Misha writes: “My middle school is starting an 8th-grade honors section of language arts. I would love to hear suggestions on how to accommodate the higher-level students and make the class look drastically different from my regular sections?”
Figuring out how to differentiate between regular and honors sections can be challenging. Start with letting your students set the pace. With an honors group, you should be able to move through reading material more quickly and limit or skip some of the class time you might usually devote to grammar and mechanics, this will give you the space to add extra books to read and hopefully, a cool creative assignment that will let your top students stretch their wings!
Here are gathered some of our favorite suggestions from our Facebook fans for how to plan an honors English class. We’d love to hear more advice in the comments, too, so please leave any you have there!
Try Alternate Assessments
Use literature circles and Socratic conversations to raise the level of engagement with the text. Develop assignments that include student input of choices of alternative ways to demonstrate their understanding. Investigate the Think-Tac-Toe approach to assessments. —Mary Schwartz
For each unit, have 3–4 books that share similar themes and let students choose one, rather than having everyone in the class read the same book at the same time. It will lead to rich discussion as different small groups discuss their books and share their thoughts with the larger class.—Kristy Williams
Keep Up the Pace
Don’t spend forever (i.e. 6 week units) on the same book because most will finish the reading in the first few days and and be bored when the book is still being picked apart a month later.—Kristy Williams
Prepare Them for High School
Talk to high school teachers, especially those who teach Honors or AP. Ask: “What are skills and knowledge are you most looking for when students come into your class?” Best way to approach the class is to treat it as a preparatory for higher level advanced classes.—Erin Merrill
Give Students Leadership Roles
Make it more like a seminar with student input. Organize the desks to encourage discussion and have students take turns leading. Incorporate technology in a way that feels relevant to them—get them tweeting and posting about themes, topics, questions.—Alexandra Woody
Hold a Debate
My Pre-AP kids always loved debates based around the literature we were reading. We held a debate on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” The kids had to find textual evidence to support their arguments. Was the narrator in a relationship with Annabel Lee or just a “crazy stalker.” They loved it. Hope this helps!—Leta Simpson
Do Paired Readings
You can pair readings, such as contrasting views on same topic or fictional and nonfictional accounts of same event or period. I also like to use historical documents for close readings. All of these lend themselves to high-level discussions and writings. I love Great Books materials for this age. They have many thematic sets with high quality literature, Socratic questioning and related writing assignments.—Lori Ebert
Do a Creative Project
One of the best projects that I did with my freshmen honor’s english students was to have my students write and design a poetry book together in response to the challenging novels we were reading. It was a great way to be creative, learn computer skills, and to cap a unit.—Caroline Daily
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