Best Practices for Reading & Writing

Posted by Ellen Bennett on Apr 21, 2017 3:00:00 PM

As our children reach the middle school years (sixth-eighth grade), they are presented with another level of learning when it comes to reading and writing. As their knowledge expands, opportunity is given for their skills to grow. As Parents, we may wonder, “How can we help our children with this transition?  Are there certain practices that will enable them to thrive in this season?”

To help answer those questions, here are some important highlights to consider throughout their middle school years when it comes to writing and reading.


From a paragraph, one can build an entire essay. Can your child recognize the relationship between the first sentence and the main idea? Academic writing is all about support—making a statement and supporting it. There are many ways to do this, but ultimately there is a need to support anything that is being persuaded by anybody in any way.

Like any valuable skill, writing takes diligent practice to master, and that practice can take many forms.  One of those is called Progymnasmata. These are a series of writing exercises that began in ancient Greece and are successfully implemented today by many educators.

These specific exercises are intended to challenge students to think through the writing process from beginning to end. At the earliest level, the student learns to read a fable and communicate the story in their own words. They are taught about theme and understanding metaphorical value in literature. Progymnasmata was also used to train public speakers to captivate audiences and even motivate them in certain situations.

These exercises are key in helping our children become great readers, listeners, and communicators.

Discussions around what our children are reading are instrumental in improving reading comprehension. Ask questions about what they are reading to give your child the opportunity to share their interpretations of the books they are enjoying.

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Asking for interpretations and opinions can be an easy gauge to measure comprehension, but can also teach our children to be thinkers and motivate them to support their opinions with references and quotes. Practicing annotation and note taking in the margins gives readers a more active and effective approach to reading. This helps them find key references more easily when they are looking for answers and ideas they want to share about a book.

Another great way to develop reading comprehension is through the Harkness Discussion method. This would require a few students and a guide. The round-shaped Harkness table offers lessons through discussion as students share thoughts, questions and insight independently with minimal intervention. These student-led discussions challenge them to think about what they read and grow in the confidence that is needed to express their thoughts and point of view.

Above all other exercises and methods, the best thing to help our children with reading will always be to read.

Encourage your children to read something they choose outside of what they are reading at school. During the school year, their teachers will direct their reading, so encourage your children to read for fun—have them choose books they will love and enjoy. Reading about someone or something they are interested in helps them experience the pure joy of simply reading while offering important practice.

Try expanding their selection. If your child enjoys reading science fiction, encourage historical fiction. Introducing our kids to the wide variety of literature opens the door to endless wisdom, inspiration and imagination.

In closing, here are some authors, titles, and type of books as suggestions for your middle school readers:

Newbery Medal Winners (Any of these award winning books would be a great selection)    George Orwell (Animal Farm)    C.S. Lewis  •   J.R.R. Tolkien  •   John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr.   •   Stephen Lawhead  •   Agatha Christie  •   Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)  •   Rosemary Sutcliff  •   Dorothy L. Sayers

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Topics: Reading