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DIY 7th grade English


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I’d love suggestions on resources for how to teach literature, or discussion guides you liked, etc.

We’ve been using English Lessons Through Literature for years, but need to free up my daughter’s schedule for other things, so I’m trying to piece together English/Language Arts.

For grammar we will try Daily Grams level 7.
For writing, my daughter is taking a journalism class, we do a bit of Bravewriter ideas, some of Sarah Mackenzie’s Writers on Writing, and we will start doing history outlining and writing. My daughter will also give NaNoWriMo a try this year.

For literature, we love books, and I have some great booklists for 7th, including some historical fiction.

What I don’t know is how much I should do with questions, discussions, teaching literary devices and themes, and so on. Personally, I hated going slowly through books in school, with all the historical and biographical background, picking apart the book with themes, vocabulary, plot devices and all of that.

I will forever hate Great Expectations after months of this. 😉 My argument was that you find out a lot about a cat by dissecting it, but in the end, the cat is dead. 

I need some experienced advice on how to teach literature well, so we will still like the books at the end. Also, how many books should we do a deep dive into? Maybe 5?

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Posted (edited)

7th grade can be a good year to do a lot of short stories. Spend just 2-3 days on a short story -- read it one day, talk about some literary devices and discuss the story on the next day. You could do that every other week, for 2 short stories a week, for a total of 36 short stories. That would keep your "formal lit. studies" lighter and shorter, and would allow you to freely read and enjoy your longer works and just discuss here and there as something stands out to you that you all want to talk about.

Maybe use Figuratively Speaking + ideas of poetry and short stories listed in this past thread: "Figuratively Speaking paired with short stories". If you go that route, FS covers 40 literary devices, so if you did 2 per week, that would be 20 weeks of your year -- so roughly every other week. Again, plenty of time for your other literature to just enjoy and discuss as it naturally occurs.

These past threads have some great ideas for middle-school level stories or "starter" short stories:
"Short stories for an 11yo girl"
"Short stories every middle school student should read"
"Best short stories for middle grades"
"Favorite short stories for 6th-8th"
"Suggestions for short stories for literary analysis - 7th/8th grade level?"
"Middle school literature using short stories?"



And -- wah! 😵 "Spending *months* on Great Expectations" ?!?! I can't imagine taking more than about 5 weeks, and that's with the slower pace of reading out loud and discussing as you go, and possibly writing an essay in there... Not to mention -- wah! Great Expectations is just NOT my choice of Dickens to do with high schoolers, much less middle schoolers. 😉 

Edited by Lori D.
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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, ThursdayNext said:

... I need some experienced advice on how to teach literature well, so we will still like the books at the end. Also, how many books should we do a deep dive into?

My advice:

- Don't over-do or drag it out and kill the love of the book (or of reading!)
- Don't analyze every book -- maybe 1 per quarter (every 9 weeks); maybe only 1 per semester (and don't fee you have to stretch it out and take ALL of that time to beat everything to death 😉 
- Don't analyze beloved books and kill the love for a favorite book
- Drop a book if you all hate it -- there's so much great lit. out there, and not enough time to do it all, so don't waste time on a "dud" 😉 

For the books you plan on digging into and doing more formal lit. study with, try reading aloud buddy style ("you read a page, I read a page"), or as "reader's theater" (for a play, everyone takes on several roles and lets out their "inner thespian"). Read for about 30 minutes (usually a chapter, or till the end of an episode). If someone sees something in the midst they want to mention, go for it. Take 5-15 minutes (whatever naturally comes about) at the end and use excerpts from a lit. guide to help with background info, to point out some things to look for, or to springboard you into some discussion -- this 5-15 min. doesn't have to happen every day after every reading.

Finally, esp. for middle school/early high school, pick works that have a high discussion-ability factor to them, even if the reading level is below the student's level. YA works can be great for encouraging discussion, and are very relatable to students (unlike many 19th century works about adults and their adult issues/themes, in a time/culture that is completely foreign to the middle schooler). I'm not saying never do older classics -- but the hurdle of older/distant culture, or a work in translation is hard for many students just starting to dig deeper into literature and discuss literature. For my middle school/high school co-op classes, each year I do try to include some high discussion YA works.

Here are some 7th grade YA ideas:
- A Long Walk to Water (Park) -- do an online search for "study guide for A Long Walk to Water"
- The Cay (Taylor) -- Progeny Press guide
- Tuck Everlasting (Babbit)  -- Glencoe Lit. Library guide
- The Giver (Lowry) -- Garlic Press Discovering Lit. guidePortals to Lit. guideProgeny Press guide
- The Hobbit -- Garlic Press Discovering Lit. guide
- Sounder -- Glencoe Lit. Library guide
- The Westing Game -- Blackbird & Co. guide
- Eagle of the Ninth -- Progeny Press guide
- Island of the Blue Dolphins -- Glencoe Lit. Library guideGarlic Press Discovering Lit. guideProgeny Press guide
- Maniac Magee -- Progeny Press guide
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle -- Glencoe Lit. Library guide
- A Wrinkle in Time -- Blackbird & Co. guideGlencoe Lit. Library guideProgeny Press guide
- Where the Red Fern Grows -- Garlic Press Discovering Lit. guideProgeny Press guide
- I Am David -- Blackbird & Co. guide
- Love That Dog (Creech)
The Pushcart War (Merrill)
- The Book Thief (Zusak)
- Stargirl (Spinnelli) -- nonconformity
- The Wave (Strasser) -- based on a true event; pressure to conform to the group

- The Day They Came to Arrest the Book (Hentoff) -- censorship
- Echo (Ryan) -- fantastical; 3 powerful historical time periods; disfigured outcast; making your destiny the importance of family
- El Deafo (Bell) -- graphic novel; disability
- Wonder (Palacio) -- disability
- Dear Martin (Stone) -- racism; Black Lives Matter
- The Crossover (Alexander) -- written in verse; black point of view; sports, sibling rivalry, teen struggles
- Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson) -- written in verse; black point of view; memoir of her childhood
- American-Born Chinese (Yang) -- graphic novel; Asian/American point of view
- Esperanza Rising (Ryan) -- Latina immigrant girl in the U.S. during the Depression

Edited by Lori D.
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Part of my problem is that we’re planning on outsourcing high school. She’ll go to class once a week and have homework + online communication with teachers and classmates.

There’s so little time to be her teacher. 😢 Only 2 years to do all the books we want to do together.

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One idea is to read a book like Deconstructing Penguins to get an idea about how to have book discussions.  I use ideas from that and the list of questions in Teaching the Classics on one book a month ( usually read over 2 weeks) The other book my dc read I ask fewer questions. My goal is to discuss books, think about character development, role if setting, theme, and plot development.  I use a light touch. It’s worked so far.

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On 7/4/2021 at 12:29 PM, ThursdayNext said:

I need some experienced advice on how to teach literature well, so we will still like the books at the end. Also, how many books should we do a deep dive into? Maybe 5?

How old is this dc? You have them doing Daily Grams, but the dc is 9, yes? So the answer is no you do not need to dissect and kill books. If she's as bright as all that, she'll probably apply basic instruction naturally. You merely need a slim workbook to go through the literary devices.

https://www.amazon.com/LW-1020-FIGURATIVELY-SPEAKING-Delana-Heidrich/dp/0881603171/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=figuratively+speaking&qid=1625931227&sr=8-1  I used this and it's fine, nothing heart tingling but adequate.

Notice and Note https://www.amazon.com/Notice-Note-Strategies-Close-Reading/dp/032504693X/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=notice+and+note+fiction&qid=1625931271&sr=8-3  is all the rage right now in teaching circles, and there's both a fiction and a nonfiction book of signposts.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/155Jba91zgHW6V-nXt46sAg1utbsNd0C82yQwNwWsV48/edit  videos to go through the fiction signposts

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18wnpkxYcFceOFKYJh57MZ1OqLqFPD68zIHaQx1KLNJI/htmlview  books to go with the fiction signposts

I've been using the fiction signposts videos I linked there with my ds and they're very fun, sort of just enough. For the nonfiction, I'm probably going to use youtube clips like from CBS Sunday Morning.

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You might enjoy Center For Lit's materials.  They don't only offer online classes, they also offer recordings of their discussions and their Teaching the Classics seminar is awesome.  It's aimed at the parent, though high schoolers can watch it too, and teaches you how to understand and discuss a book.  They tend to do a single discussion of each book and they keep a focus on teaching kids to enjoy reading well for a lifetime, not just tick off a list of necessary classics for high school and then never open a book again.  I find their classes to be respectful of worldviews, although the authors themselves are deeply Christian and that will be plainly evident if you listen to their podcasts.

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On 7/4/2021 at 12:29 PM, ThursdayNext said:

My argument was that you find out a lot about a cat by dissecting it, but in the end, the cat is dead. 

I love this, I'm writing it down.

Edited by Elizabeth86
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On 7/4/2021 at 10:29 AM, ThursdayNext said:

I will forever hate Great Expectations after months of this. 😉 My argument was that you find out a lot about a cat by dissecting it, but in the end, the cat is dead. 

I totally get this. However, just as a counterexample--I have multiple degrees in English (terminal PhD), and honestly dissecting a book/ poem/ what have you often makes me like it more because I come to appreciate the complexity/ beauty/ craft/ skill!

I think in school, just as in other subjects (ahem math), the teacher has a lot to do with this. A great teacher can make you love a book by conveying love and enthusiasm for it, even when you're deep in dissecting it. 

That said, I know that some people just don't like picking things apart and never will. I get that! Just offering another perspective.  

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It's a delicate balance.

Clearly, we don't want to dissect and end up with a dead cat (lol). But also the "just reading" often ends up with passing familiarity with plot and main characters, and misses out on all of the richness of the language and depth in the work. And some works are fine for "just reading" -- as long as there is some deeper work done on other works. As the above poster says, you want to keep alive the love and enthusiasm for the work and appreciate the complexity, beauty, craft, and skill -- without killing the book. 😉 

Ultimately, how "deep you dive" will depend on the level of interest parent and student have in digging in to the individual work. 😉 

Edited by Lori D.
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On 7/9/2021 at 5:19 PM, freesia said:

One idea is to read a book like Deconstructing Penguins to get an idea about how to have book discussions.  I use ideas from that and the list of questions in Teaching the Classics on one book a month ( usually read over 2 weeks) The other book my dc read I ask fewer questions. My goal is to discuss books, think about character development, role if setting, theme, and plot development.  I use a light touch. It’s worked so far.

This sounds great!

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On 7/10/2021 at 9:37 AM, PeterPan said:

How old is this dc? You have them doing Daily Grams, but the dc is 9, yes? So the answer is no you do not need to dissect and kill books. If she's as bright as all that, she'll probably apply basic instruction naturally. You merely need a slim workbook to go through the literary devices.

No, my daughter is 12, going into 7th grade.

If I have a signature, it’s really old!😆

But I like your suggestions.

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