Teaching middle school writing is fun on the one hand. Kids can actually write now… we hope! On the other hand writing is intimidating because we don’t want to leave our children unprepared for high school writing assignments.
Finding a good balance is critical. We don’t want to burn our kids out and make them hate writing, but they must know how to write.
Tips for Teaching Middle School Writing
1. Don’t take it too seriously
It easy to get caught up in the terror of a looming high school. It’s too easy to get caught up in the proper topics to write about. Writing is an important skill, but it’s not taught overnight. Don’t worry about the other kids writing novels. Don’t worry about other kids writing long research papers and essays. Focus on the basics and keep moving slowly along.
2. Don’t neglect middle school writing
Don’t skip middle school writing for an entire year just because your child hates it. I know dialectic kids can be handfuls. Writing is still important. Back down to copying a short sentence everyday if you have to, but don’t give up the battle.
3. Copy work and dictation are still useful
Just because your kids are in middle school, don’t drop copy work and dictation. Copy work teaches the flow of writing. It cements basic grammar and spelling, which are only just now becoming habitual in your child.
Dictation allows your child to write with proper grammar and spelling from memory without worrying about WHAT to write. Since you’re standing over your child, you can catch mistakes as they happen and correct them quickly.
4. Build from the bottom up
If you have a child who’s not writing well, don’t worry. You have time. Begin by teaching your child to write proper sentences through copy work and dictation. Then have your children write their own sentences about history and science.
Once your child is writing sentences well, work on paragraphs. There’s a topic sentence, a body, and a closing sentences. Have your children study model paragraphs as they copy the paragraphs through copy work and dictation. Let your children outline the paragraphs and rewrite the paragraphs.
Only after your child is comfortable writing sentences and paragraphs do you introduce essays and reports. Keep the model of an introduction/topic, the body, and a conclusion. I often grab nonfiction books to show how even books have an introductory chapter, the body of the book, and a concluding chapter which wraps everything up.
5. Don’t be in a rush
I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, but it bears repeating. You have time. A 6th grader still has 6 years of schooling ahead of them. They’re only half-way through the course. Even an 8th grader has 4 years to master writing. Work consistently from the ground up. Consistency will do more to produce good writers than any crash course.
6. Chose interesting topics
Chose topics your kids are interested in studying and writing. One child can writing about battles and strategy, another child can write about fashion, and a third child can write about ants. You’ll have far less resistance to writing if the kids enjoy what they’re writing about.
7. Be imaginative
Along with choosing interesting topics, use your imagination. Just because we’re classically educating our children, we’re not limited to writing about literature, history, or science. Let your kids write about dragons, myths, robots, or colonies on Mars. Use their interests and be imaginative.
8. Write daily
Writing consistently means to practice writing daily. Have your child outline, do copy work or dictation, or write freehand every day. They’ll improve much more than trying to cram a year’s worth of practice in one afternoon.
9. Pick one problem to focus on – one battle at a time
Middle school writing is always full of errors. There will be grammar and spelling mistakes. They’re kids, they’ll learn. Choose one battle to fight. Work on capitalization until your child remembers to capitalize without reminding. Then work on adding interesting adjectives. Don’t fight your kid on all fronts. You’ll be miserable and they’ll hate writing.
10. Always find something positive to say about your child’s work
Most importantly, find something good to say about your child’s writing. Start your critique with a positive and end with a positive. Nothing’s worse than feeling you can never do anything right. Don’t do that to your child. Be positive.