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Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers

Practice: Respond to Student Writing

The following drafts allow you to evaluate authentic samples of student pieces written in three different genres. Each time you identify a strength or weakness in one of the samples, you will be able to compare your assessment with detailed comments from another teacher.

These comments also indicate how the teacher might respond to a particular issue: with written or oral observations or questions, with targeted instruction, or—in some cases—by choosing to ignore the issue in favor of more pressing instructional concerns.

The criteria listed in each paper’s evaluation grid were discussed, modeled, and practiced in the student’s classroom. Such explicit expectations provide a basis for teacher and peer response and prepare students to think independently about their writing.

The scoring system for the rubrics comes from Kentucky’s state-assessed Writing Portfolio.


After you read each of the following drafts by middle school students, use the rubric below to evaluate areas of strength and weakness. The scoring system comes from Kentucky’s state-assessed Writing Portfolio.

A late-draft personal narrative by a seventh-grade student

Skates 280

I’ve been really embarrassed before, but this moment takes the cake! I had been liking a girl all through elementary school when one day, out of the blue, she invited me to her birthday party! Of course I was rambled, so I gawked for awhile, and finally managed to stammer out, “s-s-sure!”
The party was at skates 280, and all was well until it came time to skate. I couldn’t skate, so I had to make an excuse…and quick!
“I, uh, didn’t bring my skates!”
Little did I know they would rent skates out to you. Then I tried,
“I’m uh, out of money.”
Then in walks my grandmother, the human ATM.
“I’ve got some mony darlin’!”
“Gee. Thanks a lot Grandma.”
“Your welcome sweet pea”
So, I was stuck. I could either rent the skates, and get caught out on the rink not being able to skate, or I could risk my pride (what little I had) by admitting I can’t skate. I made the wrong decision. “Sure. I can skate! I’m the best skater out there! Gimme’ some o’ them there skakin’ …things…’ (I couldn’t roller blade worth beans, so I had to take the 4 wheelers.) So after fighting to get the skates on for awhile, off I went to the wooden, pergo rink of death. Just looking at it made my skin crawl. Those boards were teeth, just waiting to eat me alive.
For maybe the first 10 minutes (which seemed more like hours to me), I clung to the wall like a piece of driftwood from a shipwreck. When I finally unclung, I…I could skate! Oh it was wonderful! When people noticed I was catchig up to them, they were patting me on the back, congratulating me. I was so full of myself I turned on the afterburners and started off at a whopping 2 miles an hour. Things were going great until I decided to do tricks. Not a good idea. I tried pulling a 360 and hit a wall. But, luckily only my friends saw it, and helped me up with a friendly laugh and encouraging words…Yeah right!!!! After they laughed at me they left me there to either get up on my own or rot. I decided to live a bit longer, so I got up (not without much difficulty, I might add).
That, however, was nothing in comparison to what would happen in about an hour.
After that I thought, “well, that’s enough shenanigans for one day!” So, I made my way over to a bench to take off my skates, when, all of a sudden, a hideous voice came over the loudspeaker. It was DJ Mac! Here to announce the vile, nasty announcement ever conceived to reach a non-skater.
“Race time guys and gals!!!”
I froze in my tracks. Race Time: He wanted me to put my skates back on and …race?!?!? Surely I had heard wrong, so I went on about my business, removing my skates, when good old Mac turned on the loudspeaker and said.
“You! Yeah you! The one with the glasses! Why’re you takein’ your skates off? Didn’t ya’ here me? It’s race time! Everybody loves race time!”
Horrified, I looked at my grandmother who was about to take me home. I was trying as hard as I could to send her a message with my mind, saying, “Please, save me! Don’t let them do this to me! Please!”
But, she heard it as, “Please let me! Don’t let them stop me! Please!”
So, she smiled and nodded, telling me to do it.
There I was. Betrayed by my own bloodline, I slowly made my way back toward the rink. I got in position next to one of my friends, and all of a sudden, my thoughts of fear were interrupted by DJ Mac once again.
“Yo yo yo! Word up everybody! It’s DJ Mac once again telling ya’ll to clear the rink for our racers! So if everybody’s ready, let’s do it! On yo mark, get set, GO!!!!”
Then, I was pummeled by other racers yelling at me along with DJ Mac and the entire crowd. I suddenly realized that I was supposed to going around the little orange cones! So once I got the hang of this whole racing thing, I starting doing a little better (I was still in last place by a mile, mind you). Once I miraculously caught up to the guy in front of me and passed him, I got full of myself again. Bad idea. I turned around and looked to see how far behind me everyone else was (that ‘everyone else’ was only one person), and when I turned around again, I ran into that same dad-blamed wall again, and got passed again and lapped, and skated on, and everything else you can do with a skate. I tried to get up, couldn’t, and just laid there. They had to stop the race, get me up, and walk out of the rink with me around their arms. little did I know how hard everyone was laughing at me, including the girl who invted me!
Fortunatly, I walked away with the only major damage being done to my pride.

An early-draft editorial by a sixth-grade student

Cell Phones in Our Schools… Would They Be So Bad?

Cell phones have been used for many things. In the past, cell phones have been used in many ways. For example, on 9/11 people on the flights and in the Twin Towers used cell phones to call the police or their loved ones and explain their situation. Read on to see about why we should use cell phones in school.

Cell phones are used in emergencies at some schools in Tennessee and Michigan. One time at my school in Old Hickory, Tennessee, there was an unidentified man who had a gun. He was in the hallway outside of the “Pod”. (3rd and 4th grade classes). We were in a lockdown. Some kids and teachers were hiding in the restrooms that were in the middle of the “Pod”. The rest were hiding in closets. My friend Kassie was under a desk and remembered that the teacher had a cell phone in her purse. Kassie opened the purse and got the cell phone to call 911. Another time one of the teachers had a heart attack during class. My friend Jamie ran to another room told the principal (who was watching the kids) to call an ambulance because Mrs. Adams was having a heart attack. The school phone lines were down, but Mrs. Colone (the principal) had a cell phone. She called an ambulance and saved Mrs. Adams’ life.

You probably think that cell phones would be a distraction because of the games. But that could be solved very easily. If you caught a student playing a game you could give them a referral or ISS. Or, it could be a rule that kids have to keep the phone put away at all times, unless they are being used. “I bring my cell phone to school and keep it in my locker.” said my friend Michelle who lives in Michigan. “It’s never a distraction.”

Another reason is that a lot of people agree with me. I did a survey and eight out of 13 people said we should be able to use them. “We should be able to use cell phones in school incase of emergencies” said Jessa, a sixth grader at Meece Middle School. “They would be helpful to parents.” said Cathy Desmet, the parent of a 6th and 7th grader at Meece.

An early-draft poem by an eighth-grade student

The Watch glass

School is like a watch glass
that I am forced to enter
with people watching my every move.
They laugh until I frown,
then they lay off
and wait for my next move.
I do something good to impress them,
but they throw it back in my face
with words I shouldn’t hear.
I try to run away
but they don’t seem to disappear.
I run to shadowy corners
but pointing fingers appear.
I run to the bathroom
but laughter breaks my ears.
I run away from class to class,
but they don’t seem to stop.
I scream at the glass,
but it’s too strong for me.
So, I wait and wait
for that faithful bell.
Then, it goes off
and breaks that evil glass.
So, I run home
away from that evil prison,
where sure enough
I can find safety
in my family’s hands.