The transition from eighth grade to high school can be a difficult time for many students. The academics become increasingly more difficult and demand new skills that most likely were not developed in middle school. Freshman English provides a stepping stone from junior high to the beginning of a new scholastic phase when new skills are taught and developed. Freshman English classes provide the foundation for writing skills, reading critically and how to write a solid argument. The curricula also are designed to introduce a variety of literature ranging from personal essays to works of fiction. Teachers typically select material they feel will give students the foundation to enhancing literary awareness and writing skills.
The typical literature of freshman English exposes students to a variety of writing styles that involve formal, informal and creative writing. These styles demand different approaches that can be overwhelming for students. Formal essays include expository, persuasive, descriptive and critical types. Informal examples include journals, personal narratives and satire. Students encounter creative writing via poems, short stories and parody. Princeton Tutoring says that when faced with formal, informal and creative writing examples, students should be able to ask themselves, “Does my assignment ask for exploring and illustrating, or an argument and evidence?”
Teaching literature forces students to evaluate contradictory interpretations of a topic and helps them grasp a subject’s complexity. It also helps students reconsider their own ideas about a subject while shedding light on any ambiguity. Generally, the literature assigned deals with topics like race, gender, culture and class. "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is a very popular text used by teachers because it deals with several of those topics. Students learn how to grapple with these subjects by interpreting them through the various adopted approaches set forth by the teacher.
Freshman English classes often require students to comprehend literature through standard literary terms such as foreshadowing, figurative language and irony. Most freshman English teachers present literature rich in literary devices to help students incorporate them into their own writing and to help them better understand the text at hand. Typical freshman English classes require students to an understanding of literary terms. Saint John’s High School’s in Massachusetts clearly states the first requirement of freshman English is that students have the ability to “discuss literary works from all the major genres using standard literary terms and definitions."
Unlike middle school, many high schools assign summer reading to students. The work is not always mandatory nor does it always impact the student’s grade, but summer reading lists are a vital part of freshman literature. The assigned reading helps students better prepare for what to expect in freshman English. Summer reading is so beneficial that schools even assign it throughout the span of high school. North Medford High School provides summer reading lists and expresses that they are an important part of the curriculum. The also say that current research has found that summer reading assignments help students with their literary skills.
Jen Saunders is an entrepreneur and veteran journalist who covers a wide range of topics. She made the transition to writing after having spent 12 years in England where she studied and taught English literature.