Last week I began discussing ways to prevent the summer slide for middle schoolers, advising students to read novels and focus on particular reading skills. This week I’ll continue that discussion by talking about writing.
For middle schoolers, writing is a common problem, but it doesn’t have to be. During summer, and for writing enrichment in general, they should mostly focus on essay writing because that will be important for future ELA classes and college admissions exams, as well as the college admissions essays. There can be some emphasis on grammar and syntax, but tackle the “big picture” elements of writing before refining the smaller details.
Most of student writing should be addressed at the same time, so you won’t necessarily build introductions and then body paragraphs and then conclusions. If your student needs more focused attention on one part of the essay, then do so, but you can be more holistic with developing writing skills than you would be with reading skills.
When thinking about how to map out skill areas for students to improve, consider these below, which are divided by essay paragraph. These skills will be necessary for all types of essay writing:
SKILL AREA #1: Introductions
1A. Hooks – Introducing the essay in an interesting way
1B. Transitions – Moving discussion from broader to more specific focus
1C. Thesis Statements – Clear sentence(s) on the main purpose of the essay
SKILL AREA #2: Body Paragraphs
2A. Transitions – Words, phrases, or clauses that show how ideas connect (beginning of paragraphs and throughout paragraphs)
2B. Topic Sentences – Statements that show the main idea of the paragraph
2C. Assertions – Statements that make a point that requires evidence or support
2D. Evidence – Support used to justify the assertions
2E. Commentary/Analysis – Student’s views on how evidence supports assertions
SKILL AREA #3: Conclusion Paragraphs
3A. Re-Statement of Thesis – Reminds reader of main point of essay
3B. Insightful Ending – Makes a connection to larger thematic or human aspect related to essay’s topic
SKILL AREA #4: Overall Essay
4A. Language – Sentence structure, vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation
4B. Organization – Progression of ideas makes sense and presents ideas coherently
You may wonder where to begin when it comes to writing practice. For middle schoolers, the expository essay reigns supreme, so it would be best to start them on that style. Argumentative essays should come next; and finally, the analytical essay. Why would you structure your practice in this manner? Consider this:
STAAR 7th and 9th (EOC) grade essays (grades 7-9) are expository.
STAAR 10th (EOC) and ACT essays (grades 10-11) are persuasive.
SAT and AP English essays (grades 11-12) are analytical.
The best way to practice writing is to write, but it’s important too that you have good mentor texts, or articles, passages, and/or student examples that guide the student's writing. It’s also important when reading mentor texts to identify how the authors apply the skills listed above, so their examples can be used as launchpads. For expository writing, it is pretty easy to find mentor texts, because any piece of informative writing is expository. The key is to find mentor texts that are appropriate for middle school. Resources like Time for Kids and STAAR Reading passages (as well as essay samples) are really useful.
You could spend a whole summer working on expository writing, and really, you shouldn’t expect to have it mastered without practicing and applying skills for an extended period of time. So if you only write once a week, you can’t expect to see results. Indeed, you need to write every day, even if only for 30 minutes or an hour.
If you find that working on a particular essay style is not to your liking, or you aren’t able to commit, then journaling is another great way to maintain the practice, and while it doesn’t necessarily focus on particular skills, it allows students to be more comfortable with expressing their thoughts in writing. The key with journaling is to identify areas where the student can expand or clarify information and then press them to rewrite entries.
At B2A, we have camps, enrichment classes, and individual tutoring to prevent middle schoolers from getting the summer slide, so if you want more structure and personalized attention for your summer studies, then look no further than our programs! If you want, we can even set up tutoring so your student works on expository writing (or any writing!); we'll provide them prompts, mentor texts, and of course, in-depth feedback. No matter the writing state you find yourself in, we are here to make sure you have the "write" stuff.