Writing in the middle school classroom should be fun yet also meaningful. These blogs contain fun ideas and best practices to teach students in middle school to write stories, essays, poems, and more.

Text Dependent Analysis Prompt for Our Writing Test

I teach in South Carolina, and this is our first year having a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test.  There are so many steps in teaching twelve and thirteen year old students to successfully accomplish this type of writing.

Scroll down to see our “GAME PLAN” for the test day!

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One of the main steps in preparing students for a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test is to teach them the difference between analyzing and simply summarizing.  I do this early on with the help of pictures.  For example, I place a picture of a family on the screen. I then ask students to tell me what they see.  They respond by saying things like, “There are three children.”  “The house is a mess.”  “The father has a mess on the counter and flour on his face, and the mother is dressed up”.  I then tell them to analyze the picture.  What I am looking for is an answer like the following: “I think the traditional roles are reversed in this household.  It looks like the mother is going to work, and the father is a stay at home dad.  It also looks like the dad is struggling a little with the cooking and cleaning.”  I then ask this student to support his/her statement.  She does so by pointing out ways in which the picture proves what she is saying.  This is the easiest way to show what analysis is and what it is not.  Analyzing is not simply pointing out what is there.  Instead it is digging in deeper to discover something and then looking to the text to support whatever you think or believe.

Of course, this is only one small step in preparing students for a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test.  We have a tremendous amount of other things to cover too, including simple things like how to write an introduction.  Students must know how to write a topic sentence, for example, which is a huge feat within itself!

I did want to share our “game plan” that we go over before the day of the test.  We expect all of our students to follow these steps on the day of the test.  Before they even attempt to write, they first must analyze the prompt! Below is our detailed game plan.

You can also print this text dependent analysis for our writing test game plan by clicking here!


Game Plan

  • Before reading the text, find the text dependent analysis writing prompt.  That way you will have in mind what you will have to write about before you read!
  • Read the prompt three times – YES 3 Times!!
  • Underline what it is asking you to do.
  • Pull out key words from the prompt, and think about it.  Make sure you are not missing anything!  What exactly are they telling you to do? Spend time analyzing the prompt!
  • Write your topic sentence – the one for your entire paper.  Remember, use words from the prompt to write it.
  • Now, go back and read the text.  It may be an article, a story, a poem, or two different things to read.  Annotate the text as you go – keeping in mind what you will have to write about.
  • Before writing, read your prompt again.
  • Stop and think for a few minutes.  How many paragraphs will you need?  How will you do what they are asking you to do?  Go back and look over the text thinking about what you must do.
  • Brainstorm!!! Use scratch paper to get your ideas out.  Write what the prompt is asking you to do at the top of your scratch paper.  You will need to continuously look at it to make sure you are writing about what you are supposed to write about! You can do a bubble map, a T chart, a list, or whatever helps you to get your thoughts out on paper.
  • Plan out your paragraphs with topic sentences for each and bullets for your main points. (Now you are organizing – introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Go find evidence that you can use BEFORE you write – circle it or highlight it.  You may want to write these quotes from the text on your scratch paper.  Remember, you MUST cite evidence to prove what you are saying.
  • Write a rough draft.  For the LOVE of your English teacher, make sure you CITE TEXTUAL EVIDENCE!!!!!!!!  Also, make sure you stick to your topic sentence and explain yourself.  Don’t forget to hammer the topic sentence home in the last sentence of each paragraph.
  • Revise your rough draft – Work on your word choice and make sure your essay makes sense.  Do you need to add more evidence?  Did you “Hammer home” the topic sentence by the end of each paragraph? Can you make your introduction better?  Can you improve your conclusion?
  • Edit your rough draft –Does it fit?  If not, what can you take out?  Did you capitalize the beginning of every sentence?  Look for grammar gremlins (its, it’s, etc.)  Do you have the correct punctuation at the ends of your sentences?  Do you have commas where needed?  Check your spelling.
  • Write your final draft in the text booklet. Take your time, and write as neatly as you can.  Make sure you indent.
  • Read over your final draft and make neat changes.

I wish you and your students the best of luck!  🙂


Middle School ELA Christmas Writing Activity

I wanted to share my favorite middle school ELA Christmas writing activity that I do each year a couple of days before our Christmas break.   We  play a gift exchange game, but students do not have to spend any money.   The best part is that students have a ton of fun, and I tie in some writing instruction as well!

So, here’s how this middle school ELA Christmas writing activity works.  Students bring in something from home – nothing new and something that they can give away. They can bring it in wrapped or wrap it at school with wrapping paper provided by me. The number one rule is that they must not tell anyone what their gift is, not even their BFF!  It can be a gag gift but must be appropriate for school. I’ve had students bring in everything from a potato to a cute pencil pouch.  Some students get really creative.  One girl brought in a can of beans with a note that said “homemade bubble bath”.  I usually spend some time giving examples of what is and what is not appropriate.

Once students have brought in their gifts, we complete the first writing assignment.  I explain to students that we will be playing a gift exchange game and that someone in the class will choose their gift.  The thing is, however, students will not be able to open the gifts that they choose.  Instead, they will read the paragraph out loud that describes the gift.  A day or two before the game, students must write a paragraph describing the gift in an interesting way.  They cannot use the name of the gift or anything that would be a “dead give away”.  Instead, they must describe what someone could do with this gift in an imaginative, creative way.  For example, if a student brings in a potato, in the paragraph, I could not write, “This is something you bake or boil and eat.”  I could not use the word potato.  Instead, I would have to describe an imaginative use for it, like, “This will be a perfect paper weight.  If you are often bothered by your papers flying all over the place when your windows are open, then this is the ideal gift for you.  It is just the right size, weight, and color to nicely hold your papers in place.  Also, this gift can be used as a pencil holder.  It can hold at least ten or twelve pencils or pens nicely.”

Once all of the wrapped gifts are in class and all of the paragraphs are written, we are ready to play the game.  This is perfect for the day before the break!  Each wrapped gift has the paragraph with it.  I pull Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to decide the order in which students choose gifts.  Each student chooses a gift and reads the paragraph out loud.  No one can open a gift until everyone has one.  Students can “steal” a gift from another student when it is their turn or choose from the pile.  Of course, the only thing they have to go on is the paragraph, but if a paragraph does a good job describing some wonderful use of the gift, people will want to “steal”it.  I allow a gift to be “stolen” three times before it is “frozen”.

Once all students have a gift, they open them one at a time so we can all oooh and ahhhh or laugh.  Then, it is time for our final writing assignment.   Students must write a thank you note to the person who gave the gift thanking them for it and telling them how they will use it.  Students must be creative with their thank you notes and be grateful no matter what it is that they received.

christmas gift game for blog

This middle school ELA Christmas writing activity is loads of fun, adds a festive atmosphere to your classroom, and includes two creative writing assignments!  Click here for the free download of the directions, a rubric, and a cute handout for kids to use to write their paragraph.  Merry Christmas!

P.S.  I always bring in a few extra “gifts” for those students who may forget one.  Remember, anything can be a gift, even things like paperclips or erasers in your teacher desk drawer!

Looking for more ELA based Christmas lessons?  Check out our fun and meaningful activity that focuses on analyzing figurative language in the song “Mr. Grinch”!

Illustration for Thanksgiving From the Turkey's Point of View Writing Assignment

Thanksgiving From the Turkey’s Point of View Writing Assignment

Have you ever had your students complete a Thanksgiving from the turkey’s point of view writing assignment?  If not, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to teach point of view and voice.  We have our students complete this writing activity in early November to allow us time to share them and discuss the power of point of view and voice.  Of course, this assignment would work well for late November too.  You can add in lessons on voice, point of view, and suspense.  

Check out our free resource to guide you in this lesson.

We provide two choices for our Thanksgiving from the turkey’s point of view writing assignment.  Option one guides students in thinking through things in the way that a turkey would.  For example, a turkey wouldn’t call a gun a “gun”.  It may call it a “bang stick”.  Before writing, students will brainstorm the way a turkey may see or describe ordinary objects.  It is always fun to let students to share their stories after they are finished to hear just how creative they were in describing things from the turkey’s point of view.

Option two provides prompts for students to write in a way that builds suspense.  After writing this story, they can use this same suspense building technique in other stories that they write.  There is also a self evaluation and a rubric included.  We hope you enjoy this fun lesson!


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Happy Turkey Day!


Dead Word Funeral ~ A Lesson in Word Choice

It’s that time again in my seventh grade ELA classroom, time for our “Dead Word Funeral”.  It’s a somber, yet exciting event.  My students dress and act the part.  We carry tissue out to the “grave site” and shed tears as we read our eulogies. We nod our heads and say an occasional, “I’m going to miss him.”   We even sing songs! This is a super fun activity to teach a valuable and unforgettable lesson on word choice.  Here is how I go about it:

  • As a class, we brainstorm a list of words that we want to bury.  I warn students that once we bury the words, we will no longer be allowed to use them in writing assignments. Whenever a student suggests we bury a word like love, I always say, “What are you going to write instead?” When they see that there are not many words to substitute it, we move on without adding it to our list.  Instead, we choose words that have multiple synonyms and words that just seem elementary for seventh graders (big, little, etc.).  Click here to see a list of the words we are saying goodbye to this year in our dead word funeral.
  • Next, I pull Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to let them choose the word they want.  (I use Popsicle sticks for everything.)  When I pull a stick, that student chooses his/her word, and then I pull another. This is a fair way to let them choose.  I try to come up with enough words for each student in the class to have a different one.
  • Now, students are ready to create both an obituary and eulogy for their beloved word.  This is the fun part, as they have the chance to be very creative with this fun writing assignment.  For example, students must come up with a list of the deceased word’s family and friends.  The word Run could be married to Whisper and have a child named Tiptoe.  Click here to see a list of my requirements for the eulogy and obituary.
  • Students are given an index card on which to write their word.  These cards will be placed in the casket during the dead word funeral.  Students make their words big and colorful and decorate them accordingly.
  • On my part, there are a few things that I do to prepare for the funeral.  Some years, I go all out.  I call our local mortuary and ask to borrow a small casket.  Our local funeral home has display caskets that are small and perfect for this activity.  Other years, when I don’t feel like going through the hassle, I make my own casket out of a box or plastic tub.  If you drape a black sheet over it and call it a casket, it will work.   I set the casket up on a desk or table.   I also have several tombstones that I set up on the floor or ground (if we hold the funeral outside) around the casket.  These can be made out of cardboard or Styrofoam.  You can also find some really cheap around Halloween. One year, I even made cake squares with all of the names of the words we were burying on them!  Most years, I tell students that people always eat after a funeral,  and then I ask some of them to bring in snacks to share with the class.  Oh, I also download some music appropriate for walking out to the funeral.  This always sets the mood.
  • On the day of the dead word funeral, students dress nicely or in black.  As the music plays, we walk quietly and in a single file line to the “grave site”.  I have tissue on hand for those students who are very upset.  I act as the officiator of the funeral and open with a few words about the deceased.  Then, students take turns reading their eulogies.  Once these are read, we sing two songs that I have written for the occasion.  Then, one by one,  students walk in a line to the casket and say their goodbyes as they place the index card with the word on it into the casket.
  • When the music begins again, we somberly return to the classroom to eat snacks.
  • I collect the index cards from the coffin and hang them on a bulletin board.  For the rest of the year, students are not allowed to use the words in their writing.
  • We have created a packet of everything we use to hold our dead word funeral.  In this resource, you will find examples of eulogies and obituaries,a fill-in-the-blank eulogy and obituary for students who may be struggling  with writing their own, the lyrics and tunes of the songs that we sing at the funeral, as well as other practice with writing strong verbs.  Click here to purchase our complete Weak Words, Dead and Gone Packet.
  • Have fun!