By Nate Heppner, Grade 8 English teacher and Rob Bethea, Grade 7 and 8 English teacher
As a way for students to gain a deeper understanding of their own humanity, as well as the humanity of others, eighth-grade English students write two personal analysis essays.
For the most recent one, they began with a list of eight different elements of themselves—their name, gender, racial/ethnic background, religion, favorite of the five senses, most valued personal skill, most valued personal quality, and most important memory. Students then narrowed the list until only their two most important elements remained, and from these two, they selected the topic for their essay.
Once the topic is chosen, we then used a poem from American poet Billy Collins and sample essays from students from previous years to explore the concept of an entry point. Rather than force the issue in the opening sentence, students approached their topic with some level of subtlety, drawing the reader in and building gradually to the primary idea. This technique supports our current study of To Kill a Mockingbird, as author Harper Lee uses a similar strategy in the plot development of her novel.
We use the various drafts of the essays to teach the writing process, so by the time students are done almost every essay has been up on the document camera and read aloud in class. Sometimes we read essays from one class aloud in another so that kids have a chance to hear what their peers in other classes are writing. In addition, many of the skills used in writing these personal essays will be revisited when our focus moves to literary analysis.
Click below to read a sample of the Grade 8 essays