23 November 2009 10:31 AM

Writing Tips for Middle Schoolers

by Dr. Rick

In honor of last week’s National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, today’s blog will focus on writing tips.


I recently wrote about summer writing for kids and received these precocious thoughts about the tips I offered from Alexa.


“I’m actually a kid (6th) and I very much enjoy writing.  But these are supposedly aimed at younger children, such as third grade.  Is there any way you could post a blog dealing with writing tips for my age group?  I’m not a dim witted child, so please don’t make them only one notch higher.  Thank you so much, though.  Some of these tips ARE helpful, ‘Pretend you lived 100 years ago.  What’s summer vacation like for you?’  for example.” 

I love this!  Yes, Alexa, I have some tips for you.  First of all, congratulations on your initiative and interest in writing.  Your parents and teachers must be very proud of you.  Here are some words of advice and tips for you as a budding author.


Alexa, this blog’s for you!

  1. Google the Killgallons.  There’s a series of books for children, pre-teens, teens, and college students by Don and Jenny Killgallon, two veteran educators and writers (and friends, I’m proud to say) who show you how to improve your skills through such practices as sentence scrambling, imitating, combining, and expanding.  Then they work you through paragraphs and beyond.  You’ll be amazed at what you’ll write when you follow their advice and practice.  (I used their books with my own writing students, with surprising results.  Students who never considered themselves “writers” were soon writing with amazing flexibility and skill.)  Ask your school librarian to have these books on the shelves.

  2. Work on your vocabulary.  The more words you know, the better you can express yourself.   Read as much as possible.  Use the dictionary and Thesaurus often.  (You’ll be surprised at how many words you’ll pick up as you look up other words.)  Play word games and puzzles (I’m an addicted “cruciverbalist,” crossword puzzler) especially with friends who share your writing passion.  Use the words you’ve learned.  Try to learn words in groups or themes (animals, sports, cars, any special interest) rather than randomly.  If you prefer the random approach, you’re like popular American writer Jack London, who, legend has it, put a new vocabulary word on his shaving mirror each day.  Keep a log or journal of your new words and how you use them.

  3. Use figurative language.  Using similes, metaphors, alliteration, personification, analogies, and symbols, for example, will make your stories and articles more grown-up and interesting to read.   Practice writing compelling images with unusual and interesting comparisons and contrasts.  Appeal to your readers’ imagination by helping them find new ways of looking at the world.  For example, favorite American poet Robert Frost writes that birch trees are “like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair.”

  4. Read, read, read.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Read the newspaper (online or hard copy) for its reporting, features, and opinions.  Challenge yourself and stretch your skills with some “hard” authors and books now and then.  Ask trusted adults about their favorite books.

  5. Have favorite authors.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Prose and poetry.  Playwrights and essayists.  Living and dead.  As you read these authors, think about why you admire their writing – is it their facility with the language, their inventiveness, their plots, their opinions, their descriptiveness?  If you know why you like a particular author’s writing, you can figure out how her writing can influence yours.  Find others who like your favorite authors, too.  Spend time with these new friends, talking about the authors and their books.  Write to your favorite contemporary author through his or her publisher.  You may get a personal response.  You never know.

  6. Write daily.  Having a writing routine is important for most authors.  Most will tell you that they have a favorite or most creative time of the day to write.  Find out what your best time is and make it a personal goal that you’re going to write daily at that time.  If you think of yourself as a writer, you’ll begin to act like one.

  7. Develop your noticing skills.  Stay alert to the world around you.  Notice sunsets, colors, changing seasons, the stars and moon, the behaviors of people, what motivates us, what scares us, what inspires us.  Good writers have highly developed powers of observation.

  8. Write for a small audience.  You probably won’t be a “best selling author” right away, so start small.  Write for one or two friends you trust to get their opinions.  These may be friends who are also interested in writing, so you can all help each other out by supporting one another, gently critiquing each other’s writing, and offering helpful suggestion and encouragement to one another.

  9. Write a few things for the “public.”  When you’re ready, try writing your family’s holiday newsletter, an article for your neighborhood newspaper, or an original short story or essay.  The best writers, musicians, and performers start out by “workshopping” their new works in front of small audiences before performing for the general public.

  10. Join your school newspaper or literary magazine.  Writing for your school newspaper or literary magazine is excellent background and experience.  If your school doesn’t have a newspaper or literary magazine, start one.  Present your idea to your language arts teacher or principal.  Be ready to explain how this would be a good idea for students, for the community, and for the school.

I hope these suggestions will inspire you to continue your writing, Alexa.  Readers, any other advice you’d like to offer Alexa?  Just click on “Comments” below.




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