7 Reasons Your Middle Schoolers Stink at Writing (and what to do about it)
How to teach writing to middle schoolers – it sure can be a challenge, can’t it?
Maybe your students aren’t doing so hot – they’re intimidated, their writing style is subpar, or their papers are riddled with spelling and grammar errors.
It’s normal to struggle with writing, but it’s an essential skill in our world, and we owe it to our students to help them master this important craft.
If your students are struggling, it’s time to make some changes. Let’s take a look at some common problems and discuss solutions that I’ve seen work firsthand in my own classroom.
7 Reasons Your Middle Schoolers Stink at Writing
- Problem: You give them the whole assignment at once.
Solution: Break down the writing project into steps with separate due dates.
Please don’t just explain a writing project and then say “It’s due next Thursday.” This just doesn’t cut it for middle schoolers. If you want them to succeed – and especially if you want them to understand the writing process – you need to break it down for them. Most writing projects can be broken down (roughly) into the following steps:
Step 1: Understand the project (explain the type of writing you will be doing & its features)
Step 2: Choose a topic
Step 3: Prewrite (includes brainstorming, organizing, etc.)
Step 4: Draft (Students write the rough draft.)
Step 5: Rewrite (Students improve the structure, organization, and writing style of their paper.)
Step 6: Edit (Students check their paper for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. and produce a final paper.)
- Problem: You expect students to write the paper on their own.
Solution: Have students complete most of the process in class.
Remember that all of this is fairly new for your students, so give them time to start each step in class. Walk around the room answering questions and giving feedback. It’s okay to ask them to finish a step for homework, but realize the personalized direction you give them during class work time is invaluable.
- Problem: You gloss over prewriting.
Solution: Break down the prewriting stage into small, specific assignments.
If you just ask your students to start writing, you’re going to see a lot of students staring forever at that intimidating blank page. Instead, give your students specific assignments to help them brainstorm and organize their ideas. For example, if they’re writing a fiction story, ask them to list all their main characters. Then ask them to write a paragraph describing each one, etc.
- Problem: You let students stress about writing a perfect rough draft.
Solution: Encourage students to focus on the big picture in their rough draft – not on having everything just right.
When it comes time to write the rough draft, you’ll need to continually remind your students that this is just a rough draft. It’s not supposed to be perfect, and they shouldn’t stress about having everything just right. What they should focus on is following the basic structure of the paper and getting all their thoughts written down.
- Problem: You give little direction for rewriting and editing.
Solution: Provide students with rewriting and editing checklists.
When you tell your students to correct their papers and write a second draft, most of them are just going to change a few things and call it a day. Instead, give them checklists that they can go through to actively improve their paper and make sure they have everything correct. (You can see example checklists in the free writing unit at the end of this article.) Oh, and this takes the pressure off you to read & edit their papers for them (why should you do their work for them?)!!
- Problem: You don’t give enough feedback.
Solution: Give great feedback on their writing (without taking forever to grade it).
For your students to continually improve, they need to know what they’re doing right & what they’re doing wrong. But writing a million notes on their papers takes forever. That’s why I developed my own system for grading. You can read more about it here. It’s also explained in the free writing unit below:
- Problem: They don’t practice enough.
Solution: Incorporate writing throughout your classroom.
The more students write, the better they become, and the less intimidating the whole concept is. So don’t limit writing just to your ELA class, but incorporate it in every subject. You’ll be amazed not only at how much your students’ writing improves but also at how it increases their participation and deepens their comprehension. (I give specific ideas in my post 5 Ways to Incorporate Writing in Your Classroom.)
These solutions come to life in my writing units. Click here to get the Compare/Contrast writing unit absolutely free and see for yourself how these tactics work in a real classroom.