The Writing Program

Students write a great deal and undergo the writing process. They pre-write, write drafts, make revisions, edit, and share their work. Sometimes they learn the craft of published authors by reviewing writing “that worked,” and, when appropriate, emulating the technique in their own writing. Major assignments include writing a narrative, several poems, and a slew of persuasive/expository responses, many of which are based on what we read. We heavily practice writing clear theses statements, supporting the theses with textual evidence, staying focused, and writing clear topic sentences.

Understanding grammar, of course, helps authors clearly express themselves. So, it is no surprise that we will work to master various sentence mechanics/punctuation, as well as heavily practice sentence variation and complexity. Students, for example, are given direct instruction on how to include appositive phrases, adjective clauses, prepositional phrases, participial phrases, and transitions in their writing. Many one-page assignments are then given where students choose from about 15 prompts; they then “free write”. The only requirement is to include the new technique learned; for example, “Place three appositive phrases in your writing.” Students will also manage mechanics and punctuation by studying the apostrophe, quotation marks, and the rules of capitalization, among others. Grammar will then be assessed in students’ writing, as well as in practice assignments and activities.

The Reading Program

To facilitate reading comprehension, students employ a variety of strategies in which they interact with the text (for organization, preparation, and elaboration). They will predict, visualize, activate prior knowledge, annotate, and construct graphic organizers, to name a few.

Moreover, students will analyze story elements and recognize similarities in fictional text structures, so that consistent approaches to the readings can be made. We study many literary elements, including figurative language, irony, foreshadowing, poetic devices, theme, and point of view.

As an entire class, students read a slew of short stories and poems from classic and contemporary authors, as well as three novels: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Project and homework assignments based on these novels engage students to think independently, creatively, and critically.

Structured silent reading is scheduled every Wednesday and Friday for fifteen minutes. Students benefit because they read at their own pace and ability level, and it introduces students to different genres, challenging students to make literary choices. Silent reading also allows students to reach their Reading Counts goal of 5 books per trimester. I give each student an individual reading list; it features a list of books that not only meet the student’s reading level, but are also aligned with his/her interests (genre preferences, etc.).

Meaningful word lists are chosen from the short story or novel that the class is reading. Every other week, students complete an assignment with 10 vocabulary words. Depending on the student’s preference, the learning is displayed either on index cards or on a laptop program called Provoc, where students generate word connotations and use the words within contextually-clear sentences. Students gradually accumulate a word bank, allowing for frequent word exposure. Since repetition and revisiting is crucial, students are strongly encouraged to use the vocabulary during class discussions and in their writing.

Moreover, students study various affixes – parts of words that will aid in the understanding of hundreds more. For example, students learn: anti-, mono-, cred-, pseudo-, mari-, micro-, macro-, etc., as well as suffixes that show we have a noun (like –ness) and ones that show we have an adjective (like –ish).


Assessment is authentic, varied, and frequent. Students receive continual feedback so they gain confidence. Expectations are clearly communicated: students are regularly given rubrics, or product descriptors, stating the specific criteria for a particular assignment. Finally, turning in homework is expected to be timely. Each day the assignment is late, the grade is lowered by one letter grade.

A student’s grade is the total number of points earned throughout the trimester divided by the total number of possible points. Each assignment, test, quiz, project, etc. is worth a particular number of points. For example, quizzes are usually 60 points; homework is usually 15 points.

Please access your child’s grade report from Marie Murphy’s Powerschool feature.