Setting Writing Goals in Middle School


Give your middle school students a plan for essay writing success!

When I begin our argumentative essay unit in my middle school class, it's usually late January (after we learn how to analyze an argument) and I always start with a pep talk.  First I ask the names of the teams that are going to play in the Super Bowl.  Then...

Me:  "So when the (two teams that are going to be in the Super Bowl) are getting ready, do they say 'Man!  This stinks!  I don't want to play in the stupid 'ol Super Bowl!' ?"  (I walk around and kick at the floor with an exaggerated tone.)

Students:  "No!" with sincerely incredulous looks on their faces. (They probably think I might have just lost it.)

Me:  Right!  Of course not!  Instead, they run around screaming "We're gonna win because we're the best and we're awesome and the other team doesn't stand a chance and when we win, we're gonna go to Disney World!"  (And I literally scream this like I was a football player.  So then they would be sure I'd lost my mind!)

But then I'll say "Our big state test is like our Super Bowl - a Super Bowl for writing.  You should be excited to go in there and win by showing that you are the best!

After that pep talk, students need to take ownership so we set goals.  Now, these goals aren't just wishes and dreams, these are going to be those writing "sit-ups" and "push-ups" I talked about in my pep talk.  We are going to make a plan of ACTION.

1.  Determine the score goal

I give students a worksheet that we keep in our writing toolkits and we first discuss the best score possible on the assessment.  In Florida, it is a 10.  That's a perfect score of 4 in purpose, focus, and organization, a perfect score of 4 in support and elaboration, and a perfect score of 2 in conventions.  We now examine the rubric carefully.

I discuss the fact that while we are all striving for a perfect score, that an 80% should be their minimum goal.  That would be a 3-3-2 on our rubric.

2.  Determine the challenges

Now I ask students to determine where the challenges are in terms of their knowledge in these areas.  We again look at the rubric and then I ask students to tell me what they think they don't know by coloring in the appropriate box on the goal sheet.

We will have practice items in class that match each of those challenges and the students will be able to record their progress on this sheet as we complete them.  I like to use color-coding with yellow for making progress, blue for mastered, and red for needs attention.  This will show students their writing progress at a glance and in my class, it's all about progress - not perfection.

3.  Determine the strengths

I strategically save the strengths for last because I want to end the activity on a high note with students feeling like they do have knowledge on which to build.  There will be activities that we complete in class that will review some of these strengths and some that add to these strengths.  

We will refer back to this sheet often to show students that they are making progress and will be able to meet that 80% or higher goal.  If they think they can, they will!

You can get a free, editable copy of the goal sheet I use in my free resource library

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It's important to set writing goals with middle school students before they begin writing essays to help them focus on progress, not perfection!