As middle school ELA teachers, we all want to work to empower our young writers. They often come to us a little shaky, a little unsure. Teaching students--SHOWING THEM--that writing is a process can help middle school writers to build confidence and skill. Ultimately, our job as ELA teachers is not to teach students to scaffold and support students to write a singular essay. Our job is to give students the tools to become WRITERS beyond our classrooms. That means giving students the tools to write well forever and ever.
How to get started:
1. Encourage students to record and store ideas for later.
I have a notes page on my phone--it's the one thing I take with me everywhere. When I get an idea or some inspiration, I record my idea before it leaves my brain. Teach students to do the same: give them a space, brainstorm tools for recording ideas, and give students TIME to write ideas, add pictures and quotes for inspiration, and let students know it's okay if they use the ideas they record--it's also okay not to use them. The idea-gathering phase of writing is the LOWEST stakes, so let kids have fun with it (and absolutely, positively do not grade, correct, or worry about grammar here!).
Encourage students to record ideas as they come to them. Model recording your own ideas. Model adding pictures, favorite quotes, and cool words to your idea bank. Help students to see that any inspiration could turn into a powerful piece of writing later on.
2. Model writing in front of your students and provide mentor texts.
Modeling and using mentor texts is the single most important thing you can do to help student writers. Think of your own writing process: when you wrote a cover letter to apply for your job, if you've ever written professionally, writing lesson plans--it is likely that you looked to models for help. Teach young writers to do the same.
The key is to provide LOTS of examples. Modeling not only allows students to see strong examples of writing, but it allows students to see that sometimes we mess up, sometimes we make mistakes and scrap all of our ideas and start over. Model successes, but also model those mistakes! Help students to SEE that writing is a messy, beautiful process.
Keep in mind a few things when choosing mentor texts. First, you do not have to do all the heavy lifting. Use published authors as inspiration. Analyze what authors do and encourage students to mimic that work. Second, you might feel vulnerable writing in front of your students. Let them know you feel this way! Writing IS a vulnerable space. We're putting ourselves on paper... PERMANENTLY. Model the process of working through the feelings behind writing and talk about how you work through those feelings in order to write successfully. Not only will this help your writers to write, it will also help build community where writing is SAFE and your writers don't feel alone.
3. Give students lots of time to brainstorm.
Beyond having an idea list, give students time to brainstorm ideas for specific writing pieces. Brainstorming is another low-stakes moment in the writing process that should not be graded or even judged--the goal is to generate ideas that will lead to authentic writing.
Freewriting is a student favorite. Set a five minute timer. Tell students to write without stopping with the writing topic in mind until the timer goes off. Encourage students not to worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation, but instead to continue writing *no matter what*. If students get stuck, I tell them to write about being stuck.
Once again, for the best results, model freewriting in front of your students. I love to model freewriting where I write fast and messy. My kids laugh when I suddenly veer off topic and write in a new stream of conciousness. They love seeing me misspell, leave out punctuation, and forget capitalization all togther. Most importantly, I love showing them the magic of going back through when we're done and highlighting the ideas that come out of the mess. It might be just a single phrase or sentence that comes from a whole page of writing--but the idea is the end goal of brainstorming, and freewriting is a fun way to get there.
Other brainstorming ideas: write a list of ideas connected to the writing topic, answer the Big 6 questions about your writing topic (who, what, when, where, why, and how), create a mind map of related ideas connected in a series of lines and circles (see below), or let students get creative with their own brainstorming techniques which might include sketching ideas or simply combining techniques that work for them.
4. Show students that writing is not over when the draft is done.
We all have had that kid in our class who shouts, "I'M DONE!" when there is no way in the world they are actually done. I love helping this kid, and all my kids, to see that writing is never really done. Published novelists often find things they still want to rewrite in their stories. Writing lives and can continue improving FOREVER (dun, dun, dunnnnnnn!).
When students are getting close to the end of their drafts, show them the next steps--where the magic happens--editing and revising ideas. Editing is a simple grammar check. Checklists are a student's best friend. Give students checklists to help them know what to look for. I give my students checklists with reminders about comma rules, capitalization, homonyms, and other common errors I see in their writing.
Checklists also work well for revision. At the basic level, tell your students to identify their strongest ideas and build on these. Tell students to identify ideas that don't work and eliminate or fix these. At a deeper level, give students the rubric you plan on using to grade their work and have students color code the qualities outlined on the rubric with the qualties present in their own writing. If they find a color is not present, instruct students to add/fix their writing to include that element.
Last, conference as part of the revision process. Once students have exhausted their own resources, encourage them to meet with you or with a peer to review their writing together. When students conference, require that they read their own writing out loud to their partner as their partner records feedback. Reading writing out loud allows students to find errors they may have missed when reading in their head. It is the single most effective revision technique for writers!
5. Give students publishing opportunities.
I recently ran into a student I taught 19 years ago. He was with his fiance, and after introducing me, he turned to her and said, "Mrs. A is the one who helped me to get published!" That year, I found a random writing contest where the winners would be published in a young adult anthology. I encouraged my students to enter, and this student won! Clearly, the experience made an impact on him, and it felt special that something from our little 7th grade class was a story he shared with the people he loved.
Encourage students to enter their writing in local contests. Find contests online. Give students opportunties to publish in the classroom, the school library, or share their work with a local public library. Kids' writing deserves to be celebrated. Only students can tell their stories, and those stories matter. Let kids know that their work is valued beyond a grade.
Check out these awesome publishing opportunities for student writers!
The writing process helps to make writing a safe, encouraging space for writers. Working through the writing process together with lots of time, and modeling, and mistake-making, and feedback, and celebrating EMPOWERS our young writers. Helping middle school students learn the power of their words and stories is one of the most valuable things we can teach them.
Create an atmosphere for writing with these FREE writing process posters. Click here to download!
Posters pair perfectly with The Ultimate Writer's Notebook for Middle School ELA, a digital notebook with everything young writers need to master ALL of the writing standards including reference pages, terms, mentor texts, graphic organizers, outlines, drafting pages, revising and editing checklists, conferencing pages, reflection pages AND MORE! Check it out and happy teaching!