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Teaching Middle School Writers

What Every English Teacher Needs to Know

By Laura Robb

Straight-from-the-classroom writing samples and videos give teachers the opportunity to see how Laura uses compelling questions and powerful mentor texts to teach writing, support struggling writers, and weave twenty-first century literacies into the writing curriculum.

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Full Description

“My whole goal with this book was to come at teaching writing from the angle that matters most: students’ perspective. They taught me what I needed to know to make this book live up to their passion for writing.” Laura Robb

Adolescents have robust and rewarding writing lives outside of school that involve journals, emails, text messages, blogs, and an astounding array of genres. Unlike their personal reading lives that teachers frequently tap into, their personal writings typically exist under the curricular radar—that is until now.

While grounded in the common schedule constraints and curriculum demands of middle school, Laura Robb’s Teaching Middle School Writers offers teachers lessons and routines that are uncommonly attuned to adolescents’ developmental and social needs. As she taps into the energy and enthusiasm of adolescents’ personal writing lives, Laura presents:

  • writing plans that support first drafts
  • strategies for crafting leads that grab and endings that satisfy
  • grammar lessons that address writing conventions
  • editing lessons that have students revise their writing before the teacher reads it
  • guidelines for grading and responding to student work.

Straight-from-the-classroom writing samples and videos give teachers the opportunity to see how Laura uses compelling questions and powerful mentor texts to teach writing, support struggling writers, and weave twenty-first century literacies into the writing curriculum. Throughout, teachers learn ways of connecting to students’ lives in order to bring out their best writing, their best self.

Watch a video overview.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)



Chapter 1: Narrowing the Gulf Between Writing for School and Writing for Self
Chapter 2: Improving Students’ Creative and Analytic Writing
Chapter 3: Using Mentor Texts to Arrive at Compelling Reasons to Write
Chapter 4: Making Powerful Writing Happen Day to Day: Routines that Work
Chapter 5: Making Powerful Writing Happen Day to Day: Lessons that Work
Chapter 6: Setting Criteria, Revising, and Editing
Chapter 7: Conferring: Answering Middle Schoolers’ Need to Collaborate
Chapter 8: Writing Conferences in Action
Chapter 9: Analytical Exchanges Online: Blogs and Beyond
Conclusion: Making It Your Own
A Statistical Analysis of the National Survey
A. Katherine Paterson’s Writing Plans for Bridge to Terabithia.
B. Jean Van Leeuwen’s Writing Plans for Cabin on Trouble Creek.
Works Cited

DVD Contents
Footage of student interviews about their out-of-school writing, two mentor text lessons, and editable reproducible form files.

Classroom Resources

  • Interview Questions About Writing
  • Ten Questions About Writing
  • The Survey
  • Sample Letter to Parents About the Writing Curriculum
  • Ideas for Web Based Collaborative Writing
  • Some Criteria for Editing and Evaluating Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry
  • Letter to Parents About Blogging
  • Sample Blogger's Contract
  • Using a Wiki
  • Picture Books for Exploring Compelling Issues
  • Content and Style Questions that Support Revising
  • Questions that Help Students Edit for Writing Conventions
  • Editing Symbols
  • Status of the Class Form
  • Peer Evaluation
  • Self Evaluation
  • Writing Conference Form
  • Write and Perform a Readers Theater Script

Teaching Take-Aways: Tips for Success

  • Ten Tips for Interviewing Students About Their Writing Lives
  • Tips for Dynamic Mentor Text Lessons
  • Tips for Conferring with Writers


Companion Resources

Study Guide

Product Support

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who would benefit from this book?
Teachers at all levels of teaching writing. There will be lessons on craft and technique, using mentor texts, lessons on teaching grammar to improve students' writing, strategies for improving struggling writers, the benefits of establishing writing criteria for each piece, integrating twenty-first century literacies into your curriculum. Whether you're teaching one or ten years, there will be something for you.

2. How will this book support students who don't get mini-lessons?
Robb will show you how to develop scaffolds, know when to reteach, and how conferring can bring students along.

3. Why confer?
One-on-one conferences—short, three to five minute focused conferences--can move students forward. To make this point, you'll observe Robb conferring with students on the DVD. In the book, you'll study ways to use conferences during each writing stage. You'll also see how conferring helps you build trust with students and get to know them better. It's the ideal forum for scaffolding and reteaching.

4. How can I confer when I have so many students and such little time?
First, you'll show students how to confer with each other. You'll find forms that help students peer revise, peer edit, and self-revise and self-edit before you even read a plan or draft. With four to five classes a day, Robb will show you how to reduce your work load by teaching students to work together. The result? Better first drafts for you to read and more time to confer and scaffold.

5. How do I support students who struggle with writing?
Robb will share the research of Graham, Perin, and Harris on helping learning disabled, special education, and struggling students. She shows you how to enlarge these students' mental models of the writing process and emphasize the importance of planning. With detailed plans, these (and all) students can improve. Included in the book are writing plans by Katherine Paterson for Bridge to Terabithia and Jean Van Leeuwen’s plan for Cabin on Trouble Creek. Students can study how professional writers’ plans and observe how much thought goes into writing during this stage.

6. How will this book help me with test prep?
First, teaching students to write well is a sure way to passing the test at high levels. Robb places test prep and follow-up lessons in the context of writing workshop and more traditional classrooms. She'll invite you to simulate your state test every 6 to 8 weeks. Then, with colleagues, read papers to find strengths and areas that need reteaching or additional teaching. Using students' writing—whether choice or test-prep-- to determine your mini-lessons and scaffolds will enable them to improve all year.

7. How can I model excellent writing when I don't like to write?
Robb will make these feelings melt away as she shows you how to use mentor or teaching texts by the best authors. You can watch Robb doing this on the DVD in the book and in Chapter 3.

8. How is this book different from traditional workshop?
The lessons Robb offers work well in a workshop setting or in a more traditional classroom. Her lessons are the timeless ones and in the book you’ll explore ways to involve students in peer conferences as well as self and peer evaluation of each process stage. However, Robb frames her writing curriculum around a national survey and around contemporary researchers such as Daniel Pink, Howard Gardner, Stephen Graham, Dolores Perin, and David Coker as well as recommendations made by NCTE and Writing Next.

9. Why is it important to set criteria and how does this help writers?
Criteria grow out of the mini-lessons you teach and what students already know. Criteria let students know writing expectations before they plan and draft. Criteria make it easy for you, peers, and the students themselves to respond to, revise and edit, and grade writing.

10. How does this book support current classroom teachers?
This book will provide you with strategies and ideas for meeting the needs of the wide-range of writing abilities in your classes. You'll learn key lessons that can improve students' writing and help them achieve on state tests and at the same time learn to communicate with diverse audiences in meaningful ways. It will enable you to frame a writing curriculum that responds to what adolescents need and what school districts recommend.

11. Does this book offer teachers in training and students in schools of education special insight?
Robb bases this book on a national survey interpreted by the statistics department of Michigan StateUniversity, integrates the survey’s results with anecdotal data from students and teachers, and includes contemporary research on the writing process, the book represents what preservice teachers and those in graduate programs need. Steve Graham, Currey-Ingram Professor, Vanderbuilt University describes Robb’s book this way: “This is the real deal—practical, effective, teacher friendly, and engaging. A must read for anyone interested in teaching writing to middle school students.”


“Laura Robb’s book has the feeling of a classified document smuggled out of the teen nation about their writing lives in and outside of school. And this top-secret information, this remarkable intelligence she has gathered, comes not a minute too soon. Her findings are fascinating—and important, for she translates these findings into practice for us, showing us how adolescents’ need for choice and responsibility can fit within lessons on using mentor texts, style, grammar, revision, editing, and familiar classroom structures.” Jim Burke, Author of What’s the Big Idea?

“Teaching Middle School Writers is one of the rare instructional books that draw on current writing research. In this unique text, Robb synthesizes published work and her own research and experience to address issues critical to middle school teachers.” David Coker, EdD, University of Delaware

“This is the real deal—practical, effective, teacher friendly, and engaging. A must-read for anyone interested in teaching writing to middle school students.”
Steve Graham, Currey-Ingram Professor, Vanderbilt University