This year your sixth grader should learn to use precise language, the right pronouns, and high-quality sources for research. Public presentations are also a nerve-wracking highlight of the year.

We beg to disagree

Sixth graders are entering a rebellious phase that’s developmentally appropriate. Luckily, all this attitude has an academic outlet: argument writing. Your tween will write persuasive essays that promote their bold opinions with organized logic, backed by evidence from carefully researched, respectable sources. (Wikipedia, The Onion, and National Enquirer won’t qualify.)

Your young debater should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter while writing in a formal style. Sixth graders use words and phrases that clarify the relationship between facts and assertions, such as clearly evident, impossible to deny, totally false, don’t be misled by statistics in the corporation’s press release. Powerful conclusions will summarize their positions and expand their self-esteem. Parents can encourage this advance into critical thinking with admiring questions and very careful counterarguments.

What does middle school writing look like?


Let me explain

Your 11- to-12-year-old will also write formal information essays that explain complicated topics with precise information. They’ll write intriguing introductions, and then they’ll stuff the reader’s mind with information. They will use writing props that include quotes, facts, definitions, compare-and-contrast statements, cause-and-effect statements, graphics (e.g., charts, graphs), subject-specific vocabulary, and multimedia. It will all be organized and formatted (e.g., using headings, bullet points), to make their points clear. Their concluding paragraphs will provide Twitter-sized recaps of their main points. Expect your child to use transition words and phrases such as thus, however, furthermore, indeed, on the contrary, as a matter of fact to explain how ideas relate to each other.

To put it another way, Mommy, there is compelling evidence that I need another scoop of ice cream.” This grown-up language sounds amusingly hoity-toity in squeaky voices, but don’t laugh when your child attempts it in daily conversation. Indeed, it is good practice.

Incredibly, what happened next was …

Storytelling is exciting to sixth graders. This year they practice narrative writing in fiction and nonfiction papers. They learn effective ways to select their narrator, characters, setting, dialogue, pacing, description, and conclusion. They work to make plot sequences seem natural. Details, precision, and sensory language are emphasized, plus transition vocabulary (think: After nightfall) that guides readers from one place and time to another. Don’t be surprised if your shy bookworm starts writing a trilogy.

If at first you don’t succeed

Grit. Determination. Perseverance. Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page of one of his novels 39 times. Striving for literary perfection teaches discipline and concentration to sixth graders. They are required to plan, and then plan some more; outline then outline again; draft and redraft; revise and restructure; and then edit, re-edit, and rewrite. Plus, pretty much every time they write, they are invited to try new approaches, newer approaches, and fresh-from-my-brain newest approaches yet. This isn’t obsessive redundancy; it helps students practice their writing skills and sharpen the exactness, depth, and range of their language skills.

Keyboard command

Writing nowadays often means typing. Sixth graders accelerate their eye-hand coordination as they evolve from hunt-and-peck slowness to rat-tat-tat-tat-tatting at a furious pace. Typing three pages in a single sitting is the goal under Common Core for this age group. Additionally, they’re taught online interaction and collaboration (e.g., email, sharing Google docs).

My investigation reveals …

Sixth graders get assignments that require meticulous research. To answer questions like What famous historical character do you admire? What’s your favorite invention? What endangered species do you worry about the most?, your young detective will devour info in thick library reference books, print periodicals, and digital data (yes, often via Google). Students learn to evaluate the credibility of sources: is National Lampoon more legitimate than Encyclopedia Britannica? Using evidence they compile, kids write reports that “paraphrase the data and conclusions of others,” using quotations to avoid plagiarism.

Can your middle schooler research a topic?


Novel approach

Is Harry Potter more emotionally conflicted than Katniss Everdeen? Sixth graders sharpen their critical thinking skills via literary analysis of poems, stories, fantasy epics, historical novels, and nonfiction classics. Themes and topics are compared and contrasted. For example, discussing the consequences of prejudice in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, or explaining how nature directs the plots of The Secret Garden and The Island of the Blue Dolphin. In nonfiction, sixth graders learn to divide an author’s statements into facts supported by evidence or remarks that are mere opinions. (For example, was the Great Houdini truly “the world’s greatest magician” or is this wrong? After all, David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China.)

Pronouns: not just me-me-me all the time

Grammar ain’t easy, especially for 11- and 12-year-olds. Pronoun usage is particularly careless. To cure this messiness, rules applying to the tricky little words are examined in depth this year. Proper pronoun case is studied. What’s that? Subjective case refers to pronouns used as subjects (I, you, he, she, it, we, they). Objective case indicates pronouns used as objects (me, you, him, her, it, us, they). Possessive case conveys ownership (my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs). Improper use can deform English and leave the user looking unintelligent. For example, Us and her carried apples over to yous big barn is not proper or pretty.

Mistakes in pronoun person are also common in this age group. To correct this, your child needs to loyally stick with the “person” they started with. No switching from first person (I or me) to second person (you), or vice-versa: When I go to school, you should have your homework done, or When you go to school, a person should have his homework done. (Hint, that second example goes from second person to third person.) Both switches are incorrect! Or at the very least they create confusion.

Pronoun number is also crucial. If the subject indicates a plural quantity, the related possessive pronoun needs the identical number. Here’s an example of this common error: All of the school girls took her umbrella. Vague pronouns are also a no-no. Take the sentence: Alice put a vase with a red rose on the desk, and sold it. What was sold: the vase, the rose, or the desk? We don’t know because it, used here, is too vague. Intensive pronouns are used solely to emphasize another noun or pronoun. Here’s a correct example: My sister with the sweet-tooth kept all the chocolate for herself. Mistakes usually happen when intensive pronouns are overused. For example, Myself, that doesn’t bother me.

Capitalizing, spelling, punctuation

Sixth graders learn that punctuation and capitalization are a duo of governments with finicky rules. Spelling offers an anarchy of exceptions. Students will practice using commas, parentheses, and dashes to set apart phrases and clauses. They’re also expected to vary sentence patterns, alternating the length and structure to keep their writing interesting. Kids perfect the logical use of capitalization, while also learning to spell odd English words correctly, with silent letters (island, crumb) and bizarre combo consonants (cough, pheasant). Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and a committee of concerned citizens tried to simplify English spelling a century ago. Your tweens might try this as well. … Sadly, good grades won’t be the result.

It’s all about presentation

In sixth grader, kids will read their polished writing to classmates, using eye contact, clear pronunciation, and vocal volume to communicate effectively. Their arguments, research papers, and literary efforts will be delivered with logic and clarity, often accompanied by visual displays, music, audio, charts, and slides. They’ll be nervous beforehand, but empowered (we hope) by the experience.

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