Seasons of transition are typically just plain hard, and the season of transitioning from childhood to young adulthood is no different. It’s hard. Hard for students and parents. If we can learn to anticipate some hard times and understand that the challenges are necessary for moving forward, perhaps we can navigate those transitional years with a bit more grace. So how do we move forward in a positive way when it comes to teaching writing to middle schoolers? I have some suggestions that I trust you will find helpful.

Blend Writing With Literature

Without doubt, for any age group, I have found that literature-based writing is highly effective in engaging a student’s mind. Using literature for the basis of teaching writing results in an experience for the student, instead of resulting in just a series of tasks that a student must accomplish. Furthermore, when students have a voice in deciding what books they will read, surprisingly, they may even find hope that this experience might not be so painful. A primary goal in motivating your students to write is to bring some excitement and ownership to your student, and great books can do just that.

Focus on Critical Thinking

While there are endless ways to get the most out of reading great books and using those books as a springboard for teaching writing, I encourage you to focus on developing critical thinking and expressing ideas well. After all, quality writing is all about expressing ideas well. This is often the writing component that causes middle schoolers to feel the temptation to just give up. “I don’t have any ideas.” “I don’t know what I think about that.” Sound familiar? Even if they haven’t voiced those thoughts, they have felt them.

Whether or not your student is a master of perfect grammar or stylistically well written sentences, at some point, he or she must learn to express his or her ideas well and find validation in doing so. This feels scary and risky. Thus, parents and teachers must affirm their middle school students as they express their ideas in writing. When writing prompts are based on a book, students write about the characters—not themselves. They write about conflicts that characters experience—not their own conflicts. They explore relationships, experiences, hardships, successes. They travel to other countries and other worlds, imagining what life must be like there. This is the stuff of great writing prompts for middle school students. Travel. Explore. Experience. Feel. Learn. Then write about it.

Provide a Few Specific Guidelines

While middle school is not the time to focus on intense grammar and checklists, students will benefit from some specific instruction and guidance. The following are tried and true guidelines for getting the most out of literature as a resource for teaching writing:

  1. Teach students to annotate, which is simply reflecting as they read and making notes in the margins (details in the book or thoughts and feelings that they experienced as they were reading). In addition, students will benefit from marking literary devices (similes, metaphors, etc.) and writing techniques (complex punctuation, strong vocabulary, etc.) Quality literature models quality writing.
  2. Require students to summarize each chapter, writing in complete sentences. This allows students to practice quick, concise writing, identifying main points only.
  3. Have students write several essays with writing prompts based on the literature. You will want to give students choices in what they write about rather than simply assigning all writing prompts; the independence to choose an interesting prompt will
    help to engage your student’s mind, allowing ideas to flow a bit more easily during the writing process.


After completing a thorough novel study with many writing activities (annotating, summarizing, paragraph/essay writing), celebrate! Celebrating can be anything:

• Taking a field trip related to the book
• Researching and exploring a fun, related topic of interest
• Writing an epilogue or a sequel to the book
• Illustrating favorite scenes
• Writing a song that captures the journey of the protagonist

Just imagine what you and your children can do when you pair writing with a great book!

While these suggestions work well for students of all ages, they are especially effective for middle schoolers. Life often feels overwhelming to these youngsters (and their parents) as they slowly begin to move from childhood into adulthood. Escaping into a great story, finding great friends in the characters, and writing about these characters and their life experiences has the potential to bring pleasure to your children and peace to the oftentimes turbulent season of parenting a middle schooler. Enjoy this time affirming ideas expressed well, and don’t worry too much about … the other stuff.

Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Homeschool Supplement 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Kris lives with her husband in Orangevale, CA. They have four adult children and two granddaughters. Learning to write has always been a priority for the Cordell family, but traditional methods for teaching writing didn’t work for Kris and her children. Now, after years of teaching writing to students of every age and ability level, Kris provides guidance for educators and students.