Parent Guide to Middle School English

In the hands of a competent teacher, middle school English is about more than reading compelling stories. It’s about discovering new worlds and honing new skills.  Elementary school prioritizes reading comprehension over analysis, and with good reason. There’s no point in moving on to the next literary adventure if you don’t understand what you’re reading.  … Continued

In the hands of a competent teacher, middle school English is about more than reading compelling stories. It’s about discovering new worlds and honing new skills. 

Elementary school prioritizes reading comprehension over analysis, and with good reason. There’s no point in moving on to the next literary adventure if you don’t understand what you’re reading. 

Middle school English takes that carefully developed comprehension and develops it further. In addition to reading comprehension, your middle school student will begin:

  • Learning literary terminology 
  • Analyzing material
  • Writing supported opinion pieces 

Reading Comprehension

One of the primary challenges of middle school English for many middle schoolers is the sudden shift to independent learning. Throughout the year, the middle school curriculum puts them in contact with a variety of texts and genres, including: 

  • Nonfiction
  • Fiction
  • Drama
  • Poetry

Some of these genres will be new to your middle schooler. 

What’s more, middle school English isn’t purely about reading. As your middle schooler encounters increasingly varied genres, they’ll be asked to give opinions about them and support those opinions with examples and quotations. 

Additionally, a significant part of middle school English requires students to probe the text for more in-depth analysis. 

Building on the reading comprehension honed in elementary school, a new middle school English student will:

  • Discuss a novel’s central theme using examples and quotations
  • Identify motifs and their thematic significance 
  • Compare and contrast different texts’ treatment of the same themes
  • Recognize and talk cogently about different points of view 

Think Critically, Don’t Be Critical 

In other words, your middle school student is learning to dissect English literature and talk critically about it. 

That doesn’t mean there’s an expectation your middle schooler dislikes all given texts. When assisting your middle schooler with English assignments, remind them that thinking critically isn’t the same as being critical. 

Language Matters 

This can be daunting since the vocabulary used to talk critically about texts in middle school English can feel like a foreign language. But an essential part of middle school English is the introduction of new and more nuanced literary concepts.  

Some of these include:

  • Motifs
  • Irony 
  • Pathetic Fallacy (sometimes Cosmic Sympathy) 
  • Foreshadowing 

Most middle school English source texts provide a glossary of key terms. However, checking in regularly with your middle schooler to ensure they understand the literary language they are learning can help them excel at middle school English. 

But it’s not only the classroom vocabulary that can be challenging. As middle school English students engage with more complex terminology and ideas, they also begin exploring various reading material. 

That means they encounter everything from Shakespearean English to nonfiction academia. Not to mention those modern English words that are new and unfamiliar. 

There’s an expectation that middle school English students can identify unfamiliar words from context and grapple with them that way. 

When it comes to more antiquated vocabulary, encourage:

  • Secondary reading
  • Simultaneous translation texts 

This last is particularly helpful for middle school English students unfamiliar with older writers. These offer a modern English translation on the book’s recto to help middle schoolers make sense of writers like Shakespeare. 

On Writing Well 

It’s also important to remember that middle school English isn’t only about reading. While inculcating a love of reading and an analytical mind are billeted as the foundation of middle school English, writing is also important. 

In fact, writing is the way most middle school English students get to showcase that emerging analytical mind. 

They may begin to write supported opinion pieces as the precursor to essays. As you guide your middle school English student through this process, help them: 

  • Find literary examples to back up their opinion
  • Construct a thesis argument 

When working on the latter, remember thesis statements are:

  • Provable
  • Factual
  • Grounded in opinion 

A good thesis relies on the combination of all three of these things. Reminding your middle schooler to include all of them will result in opinion pieces for middle school English that make for exhilarating reading. 

Additionally, middle school English encourages its students to prioritize:

  • Clear, comprehensive structure/flow
  • Well-constructed transition sentences
  • Essay plans
  • Secondary reading and source citing 

How to Help Your Middle Schooler with English Writing Projects 

Middle school English puts significant emphasis on independent learning. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer guidance. This is especially true if you sense that your child is struggling or new to independent work. 

Formulate a Plan

While it’s vital that all writing be your middle schooler’s own, one thing you can do to make middle school English projects less daunting is offer advice on how to structure an essay plan. 

That will give your child a direction to work towards when constructing their first, middle school English assignment. 

Encourage Secondary Reading 

Another aspect of middle school English is reading widely across diverse subjects. As your child plans and researches their English projects, offer advice on further reading. They must continue to cite the primary source text, but having other reliable sources back the claims your child makes will strengthen them. 

Teach the value of reliable secondary reading and help your middle schooler identify what makes a reliable versus an unreliable source

Seek Clarification 

Finally, ensure your child understands that it’s okay to need clarification. Middle school English has a lot of moving parts to it. That can make it feel overwhelming for middle schoolers transitioning from the elementary school environment. 

Stress that asking for further instructions can only help them in the long run. A good teacher will be sympathetic to the monumental change the students are experiencing and be only too happy to offer guidance. 


Middle school English is about advancing students’ literacy and encouraging them to read more broadly. Students will begin to tackle a wider range of reading material and write in more depth about the books they read. 

As you familiarize yourself with the middle school English curriculum for your child, encourage them to:

  • Ask questions
  • Cite secondary sources
  • Plan their work

While you can’t do the work for them, being attuned to what your child is learning will allow you to better guide them through middle school English. You may even have the odd, interesting literary conversation in the process. 


Parent Guide to High School English

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