Need suggestions of classic American literature for two small groups of middle school students (1 girls, 1 boys) for my literature enrichment class.I want really high quality writing for the kids...

Need suggestions of classic American literature for two small groups of middle school students (1 girls, 1 boys) for my literature enrichment class.

I want really high quality writing for the kids to be exposed to.  Something that will generate great discussion and writing.

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psmortimer's profile pic

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Where to begin? I would agree that the Scarlet Letter may be off putting for middle school students as the language is much too formal and frankly, I did not like that book at all.

I used to tutor middle school students and have an idea as to what my students liked to read.  I wouldn't call their choices Great American Lit by any means but the vampire books by Darren Shan were well loved as was the Harry Potter books.

I absolutely agree with "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, and "Call of the Wild" by Jack London. In the same vein, Jason's Gold by Will Hobbs (with Jack London as a character) was very good. I would also consider "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee and anything from The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

As a writer of study guides I recently worked on "Californios" by Louis L'Amour, "The Headless Cupid" by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and "Downright Dencey" by Caroline Dale Snedeker.  The last two are Newbery award winners.

jashley80's profile pic

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 The first two novels that came to mind were Little Women and The Outsiders, though you did not specify novels, and that opens up many more choices... "The Devil and Tom Walker" is more challenging but may work well for boys especially, while selections from Dickinson may be interesting for girls.

coachingcorner's profile pic

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After a bit of coaxing, my son really got into Call Of The Wild by Jack London, so I tried it with some students. The idea of a dog's own story and the action was what interested them - for myself, it was the sheer quality of the descriptive writing that I wanted them exposed to. It worked, they wrote some great pieces!

appletrees's profile pic

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I'd recommend some poetry, too. What about "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe? This is lengthy, nearly as long as some short stories, and the story is compelling.

Some of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work might also be interesting: maybe "The Diamond as Big as The Ritz" whose main characters are boys who meet in private school.

One great book I remember from elementary school (and it was fairly mature for us) was Julie of the Wolves, which also won a Newbery Award. It's well written and a wonderful story of a Native American girl.

howesk's profile pic

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Of Mice and Men would be an excellent choice I think! The language is not difficult, and there are many easily accesible themes in the novel.

My students always enjoy reading Edgar Allen Poe, especially "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "Annabelle Lee". Poe would certainly fit classic American authors. There are several resources available for Poe online including audio excerpts and dramatic interpretations which can make his work very accessible for students of varying age and ability.

mizzwillie's profile pic

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Treasure Island and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are great suggestions, but I would question the use of The Scarlet Letter with 6th graders.  The first two would generate good discussion while I think The Scarlet Letter is much too difficult in ideas, discussion topics, and characters.  The  key for me in choosing books is that they be challenging, engaging for the students, and allow students to find ideas to discuss which teach them something about themselves or the world in which we live.

drmonica's profile pic

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I have used Johnny Tremain, The Diary of a Young Girl (by Anne Frank), Zlata's Diary, and The Lottery Rose in literature circles for an eighth grade unit on children in war zones. Two of the characters are girls, two are boys; three of them are in literal war zones, while one is a victim of severe child abuse, which is an emotional war zone.

My students were absolutely engrossed in these novels. I was able to connect them to larger themes of man's inhumanity to man, as well as to historical events. By offering literature circles, I was able to provide choice in the reading, which appealed strongly to many of the kids, rather than having every student reading the same novel. This also made for some great whole-class discussions, because students would give context and a bit of background when using examples from their reading to support their responses to prompts and questions, since not everyone had read the novel being referenced.

amy-lepore's profile pic

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Twain is one of my favorites.  Edith Wharton is another.  Her stuff is a little heady for middle schoolers, though.  If you choose her, I would go with her short stories or maybe even Ethan Frome.  One of her short stories, "Roman Fever," is my particular favorite...it has a trick ending the kids would love.  You might also try some short plays.  "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell is wonderful, and based on a true story. My Brother Sam is Dead is another great story to consider.

Lots of luck!

lmetcalf's profile pic

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My younger students always loved Where the Red Ferm Grows. It is the story of a boy and his dogs, but the girls where drawn into  it as easily as the boys.  It is sweet, well-plotted, and emotional, but it is also loaded with easily assessible literary devices for the students to learn to read more critically, while still enjoying the story.

bullgatortail's profile pic

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All of the suggestions from Accessteacher (Post 2) were excellent. The Outsiders is a personal favorite, and the film version works well as a visual complement. I might add an old favorite, Treasure Island, for the boys' class if you decided to do different novels for the classes. Don't forget about the short story: Edgar Allan Poe stories are excellent for middle schoolers, as are many by Twain, Kipling, and Steinbeck.

accessteacher's profile pic

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Well, there are clearly plenty of ideas you can choose from. My own ideas would be something like The Giver, The Cay or The Outsiders. If those aren't "classic" enough for you you can try real "Classics" such as Little Women, Tom Sawyer or Anne of Greene Gables. Certainly all of these have stood the test of time as they are still being taught today and will give great opportunities for discussion. Good luck!

hlangendorff's profile pic

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Animal Farm has been popular with our eighth graders; however, it is best taught in conjuction with the Russian Revolution. The seventh graders always enjoy The Outsiders. The teachers have a day where they and their students dress up in period costumes and watch the movie as a learning celebration. Out of the Dust is a beautifully written book about the Dust Bowl. It is written as a series of poems. The narrater is a young girl and the sixth graders relate well to her character. It is an unforgettable book.

nszabo's profile pic

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Thank you, everyone, for your good suggestions.  I want to stay as tru as I can to my class title, "Great American Writers".  The boys' group just finished a selection of short stories by Ray Bradbury. What do you think of The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway and Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck?  I was thinking of doing both together for my middle school boys group. For the girls, I am leaning towards A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  We just finished The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.  I wanted a very different kind of book and setting for both groups for my second semester.

nszabo's profile pic

Posted on

Twain is one of my favorites.  Edith Wharton is another.  Her stuff is a little heady for middle schoolers, though.  If you choose her, I would go with her short stories or maybe even Ethan Frome.  One of her short stories, "Roman Fever," is my particular favorite...it has a trick ending the kids would love.  You might also try some short plays.  "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell is wonderful, and based on a true story. My Brother Sam is Dead is another great story to consider.

Lots of luck!

Thanks for your suggestions.  I love Edith Wharton and was also a bit hesitant if it was too "heady", as you put it, for middle schoolers.  I absolutely love Delta Wedding but we just read The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, another southern writer.  I wanted to try something different.  What do you think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith?

sueshen's profile pic

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Hi, I am teaching ESL and use literature to give my students a deeper English experience. I am not sure the age range, but I just finished To Kill a Monkingbird and while a bit deep we got through it and end enjoyed it. I developed a lesson plan on racism and hatred and compared it to living in the country where I am located. Another book my youngsters are reading is "Around the World in 80 Days". I also use "Dracula" since most kids are into the whole vampire shtick. If you are wondering, I teach privately and each student is at a different level, hence the different books. I also have one student reading Robin Hood.

epollock's profile pic

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I would use a Johnny Tremain, or any Newbury Award winner. The novel has a great deal of material in talking or writing about why characters act and feel the way they do. It also appeals to many different students on many different levels. I have used it in both middle school and high school.

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