So by the time kids get to me in middle school, they claim that they HATE writing. They act as if they have had the creativity beaten out of them and I know who to blame, the 5 paragraph paper. I am thankful that elementary school teachers have taken the time to teach my kids the basics of writing and the structure of a basic story, but because of state writing tests, the writing prompt and standard 5 paragraph essay where each paragraph has 3 - 5 sentences seems to have kidnapped my kids' creativity.
It's time we get it BACK!! I love the book "Notebook Know-How" by Aimee Buckner. It gave me a great jumping off point for beginning a simplified writer's workshop in the middle school classroom. From my primary and elementary school experience, I was familiar with Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher, but my time is limited and I can't imagine doing either one of those programs successfully.
First, my kids get to decorate their notebooks...however they want!! It gets them invested. Decorating a $.99 notebook may seem small to you, but when a kid gets to draw all over their notebook, or put pictures of their crush on the front, they are all for it and ask when they get to use the notebook.
I start by teaching them to make lists in the back of the notebook - stuff they like, places they've been, best and worst (Notebook Know-How has some suggestions for this as well.) These lists are for the times they say they have NO IDEA WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT. If they have created the list - they know a little about the topic and they can choose from a list any time.
I also get them to write about themselves. We've used Aimee Buckner's suggestion to write about their name as well. Can you imagine what a kid would want to write about more than themselves. Each year, I am astounded at how excited they get to write what they know and how many kids go home and ask all kinds of questions to find out more about their name.
I explain to the kids that my job is to build their writing endurance. I am still faced with "how long does it have to be?" "how many paragraphs?" quite frequently, but when I get them invested in writing about topics THEY choose, those questions come far less often.
By the end of the year, instead of "ahhh," I have students begging to write instead of read. They chose to write because they've become invested. They grow to write about more than just themselves, but only after I've helped to build their confidence by showing them how creative and amazing they can be when they forget about the confines of a 5 paragraph.