Middle School English Language Arts: The Hero’s Journey


Avast ye, Landlubbers! In this middle school English Language Arts course taught from a Christian perspective, students master a complete semester of English while studying the Hero’s Journey, including an in-class study of the classic pirate tale Treasure Island. Yo ho ho!

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Heave ho! Toss that English language arts course off your list of subjects to teach. This is a complete semester of middle school ELA, taught from a Christian perspective. In our in-class study of the classic novel Treasure Island, students will have a merry good time reading, writing, and communicating effectively! As we study, we will discuss what it means to be a hero and how hero stories often follow what Joseph Campbell coined as the Hero’s Journey. Further, we will talk about our own life journey. How are we preparing for that innermost cave, the biggest battle of our lives? How will the battles with our monsters (or problems and hardships) equip us with the skills to live a happy and productive life? And the greatest question of all is: does the story of Jesus follow the Hero’s Journey? Think deeply, my scholars!


The Essentials semester of the middle school English language arts is technically the first course in this series; however, these middle school English semesters can be taken in any order. Students should have a solid foundation in reading and writing before taking this class. They should be able to write a five-paragraph essay, centered around a logical thesis statement. In fact, the first assignment in this class is to write a five-paragraph essay in one week. They should also have a Lexile score above 830 (a sixth-grade level, e.g. Frindle or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).

General Learning Goals:

This ELA course includes instruction and practice in all required standards for middle school English Language Arts. This is a comprehensive, complete semester, which includes instruction across multiple genres of writing for various audiences. They will also learn to read for pleasure as well as how to tackle assigned reading with gusto and skill. Last, communication standards include speaking in a whole group and in front of the class. Mrs. Lemons helps students develop these skills as she builds their confidence. Our group conversations are diverse as many different people share their thoughts and opinions, especially as we broaden the conversation with the chatbox. We are able to do “fish-bowl” Socratic seminars with larger class sizes.

Writing Focus:

We begin with a quick but complete expository essay on what makes a hero. Afterward, writing content will focus on responses to literature and a personal narrative. We emphasize the writing process (pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publishing), and students always receive writing guides and graphic organizers to support their thinking and learning. Students will have modeling, examples, and explicit directions on how to write well. The live ELA class will include intentional teaching, and students will get practice time, guided by the teacher. Teachers offer a ton of feedback in class and on the work students submit. This is an area where Lemons-Aid shines! We present grammar as a set of tools to be manipulated and crafted for function and to write something beautiful. Students combine sentences so that they are functional, correct, and artful.

Reading Focus:

Learners focus their reading on our in-class novel Treasure Island. This classic story, written in 1883, can be a difficult read, so we do a large portion of the reading together in class. As a bonus, they will be well-versed and prepared for “Speak Like a Pirate Day!” Additionally, students read short pieces of text, stories, poems, and memoirs. Readers will choose a book of their own, and we spend time in class talking about our books and doing other activities to foster a love of reading. Our goal is to turn these English Language Arts scholars into lifelong readers! They will read for 100 minutes a week.

Communication Focus:

Instructors intentionally teach ELA communication skills and norms. For example, the “dominator” will learn to give others a chance to speak and will even learn to involve others to help bring forth their ideas. The quieter students learn to take risks and put themselves out there because they have good ideas and important things to say. These skills are taught through various methods, including speeches, presentations, and Socratic seminars, which often become the favorite for students. Students will complete hands-on projects that they will then present to the class. Through one-on-one conversations, using the chatbox, and large-group discussions, students master communication standards and objectives.

The Online Community:

We also talk about how an online community is established, and students keep their cameras open. This helps all students feel connected to each other as a community of learners. It also helps the teacher picture her students’ faces when reading their writing. The learning community feels closer when we see each other. Most importantly, students learn to communicate with God. We read scripture every day to learn from the Lord (this is how we listen to God). Then we turn scripture back to God in the form of prayer (our time to talk to God), praising Him for who He is. This is hard for students at first, but they learn and it is a sweet, heartfelt time!

Expectations for Learners:

Students will have two classes per week and 20-30 minutes of homework 2-3 times per week. Additionally, students will read for 20 minutes, five days a week a book of their choosing. I want them to fall in love with books! Being an active participant in our ELA community will help learners have success! Students will give class presentations, participate in group discussions called Socratic Seminars, read aloud, and express opinions and thoughts orally, through writing assignments, and even the chatbox. Active engagement is the key to success in this class.


Teachers give specific and authentic feedback on student writing through the teacher tab of the classroom and on Google Docs. Letter grades and formal assessments are ways to provide authentic feedback to students and parents. Grading measures progress toward mastery of a standard (a competency or understanding) and holds students accountable for their mastery of ELA learning. We will provide grades in this class. The teacher works to make sure the assessment is informative for families so that decisions can be made about what the student needs (more challenge, more support, etc.).


Class Materials:

The Lemons-Aid Way: Our Approach to Teaching & Learning is Explicit!

Explicit teaching is a method of instruction students desperately need! It is the opposite of a constructivist philosophy whereby students ponder and explore to construct meaning themselves. Well…

Instead of leaving students to magically figure out how to write an essay, we teach explicitly, which is backed by a large body of evidence, and it’s how Mrs. Lemons teaches her undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates in college to teach! We do it this way because it’s how kids learn.

Explicit instruction is “a structured, systematic, and effective methodology for teaching academic skills. It is called explicit because it is an unambiguous and direct approach to teaching that includes both instructional design and delivery procedures. Explicit instruction is characterized by a series of supports or scaffolds, whereby students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose and rationale for learning the new skill, clear explanations and demonstrations of the instructional target, and supported practice with feedback until independent mastery has been achieved.”
-Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching by Anita L. Archer and Charles A. Hughes.

Anita Archer trained Mrs. Lemons in workshops, and it changed her teaching. Read a little more about the research behind explicit teaching here and here.

Get to know Mrs. Lemons a little more.

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