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After 10+ years teaching writing, you can bet we’ve made plenty of mistakes! We want to share with you some of these, but we’re also going to share strategies that you can use to easily fix them. These tactics took us years to learn and refine, but you can take these lessons and immediately apply them as you work to improve your writing curriculum. One of the questions we get asked the most is, “How do you teach writing in middle school?” These three mistakes (and solutions!) are going to be the stepping stones you need to read about in order to find success in your writing program.
Mistake #1: Not Providing a Framework for Students to Follow
We can’t instruct students to simply write a five paragraph essay on a given topic and in turn, expect well-structured, thoughtful analysis. With this approach, students often submit choppy essays that go off on a tangent with some evidence sprinkled in here and there. Been there and done that, and let’s be honest, grading these essays made us want to pull our hair out!
One of the best strategies to use when teaching writing in middle school is to explicitly teach your students what you want them to include in a literary analysis essay, or Response to Literature, as we like to call it. AND then give them a graphic organizer that follows this framework.
When we did this with our students, immediately, they stopped saying, “I don’t know how to start” or “What do I write next?” Gone were the essays with a topic sentence and a quote from the text, but little to no explanation or analysis.We created a graphic organizer that provides students with a detailed outline of the very specific framework we teach. The graphic organizer also includes a reminder of what each section entails. After requiring students to use the graphic organizer for several writing assignments, many of them stop needing it and can remember the basic framework as they start writing their latest well-organized and well-developed essay.
If you want to grab this same graphic organizer we use, just add your information below, and we’ll send it right to you!
Mistake #2: Not Including a Writing Sample for Students to Model
We admit, we were a little late to the game with this one, and only started doing this a few years into our teaching careers! But, seriously, now we wouldn’t think of giving a major writing assignment without a writing sample for students to analyze before they write their own.
First of all, we realized that sometimes the questions we were asking our students to answer in a multi-paragraph Response to Literature were way too difficult in terms of finding evidence, which resulted in weak essays. If we were struggling with crafting a writing sample, how could we expect students to write an essay without tremendous difficulty?Now, we provide students with a sample Response to Literature on the same topic they are writing about. We spend class time highlighting the various elements of the essay. Then we circle examples of strong vocabulary or effective transitions. This helps set the expectations for students when they begin to write their own essays.
Mistake #3: Not Supplying Students with a Rubric
Most teachers have at least heard about the benefits of using rubrics, and you may even be using them already for your assignments. But, are the rubrics being used in the most effective way possible?
First, it is crucial that students analyze the rubric BEFORE they begin writing their essay. Do they understand the language in the rubric itself? Do they need clarification on any of the expectations? The rubric should be their constant companion as they write, so they can check off that they are meeting the expectations.
Second, have students use the rubric to assess the writing sample you provide them. This will help strengthen their awareness of the expectations, making them more likely to meet or exceed the expectations in their own writing.
Finally, the power of the rubric doesn’t end when you pass it back filled with comments (honestly, we keep the comments to a minimum since the rubric we use is so thorough). Attach a writing reflection handout with the graded assignment and rubric and allow students time to reflect on their own writing and make improvements!
Keep reading … now that you know the three mistakes you might be making when teaching writing, we’ve created a free Resource Download for you …
Our wish for you is to avoid these mistakes in your classroom, which is exactly why we’ve put together three incredible resources for you. A graphic organizer for your students to use, which makes following a framework so much easier, an easy-to-use rubric to make grading faster for you, and a student reflection that they can use to review their own writing.
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