I,B,C)
  • Topic sentences are clear and concise
  • All ideas presented in the paragraph relate to topic sentence


  • Plot summaries are clear and concise
  • Students begin to show analytical thought and not just literal interpretation
  • Thesis statements begin to show depth and insight
  • Quotes used are relevant and support the thesis


  • Objective Tone throughout
  • Vocabulary has variety and depth
  • Sentence variety; students avoid chaining
  • Smooth transitions between sentences and paragraphs
  • Phrases/words to avoid, e.g., “things,” “in conclusion”


  • Spelling (frequently misspelled words list)
  • Transfer of grammar instruction into writing
Eighth Grade


  • · Paragraphs are clearly and logically ordered
  • · Sentence structure is varied and enhances style
  • · Paragraphs include smooth transitions
  • · Paragraphs flow well from paragraph to paragraph
  • · Final paragraph provides closure


  • · Supporting details are rich, interesting, and informative
  • · Details are relevant and focus on thesis
  • · Ideas are original, insightful, and relevant
  • · Content selects and smoothly incorporates quotes to support thesis


  • · Rich, effective vocabulary is implemented
  • · More sophisticated, varied sentence patterns are evident
  • · Uses figurative language to enhance content


  • · Capitalization and spelling rules are followed
  • · Punctuation is consistent
  • · Verb tenses are consistent
  • · Proper citation rules are followed

Grammar Expectations

Sixth Grade

Making Sense with Sentences

  • Recognizing run-ons and fragments
  • Identifying simple sentences
  • Identifying compound sentences (with coordinating conjunctions)
  • Identifying simple subjects and predicates

Words in Sentences

  • Identifying nouns (proper and common)
  • Identifying verbs and simple tenses (past, present, and future)
  • Making subjects and verbs agree in simple situations
  • Identifying present and past forms of the verb “to be”
  • Recognizing and using adjectives
  • Recognizing and using adverbs as modifiers of verbs
  • Recognizing and using personal pronouns

Working with Sentences

  • Avoiding repetitive sentence structures
  • Using transitional words for fluency


  • Capitalization
  • Using end marks
  • Using apostrophes for contractions and possessives
  • Using commas for dates, addresses, series, direct address, quotations, and compound sentences
  • Using quotation marks
  • Recognizing basic spelling errors, including homophones
Seventh Grade

Making Sense with Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in sixth grade
  • Identifying independent and dependent clauses
  • Using compound sentences with semi-colons and/or connective adverbs
  • Combining simple sentences to form compound and complex sentences

Words in Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in sixth grade
  • Using proper diction and mastering words frequently confused
  • Identifying prepositions and their phrases
  • Identifying direct and indirect objects
  • Identifying subjective complements
  • Identifying correct forms of pronouns in compound constructions and as subjects or objects
  • Recognizing adverbs as modifiers of adjectives and other adverbs
  • Using conjunctive adverbs (subordinate conjunctions)
  • Identifying helping verbs and verb phrases

Working with Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in sixth grade
  • Recognizing prepositional phrases as adjectives or adverbs
  • Using parallel structure with phrases


  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in sixth grade
  • Using commas and quotation marks in split quotations
  • Using the semi-colon in compound sentences
  • Using commas for appositives and with introductory words and phrases
Eighth Grade

Making Sense with Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in seventh grade
  • Using complex sentences with relative and subordinate clauses
  • Combining sentences to form compound-complex sentences

Words in Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in seventh grade
  • Identifying subordinating and correlative conjunctions
  • Identifying relative pronouns and their cases
  • Using indefinite pronouns
  • Using linking verbs and predicate nominative
  • Identifying and using perfect tenses
  • Maintaining consistency in verb tense (including using present tense in literary papers)

Working with Sentences

  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in seventh grade
  • Recognizing misplaced and dangling modifiers


  • Reinforcing concepts mastered in seventh grade
  • Using commas in complex sentences and non-restrictive clauses
  • Using indirect quotations
  • Using colons