The humanities program at MTS gives students an opportunity to discover the cultural richness of our world while promoting values of personal and social responsibility. By celebrating differences and recognizing similarities, students learn to look beyond themselves and value the contributions and perspectives of others.
In the younger grades, we focus on the individual, familial, and local community, and gradually expand to the study of California, America, world history and geography. As students mature, the curriculum evolves into a broader view of global culture and more nuanced historical perspective. Critical thinking and study skills are emphasized to better understand the past, present, and future.
Across all grade levels, we use a variety of methods to introduce, explore, enhance, and reinforce content. These include discussion, role-play, reading source material and related literature, debate, lecture, art and music activities, and field trips. Through individual and small-group work, students are encouraged to take initiative and responsibility for their own learning.
Scroll down to read about our humanities program by grade, and explore project highlights from Lower School and Middle School.
In Lower School, Humanities is built around sharing your story and learning from the stories of others.
MTS utilizes Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop, a research-based curriculum that focuses on exploration and expression in an authentic environment. We “aim to prepare students for any reading and writing task they will face and to turn kids into life-long, confident readers and writers who display agency and independence.”
Mini lessons pull from mentor texts that support skill development and understanding of author’s craft. Then, students are given ample time to engage as readers and writers, practicing newly learned skills and techniques. During the workshop, teachers work with small groups or individual students, tailoring their support and feedback to enhance each student’s work. Readers learn to consider their purpose for choosing books, filling their reading material with a combination of “just right texts” and those that align with interests, content focus areas, and more. Students learn that "readers are thinkers" and learn a variety of “Stop & Jot” and notebooking techniques to keep track of their ideas, wonderings, important details, and more.
As writers, students in Lower School are building a solid foundation to engage in their written communications. Students learn that each phase of the writing process (thinking & planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing) are vital and important. Teachers confer with students throughout the writing process to establish purpose and goals for each phase. In thinking and planning, teachers and mentor texts help students identify the stories they want to tell. Then, students spend time drafting voraciously, focusing on getting their ideas down on paper and letting ideas flow freely. Next, students begin the revising and editing process.
Within these phases, teachers shift their mini-lessons to support elaboration techniques, vocabulary and word choice, organization and structure. They learn that spelling, grammar, and handwriting are components of their work that add strength to their communication. Throughout both readers and writers workshop, students also engage in mid-lesson shares, either to identify and share aspects of their work they are proud of, or to seek support and ideas. These opportunities enhance the cycle of learning from student to student as they inspire and learn from each other, facilitated through the expert guidance of our teachers. Finally, students celebrate their work as writers with a published piece.
Social Studies, Science, Math, and SEL are often integrated into the reading and writing work. Students are given opportunities to engage independently and with peers. Through the use of technology integration and PBL, students connect lessons and books across disciplines, in authentic and creative ways.
Kindergarten and 1st grade students begin developing their identities as readers and writers, discovering the joy, connection, and wonder provided through experiences with a wide variety of literature.
Students learn and utilize decoding strategies as a toolbox of “reading super powers” and respond to text through text-to-self and text-to-text connections.
In Kindergarten and Grade 1, students have ample opportunities to read words, read pictures, listen to reading, and retell stories. They engage both independently and with peers. Teachers read with students in a combination of whole group, small group, and with individuals. Opportunities to play with words and language through games, and bring stories and ideas to life through readers theater are beloved components you might witness in these classrooms. Students also use art and imagination to connect to stories. As writers, students begin learning the power of telling a story and taking their rich vocabulary from spoken word to print.
They learn to write descriptively to share about topics close to their hearts. As the year continues, Kindergarten and Grade 1 students explore a variety of genres and learn specific techniques from Mentor Texts authors use to share within these genres. To support Readers and Writers workshop, Kindergarten and Grade 1 students utilize the Fundations Phonics program. At the end of these two years, the excitement is palpable as eager, confident students celebrate learning to read and expanding on these important foundational skills and strategies developed in their beginning Lower School years.
Continuing Readers & Writers workshop in 2nd and 3rd grade, students move from the “learning to read” phase to “reading to learn.”
Mini lessons and focus activities begin to expand student’s use of comprehension strategies. 2nd and 3rd grade students begin making deeper connections between texts, themselves and the world around them. They begin to “Stop & Jot” about the details within texts that support their ideas or statements. Students expand on their inferring and visualization strategies as the complexities in their books also expand. They build off their knowledge and skills acquired in K and 1, confidently applying the tools they’ve learned to tackle new complexities in text and written craft.
2nd and 3rd grade readers also begin to engage in book clubs, reading series of books, and apply skills and strategies towards projects they are passionate about, often stretching themselves beyond what would typically be considered grade-level tasks. 2nd and 3rd grade readers and writers also become more keenly aware of the connection between being an accomplished writer and a voracious reader. They begin reading for enjoyment and studying and applying mentor texts to enhance their own work. Having explored a variety of genres in Kindergarten and Grade 1, 2nd and 3rd grade students demonstrate ownership of using a variety of genres to share their ideas and thinking - from writing songs about concepts in social studies to researching, writing, and directing a play about science content - 2nd and 3rd grade readers and writers begin internalizing their identities as powerful storytellers with an array of ways to share with others.
As writers, students begin to understand and use the Writing Process more deeply, focusing on expanding vocabulary and sensory details within their writing to bring stories to life.
Students in Grades 4 & 5 focus on “readers as researchers.”
They are able to apply the skills and strategies they have learned in previous years to read for information and learn to synthesize across a variety of complex texts. Students read similar topics from multiple perspectives and genres, and practice using textual evidence to support their claims and analysis. In Grades 4 & 5, students read to learn about others, our country, our history, and our world. They connect threads from past to present and use their written work to communicate not only their understanding but to inspire action and change.
Social Studies and current events are woven into students’ reading and writing experiences, with an emphasis on promoting and empowering students to utilize their skills to communicate their ideas in authentic, inspiring, and impactful ways as seen through the eyes and hearts of these double-digit aged students. Texts in Grades 4 & 5 support deeper conversations and questions, enabling students to better understand themselves and others. Students are challenged to reflect on their own experiences, those of others, and to seek justice. In Grades 4 & 5, the questions of “Whose story is being told?” “Whose story is being left out?” and “Is there justice and equity?” are directly tied to daily considerations when reading about history and current events - whether digging into California History to accurately share from the perspectives of indigenous Californians, or learning about the lives of influential women in history to share stories often left untold. Grades 4 & 5 students are empowered by their reading and writing skills to share their voices and ideas to promote action and change. Additionally, a deeper dive into grammar and vocabulary enhance the Grades 4 & 5 Readers and Writers workshop.
The power of the LS Readers & Writers workshop from K-5 is evidenced in the wide variety of reading and writing discussions, projects, and student work and action. As students leave Lower School, the experiences they have accumulated throughout Humanities support confidence in their ability to access and analyze information, think critically, and communicate effectively and creatively to share their voices and stories with others and for others.
Our Middle School Language Arts program instills a strong academic foundation through our English, Geography, Humanities, and Social Studies curriculums.
In these courses, our students learn to think critically, effectively communicate their ideas, and develop an independent voice. We strive to create lifelong learners through inquiry-based instruction that is student-centered and comprises of collaborative and individual tasks. Students learn to take intellectual risks, approach problems thoughtfully, and develop an active appreciation for all people's experiences.
Middle School English celebrates the art of language: how to process and interpret the communications we receive as well as how to package our own messages with clarity, persuasion, and beauty. Critical thinking is another primary focus: how to think through texts and big ideas synthetically, how to engage with other perspectives openly, and how to read the word, and the world, through various critical lenses.
To achieve these goals, we read a variety of texts from diverse voices, traditions, and genres, teaching students how to unpack literature through active reading strategies and how to discuss interpretations through inquisitive Socratic dialogue. We also continue to honor and cultivate the childhood love of reading through a robust independent reading program. Advances in vocabulary are encouraged through the computer adaptive platform Membean.
Writing instruction prioritizes analytical, argumentative composition through the writing process. Students also practice writing in informational, descriptive, and narrative modes. Students utilize personalized, regular feedback and conferencing to develop their writing confidence, precision, and voice. Additionally, grammar instruction helps students elevate the structural complexity of their sentences through sentence deconstruction and combination exercises.
21st Century technology skills receive attention in Middle School English through regular projects involving slideshow design, public speaking, video and audio editing, and various apps and online platforms. Digital literacy -- assessing the trustworthiness of sources on the internet -- receives special focus during research projects.
In sixth grade Humanities, we want our students to think critically, ask questions, and learn how to make their voice heard.
To that end, our students focus on reading and writing to form and inform ideas, develop and practice critical thinking skills, learn how to present, collaborate, develop effective research skills, and to recognize bias.
We teach concrete skills through a mixture of small and large group discussion-based, mini-lessons focused on reading and interpreting. The goal of these group activities is for students to internalize new skills and then use them later in a new context. The curriculum includes hands-on, project based learning where students are actively engaged in analyzing information and developing problem-solving strategies.
Throughout the curriculum we strive to create a space where students feel comfortable talking about topics and ideas that may be uncomfortable. We want students to become comfortable making mistakes, asking questions, engaging in debate, and being themselves. We aim to provide an environment where students are able to form relationships with both their peers and teachers.
Reading: The class reads texts written by a diverse group of authors (racial, socioeconomic, & family structure) to provide windows and mirrors and to learn about people who are different from them, with a focus on understanding and celebrating differences.
Writing: Students write a thesis driven, analytical essay with a focus on developing writing processes, brainstorming, drafting, revising, and continuing the drafting loop. We place specific emphasis on the process and peer editing.
In our geography coursework, we focus on two areas: Skill and Knowledge units.
Skill units: This includes maps, globes, direction, legend reading, latitude and longitude. Knowledge Units: Here we focus on continents - major things on the map. We talk in broad terms about demographics and culture.
Geography classes are hands-on! We work with globes, maps, do a lot of drawing, as well as collaboration when possible. Our students complete one big project per trimester:
1st trimester: A pamphlet and oral presentation on a South American country 2nd trimester: A group project focused around debunking an African stereotype 3rd trimester: A group presentation on an Asian country with a choice of medium
Highlights of the curriculum include the National Geography Bee, and a group project which utilizes the blacktop outside our classroom to draw a chalk map.
Sixth grade students learn how to learn – it’s not about memorization – it’s about teaching students how to form ideas with an authentic interest. We want our students to enjoy the story of the world and its diversity, to learn about new cultures worldwide- examining both our cultural differences, and our similarities. We read proverbs and stories across cultures and explore the universal truths and wisdom woven through them all. We examine driving questions that promote discussion on how the past influences where we find ourselves today. We teach our students that looking at history through a critical lens may engender a shift in our own views- and that is okay. Highlight projects in past years for sixth graders have included the “Big Dig” archaeology project and the “Greek Festival.”
Under the theme of “Identity,” 7th Grade English explores issues of culture and virtue— the external and internal forces that shape who we are. It is also an important year for solidifying writing skills. A writer’s workshop model takes students step-by-step through the crafting of sentences, paragraphs, and essays. To aid their persuasive compositions, students study rhetorical strategies, leading to more convincing and nuanced arguments. In descriptive writing, students refine their "show-don’t-tell" fundamentals, using sensory details and figurative language to make their writing more evocative. Grammar studies focus on shoring up sentence writing fundamentals: writing complete sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences. Finally, students continue to improve their public speaking skills with several multimedia presentations and regular class discussion.
Texts: A Good Kind of Trouble, March: Book 1, A Midsummer Night's Dream, American Born Chinese, Underground America, The House on Mango Street, and selected short stories, non-fiction, poetry, and journalism.
In our Middle School social studies curriculum, students learn about ancient history (different parts of the world, historically and culturally, including arts and religion) and American history and government. In seventh grade, students gain an understanding of different cultures and how it impacts our country.
8th grade English prepares students for success in high school reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking. Building on the 7th grade focus on Identity, 8th grade literature is themed around “The Self in Society.” Texts such as Persepolis and Julius Caesar delve into the social contract, government, and civics, leading students to engage in frequent small and large group discussions exploring the tension of individual liberty within societal constraints. Literary analysis skills are also refined through regular analytical prompts, for example reading into the postcolonial symbolism at work in Orwell’s Shooting the Elephant. In their grammatical studies, students focus on achieving sentence variety, using modifying clauses and phrases with proper comma usage in order to construct more sophisticated and stylistic sentences. Students also practice group work in several multimedia presentations, such as an Animal Farm propaganda ad campaign project.
Texts: All American Boys, Animal Farm, Persepolis, Julius Caesar, Part-Time Indian, A Christmas Carol, and selected short stories, non-fiction, poetry, and journalism.
In our Middle School social studies curriculum, students learn about ancient history (different parts of the world, historically and culturally, including arts and religion) and American history and government.
Humanities Project Highlights
Every year students engage in project based learning and field trips connected to their interests and that year’s school-wide theme, providing students opportunities to infuse the curriculum with their own voice and choice, as well as demonstrate learning in ways that are creative, connected, and meaningful to them. In the past, experiences have included a third grade Water Cycle Play, Green Screen projects, a 4th grade overnight on one of California’s historic ships, a 5th grade science and nature trip to the Marin Headlands, 6th grade's "Big Dig" archeology project and "Greek Festival," 7th grade's “Race to Damascus,” and the great “Geography Bee” contest, for all sixth through eighth grade students.
During the second grade vocabulary project based learning unit, Whitney O’Keefe and Anastassia Radeva joined forces and asked students the driving question: “How can you use everyday materials to bring words to life in an extraordinary way?”
As part of the first grade social studies unit on communities and as a way to explore what it is like to be a member of a town/city community, first graders are given the opportunity to open their own “stores.”
As part of the fourth grade humanities Native American cultures unit, Megan Kukendall and Rachael Olmanson asked fourth grade students the driving question: “What would a modern museum of California and Native Amercians history look like and why?”
Animal Farm introduces 8th grade students to the concept of propaganda, how the farm’s rulers, the pigs, use misleading and manipulative information to support their rule. After reading and discussing the novel, students explore the difference between propaganda and advertising.
In this time-honored 6th grade social studies ancient world history project, students develop an understanding of different cultures and the way that humans construct history from incomplete data by creating and deciphering their own invented civilizations.