Literature and Composition


The primary goal of the sixth- through eighth-grade courses is to begin and continue to generate enthusiasm for and appreciation of literature. To that end the students are presented with examples of noble, heroic characters and gripping narratives that teach the concepts of plot, characterization, setting, theme, point of view, mood, allegory and symbol. The students are encouraged to read carefully and to learn to argue from the text in the beginning phases of developing seminar skills. They increase their vocabulary by studying and using words from the texts. In addition to reading fine pieces of literary fiction, the students spend time developing an appreciation for and an ability to read and memorize poetry. This portion of the course exposes the students to many different types of poetry and they learn the meaning of various poetic terms, including rhythm, meter, rhyme, dialect, personification, alliteration, metaphor, simile, narrative ballads and free verse. The students are required to memorize a poem for performance in order to facilitate their working understanding of these poetic terms.

Sixth grade reading list: The Westing Game, Endurance: Shakleton’s Incredible Voyage, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Seventh grade reading list: The Wind in the Willows, Shane, Tales of the Greek Heroes, Johnny Tremain, Poetry.

Eighth grade reading list: Beowulf, The Hobbit, A Christmas Carol, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, The Miracle Worker, Poetry.


The sixth-grade composition component focuses upon the study of words. The year begins with an extensive study of Latin and Greek roots and their function in the English lexicon. This study is observation-based: the students explore the dictionary for definition patterns and letter clusters, discovering common roots and derivative words along the way. The students are coached in using their growing knowledge of Latin and Greek roots to improve spelling and vocabulary.

As the year progresses, the course moves into a study of the parts of speech. The students explore the functions of nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and practice in using them effectively in their own writing. Building upon this base, the course then moves into a creative writing unit. The students learn about and practice using writing techniques such as sensory imagery, simile and metaphor, and personification. They are also instructed in skills such as summary writing and narrative construction. The course culminates in the students applying the writing skills they have practiced in composing a short story of their own. As grammar and mechanics are extensively covered in the seventh and eighth grade years, they do not take a central focus in the 6th grade year. They are, however, taught as needed in order to help the students progress in their ability to write coherently.

The seventh-grade composition component begins with instruction in identifying the parts of speech and culminates in paragraph writing. Seventh grade lays important foundations of mechanics (commas, apostrophes, end marks), sentence parts (subjects, predicates, complements and modifiers, including prepositional phrases) and sentence errors (run- ons, fragments, comma splices). They work with both simple sentences (including compound subjects and predicates) and compound sentences. The students learn this grammar with the goal of writing a coherent paragraph of 150-200 words.

Intellectually, the seventh-grade student is ready to understand the importance of unity in grouping ideas and thoughts. The paragraph models the form of the essay, which they will later learn, including set-up sentences, topic sentence, supporting details and a conclusion that restates the topic sentence. The students are introduced to the elements of limitation of the subject and specification of the predicate of the topic sentence. Coherence in the supporting sentences is also emphasized.

The students are also introduced to brainstorming, outlining and other skills to facilitate the marriage of grammar to writing. With the development of these skills, they begin to understand the importance of using the best possible examples to defend a claim and learn how to select and present those examples in such a way as to actually defend the claim they make in their topic sentences.

The eighth-grade composition component in the first semester reviews grammar from parts of speech and parts of a sentence through prepositional phrases, then moves into verbal and appositive phrases and subordinate clauses (adjective, adverb, and noun). With that in place, the students are introduced to complex and compound-complex sentences. They are taught to punctuate appropriately. In second semester the correct usage of verbs, agreement and the correct usage of modifiers are covered.

While the students are introduced to these principles in the seventh grade, the eighth grade writing program focuses on refining all aspects of the paragraph form in preparation for the five-paragraph essay in ninth grade, continuing limitation in the subject and specificity in the predicate of the topic sentence as well as coherence in the supporting sentences.