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In the Middle, Third Edition

A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents

By Nancie Atwell

With 80 percent new material, In the Middle, Third Edition brings Nancie Atwell’s methods up to date. Nancie guides newcomers to a rich, satisfying practice while sharing her latest innovations and refinements with those who have made In the Middle their teaching touchstone.

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“The third edition of In the Middle is my invitation to English teachers, both veterans and novices, to understand writing and reading from the inside and recognize our potential to influence our students’ literacy for a lifetime. Like the two that preceded it, this edition represents my current best set of blueprints for how I build and maintain a writing-reading workshop—the expectations, demonstrations, models, choices, resources, rules and rituals, pieces of advice, words of caution, and ways of thinking, planning, looking, and talking that make it possible for every student to read with understanding and pleasure and aspire to and produce effective writing.”

—Nancie Atwell

With 80 percent new material, In the Middle, Third Edition brings Nancie Atwell’s methods up to date. Nancie guides newcomers to a rich, satisfying practice while sharing her latest innovations and refinements with those who have made In the Middle their teaching touchstone.

Grounded in her classroom practice and in response to questions and requests from twenty years of professional development workshops, Nancie provides:

  • detailed procedures for organizing the classroom for workshop teaching and a first-week launch sequence
  • hundreds of minilessons and reproducibles that make workshop teaching inviting and doable
  • hundreds of new pieces of student writing to use as mentor texts—many are national prize winners
  • new, detailed genre studies of poetry, memoirs, reviews, essays, reportage, humor and homage, and short fiction
  • a new look at writing conferences, including red flags to notice and strategies for responding to them
  • techniques for conferring with individuals about the books they're reading
  • a revamping of her widely-adopted literary letters as letter-essays that more than satisfy today’s standards for critical reading

This is the chronicle of Nancie Atwell’s courageous, compelling journey. Just as the second edition documented her evolution from 1987, this book shows how she continues to shape and refine her teaching, based on her perceptions of what students need and her growing knowledge of literature and the craft of writing. As Nancie describes it, “The third edition of In the Middle is everything I’ve learned over the past three decades that makes writing-reading workshop the only logical way to teach English.”

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)

What Will I Find New to the Third Edition?

In the Middle: What is the 80% new material? Those who have relied on the second edition of In the Middle, have asked us whether they really need to get the third edition. So we asked one of our crackerjack editors to read the second and third editions and report on the new content so that we could share it with you. Her report: fans of the second edition will be missing out if they don’t read the new edition.

Here is our editor’s full report:

Nancie remains true to her ideals and the workshop approach. Readers of the second edition of In the Middle will recognize the basic workshop elements and find Nancie Atwell's respect for teaching middle schoolers undimmed. Additional years of experience have yielded her new insights into students’ writing and reading and produced improvements in how best to develop middle school learners.

PART I, Workshop Essentials

  • More how-tos: e.g. dialogue to model check-ins that are brisk and brief, topics to teach in memoir, details on how to fit writing-reading workshop into 85-minute blocks or 50-minute periods, minilessons on teaching free-verse poetry
  • The Daily Poem and Icebreaking: In the "Getting Started" chapter these are now specifically named and described in depth. In the second edition, these workshop routines received limited description. Now Nancie’s Daily Poem routine and early-year Icebreaking is given much more depth.
  • More about reading workshop: Nancie gives reading workshop more importance in the third edition.
  • She has shifted her emphasis from how she developed reading workshop to the specifics of running the workshop and its benefits for students
  • Expectations for reading workshop are detailed, including using critical vocabulary, keeping a "someday" list in writing-reading handbook, and writing a letter essay every three weeks
  • Red flags of writing: The chapter "Responding to Writers and Writing" has been almost completely revised and now features twelve new "red flags" of writing culled from Nancie’s many years of reading student writing. Each red flag is named and suggestions are given for conferring with writers to head them in a better direction
  • Letter-essays: Nancie has replaced her well-known weekly letters in the "Responding to Readers and Reading" chapter with letter-essays that students write every three weeks. She shows how these letteressays, which are about books a reader has finished, reflect her evolving thinking about providing a bridge to expository writing while also easing the paper load.
  • Handover: This concept has been has been expanded beyond writing to encompass reading workshop and to prepare students to write their letter-essays.
  • Off-the-page writing: A new concept introduced in the third edition is a way of inserting time and reflection into writing.

Part II, Genre Studies

  • New emphasis and minilessons on poetry: Vastly revamped because of its increasing importance to her teaching, the "Poetry" chapter details why it is the first genre Nancie’s students write in and why it is the basis for many of the craft writing lessons. Free-verse is the "workhorse form of poetry," and there are eight minilessons that teach free-verse poetry and its conventions
  • More specificity about memoirs: Expanded with more specific and intentional teaching recommendations, "Memoir" now integrates reading and listening to memoirs as models for writing them. In the second edition, there are only lists of memoir titles. The third edition also provides more specific elements of memoir to teach: leads, sensory details, dialogue, balancing elements, time transition, conclusions, and reading as a critic
  • Micro fiction: Another major innovation is micro fiction replacing the short story in Nancie’s "Short Fiction" chapter. Much of students’ short story writing was "unmemorable and formulaic" or "heavyhanded and predictable." Short-short fiction helps concentrate the lessons of fiction and "is the genre to hand over to middle school writers of fiction."
  • New details on expository writing: "Taking Care of Business" narrows the focus to four of the types of expository writing found in the second edition, but each one is now presented with more specifics, structure, and examples in its own section
  • "Humor and Homage": A brand new chapter to the book that supports not only writing but also close reading and the writer’s craft: "Parody and homage stretch students not just as writers but as readers and critics, too. To lampoon someone else’s writing requires close reading, attention to detail and tone, and understanding of theme. It may well be the ultimate form of literary analysis."
  • New student writing samples: All new samples reflect more recent books and topics

Nancie has essentially given us a new book because her teaching continues to change, and because she seeks innovation each day. If you’ve read the previous edition, don’t miss out on her latest practices.



Part I: Workshop Essentials
1. Learning How to Teach English
        My Teaching Story
        Finding a Balance
        What About Reading?
2. Getting Ready
        Making Time
        The Room
        Folders and Forms
3. Getting Started
        The Daily Poem
        The Launch: Writing Workshop
        The Launch: Reading Workshop
4. Essential Lessons for Writers
5. Essential Lessons for Readers
6. Responding to Writers
        Writing Conference Guidelines
        Red Flags and Responses
7. Responding to Readers and Reading
        Reading Check-Ins
        Letter-Essays About Literature
8. Valuing and Evaluating
        Teacher Assessment
Part II: Genre Studies
A Word About Genres
9. Poetry
        Free Verse: Build a Toolbox
        Ideas That Matter
        Some Forms
10. Memoirs
11. Short Fiction
12. Taking Care of Business
        Advocacy Journalism
13. Humor and Homage


A. Quotations to Inspire Writers, Readers, and Their Teachers
B. Student Writing Record
C. Student Reading Record
D. Individual Proofreading List
E. Editing Checksheet
F. Peer Writing Conference Record
G. Spelling Study Form
H. Thesauri for Writers Who Walk and Look Too Much
I. Editing Symbols
J. Ways Student Writers Can Go Public
K. Nancie's Workshop Cycle
L. Substitute Plans for Writing-Reading Workshop


Companion Resources


  • "This classic has been reworked with over 80% new material, but one thing remains unchanged: Nancie Atwell has created a masterpiece that walks readers through the intricacies of successfully teaching middle schoolers about reading and writing."

  • —Jenni Miller, middleweb

  • “Nancie Atwell is a master teacher, reader, writer, and educational innovator. In this comprehensive volume, she draws on a lifetime of classroom experience implementing her signature writing–reading workshops. Fittingly, the volume conveys the broad overview, the fascinating details, and the indispensable middle.”
  • —Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education, author of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed

  • “Nancie has written a professional book that will grip your heart like poetry does, will cause you to turn pages with anticipation as if you’re reading a novel, and will offer up endlessly practical advice from the sagest mentor you can dream up. Whether you teach kindergarteners or twelfth graders, open your classroom door to Nancy’s ideas and you’ll create something magical: a place where you really know your students, where you challenge the status quo, where instruction begins from student strengths and interests, and where students in the classroom do what real readers and writers do in the world. The rewards (for teacher and students alike) are well worth the work.”
  • — Jennifer Serravallo, author of The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook

  • In the Middle is the greatest book on literacy teaching ever written in this country. It is our epic, our Odyssey. In this third edition Nancie Atwell offers us the culmination of her four decades of working with adolescents—the most richly detailed account of a teaching practice we are ever likely to get. This edition retains the bedrock principles of the earlier editions—the emphasis on student choice, the importance of being an “insider” as a reader and writer, and on the power of voluminous practice. But we can see her evolution as well: the new stress on “handover” where there is explicit teacher modeling. We can see how poetry has moved to the center of her practice, along with innovative ways of approaching fiction writing. As readers, we live on intimate terms with her; we hear the introduction to her lessons, her conversation with students. She takes us through her most minute decision making, showing us what intentional teaching looks like. It’s a gift, a grand summing up, to which we can only say, Thank you, Nancie Atwell.”
  • — Thomas Newkirk, author of Minds Made for Stories

  • “I was just returning to teaching when a colleague brought me In the Middle. It was the beginning of the school year, and I stayed up half the night reading, underlining, making notes. I went out that weekend and bought blank books for all my students, revised my beginning-of-school, first days plan, gathered books, and began. I haven’t looked back, except to read more, share more of Nancie’s work, read all of her books, and share Lessons That Change Writers often. I’m now a literacy coach, and her books are the first ones I share with new teachers. What gifts she has given to the world of education and to students through their teachers.”
  • —Linda Baie, Denver, CO

  • “My first year teaching, I was not given much guidance or direction. I taught what was familiar, but I wasn’t sure it was the right thing, until I was handed a copy of In the Middle. I read it over winter vacation, and was hooked. I immediately started the writing–reading workshop when school started again in January, and knew I would change the world.”
  • —Julia Dubisz, Manchester, NH

  • “Congrats to @NancieAtwell on soon-to-be-born #InTheMiddle3! This book saved my teaching, my students(!), & forever shaped me”
  • — Christopher Lehman (@iChrisLehman)

  • “In the late 1980s I had a little teachers’ store in Brandon, Manitoba. I opened it when my children were toddlers but always intended to go back to the classroom, which I loved. I had quite a few new professional books and one that I read cover to cover was In the Middle by Nancie Atwell. As I eagerly raced through the pages I realized that for the first time I felt that I really wanted to teach junior high students. Her love of literature and language just did it for me. The way Nancie inspired her students and included their voices and work with her own let me inside her classroom in such a relevant way. It took me another ten years of teaching K–7 but eventually our school district in B.C. opened middle schools and I confidently became a grade eight English language arts teacher. Aside from my first year of teaching grade one and two, the last 12 years of my career teaching under Nancie’s tutelage (as well as a few experts I met in person) made those the most fulfilling and challenging of my teaching career. Even though I never met her in person I always heard her voice in those chapters and in her later work, guiding me.”
  • —Lorraine Edwards-Knourek

  • “It is the dog-eared, battle-scarred, pages-barely-still-in book that still teaches me to see my students. #inthemiddle3”
  • —Sara Kajder (@skajder)

  • In the Middle helped me understand the power of reading conferences. Every reader, every day.”
  • —Paige Raney (@PaigeRaney)

  • “Thanks Nancie Atwell for giving teachers a tool for collaboration.”
  • —Mary Kate Patterson (@teachmkp)

  • “Nancie Atwell completely changed my English class 17 years ago. So grateful.”
  • —Joan Cansdale (@joancansdale)

  • “Ditto on In the Middle being monumental in changing the way I teach!”
  • —Sheila Barnes (@bookworm1959)