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5 Super Helpful Tips for Teaching Writing in Middle School

teaching writing in fun little bites with middle school students writing

If you teach writing in middle school, I’ve got some more super helpful, easy-to-use tips to make your life easier! Before long you’ll love teaching writing, and you’ll breeze through those towering piles of papers and get back to what’s really important.

What’s really important?

YOU, Put yourself first for a change and do what YOU want to do. Whether it be drinking coffee, watching Netflix, taking your kids to the park, or petting your dog.

These writing tips will help you get the most bang for your (instructional time) buck.

1. Assign Authentic Writing Tasks

If you want your students to be enthusiastic about writing and revising, give them authentic assignments, rather than arbitrary prompts.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of those painting night parties for charity. When it came time to make two groups, I was eager to go into the group painting the tropical hibiscus and palm tree scene. Probably because I live up north and the closest we get to palm trees are the plastic ones in my drink at the Leaky-Tiki Bar and Grill.

I was going to paint the heck out of those palm trees. But then I did a typical teachery thing. When I saw only a handful of folks going to the floral still-life, I felt bad for the instructor, so I went into that group.

As a result, my still-life came out…pretty lifeless.

More like a still-death.

It was fun to do, and it was for charity, so it felt great to participate in raising money, but I wasn’t interested or invested in the outcome. As a result, I didn’t try very hard to make it something I would actually hang up in my home.

It’s the same for kids.

Students who are invested in the writing topic are much more likely to want to improve their writing. They will strive to communicate their ideas clearly. And they are much more likely to revise and improve the piece.

How Can I Get Kids Invested in Their Writing?

First, a writer’s workshop model is your best tool, because students get to choose their topic. BTW, it’s okay to narrow the topics, as long as there is some choice involved.

Then make the task authentic by considering real-world outcomes.

Let’s look at some examples.

When writing argument essays, require that students take a stance on a controversial issue affecting their school or community. Then turn those essays into letters to the superintendent, your town’s mayor, or a local politician. We’ve had a lot of luck with that!

If a student can’t find a community issue, they can write about a personal concern. I once had a student write a letter to a pencil company because his pencils didn’t sharpen to his satisfaction.

When writing informative pieces, students can select a topic of interest to research and then write a feature article about it. Show students how to send the article to a local magazine or newspaper. Many print and online papers will post student work. Or you can easily create a Google site and post the articles in a web magazine format.

Authentic assignments are the difference between a lifeless, poorly revised piece and a carefully executed work of art.

2. Teach Text Structure

The understanding of text structure is the foundation of reading AND writing. Many teachers do an excellent job teaching text structure as a reading skill but don’t extend the learning to include writing.

Let’s say you’re reading a nonfiction piece about polar bears. Take a moment to discuss the selection as a writer. Point out that the beginning paragraphs in many articles are descriptive. Writers do that to share important background information that people need in order to understand the rest of the piece.

Understand text structure

Writers will then switch the text structure depending on their purpose for each section or subtopic of the selection. Coming up near the end will often be a problem/solution section, before ending with a summary.

When students understand that every single piece of writing is structured to impart meaning and clarity, their writing improves dramatically.

3. Teach Writing in Fun Little Bites

It isn’t necessary for every writing task to be monumental. You don’t have to constantly be assigning essays. Allow kids to practice and perfect the short response. Or spend time teaching them to write concise informative sentences.

One of the most useful lessons I teach is our two-sentence horror story lesson. Students get to deconstruct the little mentor stories to see exactly how the information is framed and formed.

Another idea for little bites of writing is to use the website Zeoob , which has a fake Instagram generator. It’s so much fun!

I like to assign it when students are reading a class novel or short story. I’ll ask them to create a Canva image for a specific part of the plot. Then they have to write a short post fully describing the plot point from a character’s point of view. I also have them add comments from other characters, sharing their points of view.

We do this for each plot element, starting with the exposition. By the time we finish, the kids end up with a storyboard summary of the entire story.

4. Assign More Writing Than You Have Time to Grade

I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Kids should be writing a lot more than we are grading. Here’s how to make it work.

  1. You can start by assigning several similar pieces, such as short responses based on a reading passage, or descriptive paragraphs about settings, etc.
  2. Then, using a rubric, show students how to self-assess their papers with a critical eye.
  3. Finally, allow them to choose the one that they think deserves the highest score and turn that one in for a grade. You can even have them justify why that piece is superior to the others.

Why does this work?

Our job is to teach kids to communicate through writing. The best way for them to learn is to write a lot and then self-evaluate their own work. They’ll learn the strengths and weaknesses of their craft. And they’ll become confident and proud of their choices.

Please don’t feel guilty about assignments you don’t grade. It’s not our job to evaluate every single thing.

Kids should be writing much more than we're grading. Try having them write several similar pieces. Then let them use a rubric to choose the one they want to turn in. Your students will get more writing practice, and they'll learn to critically evaluate their work.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

By all means, use someone else’s lesson if you can. Whether it comes from the teacher down the hall or a teacher-author you trust on Teacher Pay Teachers.

There are lots of teachers who possess the knowledge and time to create great lessons. Lean on them. Using their material without guilt is actually brilliant. It means you have more time to do other important things.

If you do want to make the lessons yours, you can always tweak them to add your own flavor.  Even if you don’t, no two teachers will teach a lesson in the same way. Remember: no one has your personality and your relationship with your students, except for YOU.

You’re the secret ingredient in any lesson.

If you need more tips for teaching writing, check out this post.

Check out my tried and true writing lessons here, where you will find ready-to-go argumentative writing lessons, narrative writing lessons, and more.

 

5 tips for teaching writing in middle school