The unit on Scottish ballads, which students must read aloud, legitimizes so-called ‘misspellings,’ as in the opening to “Sir Patrick Spens”:

The king sits in Dumferling tone,
Drinking the blude-reid wine,
“O what call I get guid sailor,
To sail this scrip of mine?”

Students enjoy pronouncing the Scottish “r” and the now-silent “k” and guttural “gh” in “knight.” More important, since words need to be looked at very closely in the pronunciation of such sounds and often analogized to make their meaning clear, reading ballads aloud forces students to pay close attention to each word and phrase, such attention being precisely the skill they will need when they begin to look at more sophisticated literary texts.

The ballads themselves are highly dramatic—full of murder and betrayal—and highly elliptical, with plot elements that must be inferred. Such reading material turns students into little Inspector Clouseaus, training them to read between the lines, to make inferences from the evidence before them—what was the “counsel” given Edward by his “mither”?–who murdered the “new-slain knight”?—and to find corroborative evidence within the rest of the ballad for whatever conclusions they reach. Comparing two versions of the same ballad provides additional experience in close reading.

Students then read a somewhat abridged version of the King James Book of Genesis, taught as a narrative rather than a religious text.

The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum by Sandra Stotsky

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)