Uppers Course Description

6th Grade

We focus on writing as a connection to theme studies and a response to reading .  Reading carefully-chosen fiction and nonfiction, students respond in a variety of written forms and genres, such as short stories, journals, essays, poetry, mystery, and more. For example, while reading Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White, students write mysteries using their vocabulary words. In their study of colonial America, students are asked to write an autobiography of a fictional colonial character. As we study the contemporary United States, students write a travel journal.

Inspired by the work of Lucy McCormick Calkins’ The Art of Teaching Writing, and Nancy Atwell’s In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents, sixth grade teachers guide their students in an approach known as Writer’s Workshop.

Writer’s Workshop is quite different from the product-oriented, prescription-based methods often used to teach writing. It is designed to teach methods used by professional writers. Many teachers have found that writer’s workshops are effective in helping students master the principles of process writing in particular. Writer’s Workshop is a multi-step process, each of which is coached in class: Brainstorming, Organizing, Drafting, Sharing, Peer Reviewing, Teacher Conferencing, Editing, more Drafting, and Publishing. The term ‘writer’s workshop’ refers to an environment conceived to encourage written expression. As Calkins states in the first chapter of The Art of Teaching Writing…

“English composition is a skill that can be learned rather than a content that must be covered. Teaching English, and certainly, teaching writing, must become more like coaching a sport and less like presenting information. Many of our students know their pieces of writing are far from ideal, but they may not know how to make their actual texts more like their ideal ones. If we watch how our students go about writing, then we can help them develop more effective strategies for writing.”

7th – 8th Grade

The writing curriculum is divided into essays, fiction, and a research paper. In all three areas we help students develop topics of their own choosing because we believe that writing worth reading can only come from an author’s passion.

Knowing that students will have to write five paragraph essays in high school, we help them learn to put life into this often tired form. Our fiction writing is organized around James Marshall’s statement: “I find an interesting character and put him into a situation I wouldn’t want to be in.”  For the research paper, students spend seven weeks gathering sources, reading, note-taking, outlining, and writing three drafts. The result is a polished five to ten page annotated paper.

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