Tips for Teaching Argumentative Writing in Elementary Classrooms

As Middle School ELA teachers, we’re often asked, “What are the main areas teachers should focus on in elementary school to prepare their kids for middle school reading and writing?” Before we get into that, can we just take a moment to acknowledge all the AMAZING work elementary teachers are doing. We’re in awe of the amount of creativity and preparation they put into their lessons, not to mention the level of patience they exhibit!

We’ve thought long and hard about this, and the top 3 areas that would help elementary-aged students be more successful in middle school language arts are:

1. Practice Finding Textual Evidence. 
This can be done at a basic level in the early grades. By having students play detective in any piece of text they read, they are searching for evidence in a fun and meaningful way. Anyone remember the Encyclopedia Brown books from their childhood (our fifth graders just discovered them in the school library and are devouring them!)? They make a great introduction for searching for textual evidence. Each mini mystery ends with a question asking the reader to solve the particular case. 

Students can search for clues in the text and keep track of them in this Evidence Tracker that we use. What is so helpful in this Evidence Tracker is that there is a student example for listing evidence and justification using the familiar story, “The Night Before Christmas.” We love how it helps students model their own responses. How fun would a mini detective unit be using Encylopedia Brown? You could have students form detective agencies, decorate an evidence bulletin board with clues, and magnifying glasses...the possibilities are endless! Middle School ELA teachers use textual evidence on a daily basis, and if students come in prepared with an understanding of what evidence is and how to search for it, it makes a HUGE difference!

2. Practice Responding to the Text. 
It’s wonderful when students enter the middle school years (5th grade too!) knowing that they can and should interact with the text. Forming connections, making predictions, and observing the use of setting and characters help students adjust to the more in-depth literary analysis discussions that take place in middle school. This Reading Response Journal is fabulous for 2nd-4th graders or this one for high achieving 4th graders. Both of these resources require students to analyze the text they are reading using guided prompts. Academic vocabulary is also included in both. Speaking of vocabulary...

3. Build and Grow Vocabulary. 
We know elementary teachers do a whole lot with vocabulary development. And it pays off! Obviously when students have an abundance of vocabulary knowledge, they can more effectively express themselves in writing and speaking (it’s put to good use in all the literature discussions and Socratic Seminars in middle school). It’s also helpful when elementary aged students have an awareness and basic understanding of academic vocabulary. Words like define, summarize, predict, interpret, (not to mention, author, setting, plot, etc…) are used in almost every ELA discussion and writing assignment, When elementary students have had basic practice with these words, it is so much easier for them to analyze more complex texts in the later grades.

We hope these tips are helpful for you when preparing your students for the rigors of middle school English Language Arts! 

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