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Middle School Success Series: Writing

Are You Ready for High School?

The change from Middle School to High School can often be a jarring one. The increased academic rigor, shift in social dynamics, and general mentality of “everything you do actually matters now” can create a lot of pressure for students who are moving into their Freshmen year.  While the shift itself is an unavoidable one, there are many ways to start preparing now in order to minimize the adjustment and equip yourself for success. Last week we covered the importance of establishing strong math foundations. This week we will be looking at preparing student writing abilities to prepare for the rigor of high school, college, and beyond.

Write More

High school will dramatically increase the volume and range of what you will be expected to write.  These include:

  • Informational writing that involves thesis driven research (AP Seminar/Research)
  • Expository writing that involves persuasive analysis of primary and secondary sources (AP English Language and Literature, the AP Histories)
  • Formal academic writing that focuses on data, processes, and analysis (lab reports in any of the sciences)
  • Creative writing that focuses on the personal narrative (English at all grades, college application essays)
  • Presenting each of these writing styles effectively under timed conditions (In class writing assessments, most AP free response questions, the SAT/ACT essay)


The critical skills necessary for academic writing success that many current high school students tend to struggle with are often fundamental, and include:

  • Brainstorming – Students don’t know where or how to begin organizing their ideas
  • Developing – Students struggle to make nuanced arguments and identify/properly utilize the information necessary to support them.
  • Structuring – Student writing is often tangential or stream of consciousness, lacking connectivity and flow
  • Expressing – The basic tools of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax are sorely lacking, thereby limiting student creativity and effectiveness of expression


Many high school assessments are designed with the assumption that students are at least proficient in these basic skills. This is exponentially true for AP level courses. What this indicates is that students should be building these fundamentals during their middle school years. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Read more – I cannot stress how important this is. Familiarity with a range of writing styles is essential to helping students develop their own voice, grow comfortable with switching between writing styles, and improve their creativity. Writing often begins with emulating. For more information on how to read more, check out our previous post.
  • Target your vocabulary growth – Students often struggle to find more ways to say the same thing. Help students build their vocabulary initially by focusing on finding synonyms for frequently used words. Creating a list of 20 different ways to say “said”, for example, will dramatically improve any narrative writing that involves dialogue or academic writing that involves interviews or analyzing a speech. Other common words include: “eat”, “drink”, any verbs related to movement, and adjectives related to size.
  • Demand feedback and iterate – One of the biggest challenges with the frenzied pace of education is the lack of feedback and correction. Writing all too often never goes further than a first draft stamped with a grade. Find a way to get feedback from teachers, tutors, any adults, or even provide feedback yourself. Taking this into account and editing accordingly is essential to student writing improvement. This also encourages students to start early on their writing – knowing that they may be two, three, or more drafts away from a polished product.
  • Complete a grammar workbook – This is dry, dull stuff. It is also essential stuff that inhibits student understanding and expression.
    • Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach by Jenny and Donald Killgallon is an excellent workbook that teaches grammar in context
    • is a great online resource for regular, trackable grammar practice
  • Build a portfolio – Writing is a matter of practice, receiving feedback, and improving. One exercise that I do with some of my middle school students is that I will pull a persuasive prompt from this New York Times list at the beginning of the week. Students are expected to write a 250-300 word response. They have 1 week and 2 drafting opportunities to turn this response into the best version that they are capable of within that time. By the end of a semester they will have a 12-15 sample “portfolio” to review and reflect on to demonstrate their growth and highlight strengths and weaknesses.


That’s it! Writing is a skill that develops over a long period of time and requires investment from both the student and the instructor/parent providing feedback. The above are some ways to get started!

We will be taking a break from our Middle School Success Series for a while but stay tuned for other advice, news about upcoming classes and events, and more!