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Best Advice for Writing Teachers? Use Mini-Lessons

Let's imagine that you're stranded at sea in a tiny rowboat. The weight of all the writing instruction strategies you've got up your sleeve are weighing the boat down, so you've got to throw them all overboard except for ONE.

Which one will you keep?

I'm saving mini-lessons. And I'll never look back.

Why? Mini-lessons, aka focus lessons, are the most effective way of delivering explicit writing instruction for many reasons.

Keep reading to find out the following:

  • What are the characteristics of a good mini-lesson?
  • What are the advantages of using a mini-lesson format?
  • How can they be used in a middle school ELA classes? (I use them despite the fact that our class periods are only 42 minutes long!)
I'm even including a link to one of my most helpful FREE mini-lessons!

Writer's Workshop in Middle School

One of the most frequently asked questions teachers ask me is How does Writer's Workshop work in a middle school class?

Middle school ELA teachers only have so much time in which we must cover a lot of material. I only see my students for 42 minutes a day. (Crazy, I know!) So I completely understand why teachers wonder how they can successfully use the writing process in a middle school setting. Teachers often feel that if they spend 2-4 weeks on a single writing task they are NOT addressing reading skills, grammar, and all of the standards that we are required to squeeze into the all-too-short time frames we have with our kids. 

First, let me say that I've tried everything over my 20-year teaching career, and I can say with total certainty that the workshop approach is superior to any other model. 

Middle school writer's workshop works for three reasons. 

1. Students learn to write best through practicing writing. 
2. Students will write more and be more invested in a topic of their choosing. 
3. Workshop models enable students to begin taking control of their own learning and think of themselves as writers.

Through our workshops we don't only address writing, we also address punctuation, sound sentences, capitalization, and a host of other skills. To a lesser extent, the peer conferencing we do helps kids practice reading and communication skills. 

That's not to say there isn't a time and a place for specific writing prompts for which responses are rapidly written, collected, graded, and returned. Kids do have to learn how to write for a testing situation. But for honing the craft of argumentative, informative, and narrative writing, the workshop model can't be beat.

Scary Short Stories for Middle School Students

Do you have reluctant readers who insist they've never enjoyed ANY books or stories they've read in school? Would you like a way to draw those haters in and prove them wrong?

Dim the lights, dig deep for your best Bella Lugosi-voice and dive into a juicy, horrifying, tale of terror.

Even the most reluctant of readers LOVE scary stories.

Best yet, they engage in awesome discussions about that scary story when you're finished! Often, kids will even create their own extension assignments, such as rewriting an ending, or continuing a story, or writing their own scary story.

If that happens, LET THEM! Capitalize on their interest and use it as an opportunity to read a story for the sole purpose of enjoying it. Let kids write what they want to write. Because nothing is better than kids who are begging to write.

If you're not sure how scary you can go before getting phone calls about Junior sitting up in a bed all night, wide-eyed and wielding a baseball bat, ask the kids what degree of "scary" they want to experience.

Here is the "Creep-O-Meter" barometer I use and the stories that match up with each level of creepiness.

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