Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve looked at basic writing stages of K-2nd graders and 3rd-5th graders.

The middle school years—typically 5th-8th grade—are the time to reinforce and build on previously-learned writing concepts. Motivated or advanced children will be able to take their current writing skills to a new level, while reluctant or resistant children, or those who lack fundamental writing skills, may need to go back to basics.

Use these middle-school years to make sure the foundation is strong. This is the time to work on:

  • Writing complete and more complex sentences.
  • Writing a well-developed paragraph.
  • Improving grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.

How Much and How Often?

Provide your middle schoolers with a steady diet of writing activities. 

  • Have them write 3-4 days a week.
  • Aim for 8-15 writing projects per year (1-2 each month), meaning paragraphs and short reports that go through all the paces of the writing process.
  • Tuck in other writing activities along the way—such as book reports, journal writing, and current events—that don’t require revisions.
  • Spend no more than 45-60 minutes per writing day. Consider both the assignment itself as well as your child’s age and attention span.
  • Students should primarily write 1- to 5-paragraph compositions and occasionally 1- to 2-page reports.

Become a Purposefully Involved Parent

During middle school, students should begin taking more responsibility for their own learning. At the same time, parents need to be purposefully and consistently involved. Though it’s tempting to let your child work independently, this isn’t the time to jump ship and abdicate your role as primary teacher. This means:

  • Overseeing and supervising daily writing.
  • Setting a pace for assignment completion so your child stays on task.
  • Reading and commenting on each writing assignment to show that you’re interested and that you care.
  • Promptly editing and returning work to keep your child from falling behind.

Also see Helping Your Highschooler with Writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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In Spring 2011, WriteShop will introduce WriteShop Junior Book D, the first in a series of writing curricula for middle and upper elementary ages. To be among the first to get the scoop about the book’s release, join our mailing list by visiting www.writeshop.com and looking for the newsletter sign-up box.

Children in grades 6-8 can also begin using WriteShop I, a great program for teaching and reinforcing the steps of the writing process. Parent supervision is a key element of the program as you learn to equip and inspire successful writers.

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9 comments ↓

#1 JoJo Tabares on 10.12.10 at 6:25 am

Great ideas, Kim!

#2 Janet on 10.14.10 at 12:42 pm

A good writing project for this age is a theme-based magazine: each student choose a favorite topic and write an accompanying short story, a feature article, an advice column, a book review, an interview, a memoir piece, an observation article, and a one-act script. Illustrate and bind together, and it’s a great collection of pieces that show how each child grew as a writer. I had a lot of success with this with my middle-schoolers.

#3 Kim on 10.14.10 at 1:04 pm

Love this idea, Janet! My oldest daughter did a similar activity when she was 13, creating a magazine based loosely on Ranger Rick. A great experience that produced a memorable writing project for our “keepers” file.

#4 Jimmie on 10.19.10 at 10:48 am

I don’t require quite this much writing from my 6th grader. But I think your recommendations are sound overall. There is quite a gap from 5th to 8th grade, developmentally. So I think your list suits an 8th grader better. I see your recommendations more as something to begin (in 5th grade) working towards for an 8th grade benchmark.

I do want to remind people that “writing” is not limited to “language arts.” Writing that is done for science, history, art, music, etc still counts as writing. This is how I kill two birds with one stone.

#5 Kim on 10.19.10 at 11:12 am

Jimmie: If you go with the minimum requirements of 3 days a week, 1 writing project a month, and 1-paragraph compositions, I think that’s both appropriate and doable for a 5th or 6th grader.

But that doesn’t mean they need to fill that time solely with compositions. Three days a week of writing can also include writing games, brainstorming, and self-editing activities, as well as writing for other subjects.

Thanks for your feedback! Oh, and BTW, I just nominated your blog for the Homeschool Blogger Awards. :)

#6 Janet on 10.19.10 at 8:26 pm

Actually, Kim, these recommendations are doable for upper-elementary as well. The bulk of my career was spent in teaching 3rd and 4th graders, and they easily handled your middle-school guidelines. In fact, they routinely begged to write so much, that their enthusiasm and growth as writers gave birth to after-school writers’ clubs, which in turn gave birth to my fledgling website. I think everything, in the end, comes down to the step-by-step writing structure provided in a challenging, but supportive, enthusiastic “You can do it!” environment. Kids are capable of far more than we often realize!

#7 Kim on 10.22.10 at 3:20 pm

I’ve found that so much depends on the child. During these middle-school years, my daughters were way more willing (and able) than my son to tackle higher-level or longer writing assignments. It evened out in the end, as all three have become capable writers.

#8 Frustrated on 03.08.11 at 3:46 pm

My son struggles with writing, which falls on the parents. Unfortunately, we don’t get all the information we need to help him. It is quite a struggle, the teacher wants the work to be during school hours but yet he isn’t getting it done there and we aren’t getting due dates until the final due date is tomorrow!!! Frustrated with all of these assignments without the information we need to help or where the project is at school!!! This probably isn’t the place to voice this but a 5th grader having to write 3 memoirs in a 6-8 week time frame, we find it a difficult task. Is it just me thinking it is too much, Am I crazy for being frustrated?!?!?!

#9 Kim on 03.08.11 at 4:04 pm

@Frustrated: I’m so sorry, and I do understand. It’s hard when the teacher requires the work to be completed during class hours, yet seems to make no provision for students who can’t keep up.

My suggestion is to arrange a meeting with the teacher. First, find out why your son is unable to get the work done during school time. Second, see if you can work together to help him become more productive. Would he perform better if there were an incentive? Does he perhaps require tutoring? Also, find out what, if anything, you can do at home to further his writing progress.

If the teacher is uncooperative, you might need to talk with the principal. Hope it works out for you.

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