Ah, middle school! A time of hormone surges and living in a sort of limbo stage between childhood and adulthood.
As a parent, I do sometimes feel like we’re living in the Matrix when it’s time to sit down and focus on “schoolwork.” And English gets a bad rap anyway as a “boring” required class.
Literature and Grammar
It’s easy to make the literature part more fun and meaningful by choosing books that appeal to your child’s interests and adding in short stories and poetry that complement them as well.For the grammar side of it, try giving your student a grammar handbook and letting him use it as a reference book instead of assigning them endless grammar and punctuation exercises to complete. When he makes errors in his speech or writing, refer him to the relevant section of the handbook so he can learn how to correct them.
So what about writing?
No, texting does not count as composition, but there are some fun ways to motivate middle schoolers to write. Think outside the box, or the page, a bit, and give students an alternative to the traditional essay once in a while. There’s nothing wrong with a three- to five-paragraph essay from time to time, but there are other options that might motivate reluctant writers. The rules are the same, however, and they must still use good grammar and sentence structure, with a clear theme and thesis.
- Teach your child that writing is a process. The finished paper is only the result of time spent brainstorming, note taking, pre-writing, writing, revising, re-writing, revising again, and careful editing. Instead of giving a grade only for the completed paper, give grades as you go along at each stage of the process. This will give teens an incentive to spend more time at each stage, carefully crafting something they will be proud of.
- Chopped–Give your child three words as “ingredients” that he must incorporate into a story. Using a timer, have him write non-stop for thirty minutes. In this activity, anything goes. Don’t worry about errors or grammar. The goal is just to get their story on the page. After time is up, they can go back and polish it if they’d like or just leave it as is. My son was frustrated that he didn’t have time to finish his story and decided to keep writing after time was up! Read what he came up with using these ingredients: a Nalgene bottle, the President, and a slot machine. (narrative writing: telling a story).
- Propaganda posters–Have your students design posters to back a cause. This can be anything they are interested in or related to a specific book or historical era you are studying. They must have a clear thesis, and everything on the poster must support it. Give them a large sheet of paper, markers, and time to let their creativity flow. Don’t forget to tell them to illustrate it! The idea is to get kids thinking about how to present an argument with evidence (persuasive writing: convincing your reader).
- Cartoons–Students can design a cartoon and add captions and dialogue. Encourage them to try to tell the story through the pictures, using the words as the secondary element to the cartoon. Then, discuss how to make the words enhance the cartoon and make it funnier or more understandable. This activity isn’t about artistic ability, so encourage kids who don’t think they can draw to use stick figures. The cartoon should use words and pictures together to set a scene (descriptive writing: painting a picture).
- Newspaper–This activity is a good complement to history or literature. Students design a “front page,” complete with title, headlines, and news articles. Either allow students to come up with it all on their own, or assign a specific date for them to “report” on. When we read To Kill a Mockingbird, my son designed a “Maycomb Gazette” and reported on the major events from the novel. (Expository writing: just the facts).