8th Grade English
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What are the major themes in this course?
In eighth-grade English, students explore the abuse of power in the twentieth century. They examine how corrupt leaders rise to power, why so many ordinary people follow, and how a social order becomes unjust. In doing so, they also explore how authors such as Elie Wiesel, George Orwell, and August Wilson are social-political commentators of the time periods in which they write. Students spend much of the year understanding the historical contexts of the literature they read in class in order to analyze the abuse of power in particular moments in time.
What is the major focus for reading instruction?
In eighth grade, students will analyze why authors write their texts and how they develop their themes. Students think deeply about the set of craft choices the authors make in order to embolden their messages (e.g., Why does Wiesel write Night in such terse language? Why does Orwell use a childlike fable to capture such egregious oppression?). More than in previous grade levels, eighth graders must acquire the historical background knowledge in order to fully comprehend the meaning of the literature. For this reason, they spend much of the time analyzing and synthesizing informational texts in order to better grasp the themes in the novels. Significantly, students continue to sharpen their independent reading skills as they are increasingly expected to read and annotate longer and denser texts for homework. This practice of reading demanding texts at home will prepare them for the rigor of their high school English courses the following year.
It is important to note that there is an emphasis on media literacy throughout this eighth-grade course. Students will examine film depictions of many of the novels they read in order to compare and contrast the literary versus cinematic devices employed to convey meaning in stories. Students will analyze devices such as camera angles, sound tracks, and lighting in an effort to deconstruct the ways the filmmaker manipulates the plot.
Why did we choose these texts?
To Kill a Mockingbird: Students analyze whether Scout is a reliable narrator by thinking about a person’s biases versus objectivity in storytelling. Students also examine the novel’s exposition of racial and class inequalities in the American Deep South of the 1930s.
Twelve Angry Men: Students look again at how objectivity is often colored by personal opinions and experiences as they read this short drama that addresses the racial prejudices in the court system of the 1950s.
Night: Students explore the historical context of this memoir by reading informational texts and watching documentaries about the Holocaust. They then explore how Wiesel’s succinct storytelling style in Night helps to develop his message about the dangers of remaining quiet amidst human atrocity.
Animal Farm: Students analyze this satire on the Soviet Union in which the author criticizes Stalin’s brutal dictatorship and reign of terror. They examine how Stalin rose to power and explore why so many decent people followed such a corrupt leader. Students also think about the power of telling this story through the genre of fable.
Fences: Students examine the psychology of the tragic character Troy Maxson, who helps to create opportunities for his children but never gets to benefit from his own sacrifices. Students explore the power of the setting in a play that captures the social inequality of Pittsburg in the 1950s.
The Warmth of Other Suns: Students read excerpts from this acclaimed literary nonfiction about the Great Migration in order to deeply understand the historical context of the play Fences. Students analyze individuals, much like Troy Maxson, who risked everything to leave the South only to find even more social injustices in the urban settings of the North. In this culminating unit of the year, students look at the various storytelling techniques of the people who immigrated to the North across many genres, including drama, poetry, song, and literary nonfiction.
Other information about this course:
There are two key interdependent courses within the ELA program at Match Middle School: English and Composition. English classes are 50-minute daily blocks in which students develop college reading and thinking skills such as annotating the text, analyzing literary devices, discussing deep themes, and exploring the historical relevance of literature. Composition classes are 50-minute blocks that meet four times a week in which students write literary essays about the themes and topics they study in English class. Composition units are not yet available online.