Engineering Language Arts to Excite MS Kids

Awakening the Middle School Voice: Engineering the Language Arts to Excite Adolescents
By Elyse S. Scott
(Association for Middle Level Education, 2015 – Learn more)

anne-anderson-2014Reviewed by Anne Anderson

My first reaction to the title Awakening the Middle School Voice: Engineering the Language Arts to Excite Adolescents was DUH? Why would I want to awaken a middle schooler? Relax! While reading this book, I realized the key word in the title is engineering.

In 112 pages, Elyse S. Scott shares how she engineered (designed and created) lessons to achieve the learning goals for her 8th graders. The activities and projects she shares are sure to produce readers, writers, and thinkers in your classroom.

awaken ms voice aaBecause this book is so packed with ideas, my suggestion is to read the book start to finish first. On the second reading, have your notebook, highlighter, and sticky notes handy. That gives you the opportunity to select those activities that meet the learning needs of your students and address required curriculum.

More about the book

Chapter 1 “In the Beginning” is filled with a variety of activities to “awaken students from their summer lethargy.” Scott’s goal of getting to know her students is accomplished while addressing numerous reading and writing standards. In no time at all, she creates a community of writers and learners.

My two favorite activities (p. 9):

  • Write a poem capturing all the elements that make you “you.”
  • Create a collage that captures the “symbols of your life.” In an oral presentation or writing, share the story behind these symbols.

At this time, she introduces the rubric (p. 17) that addresses “insight and critical thinking content as opposed to written elements and mechanics.” This will be used often with short prompts or other activities.

In Chapter 3 Scott shares the design of her short story lessons; the purpose is to move students to become abstract thinkers. Teachers will find a variety of “fun” activities along with suggested titles and several examples of writing prompts. These reading and writing assignments set the stage for the next chapter, “The Novelty of Novels.”

To keep students thinking deeply, she ditched some common practices like reading the assigned novel chapter by chapter in class and answering a series of questions for each chapter. Instead, her students were given two or three weeks to read the novel outside class. To ensure that students were progressing through this outside reading, she created “accountability assignments.” The accountability activities also prepared students for class discussions and the reading/writing assignments to come.

My two favorite accountability assignments (pp. 36 – 37):

  • Because many of our class novels had only numbered chapters, students created chapter titles for each chapter with a brief explanation for each of their choices.
  • If a book had clearly defined characters, students would draw character “heads” (free-hand or computer-generated) and fill in the heads with physical attributes, characteristic sayings and actions, and personality descriptors.

Scott includes literary connections, writing assignment possibilities, and other activities for three novels common to middle school:

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel

There are ideas for a mid-year literary project, author studies and a magazine project as well as a study of poetry. Her Activities to Combat End-of-the-Year Middle School Mania can certainly give you an idea or two.

With Elyse S. Scott’s Awakening the Middle School Voice: Engineering the Language Arts to Excite Adolescents, the possibilities are endless!

Anne Anderson finally got out of the 8th grade after 24 years and 9 weeks. She spent the next 9 years sharing her expertise in literacy and writing with K-12 teachers and administrators throughout the district. She credits National Writing Project and Poetry Alive! as turning points in her growth as a teacher. She now shares her expertise nationwide as an educational consultant and through her website and her bi-monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Success.


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1 Response

  1. Laura says:

    Regarding this book, I especially like the creative aspect of what kids are able to do and how they are able to showcase their knowledge. A lot of my own activities for 6th grade Language Arts kids lend themselves to many different ways to show critical thinking and creative inspiration. We want kids who know how to think and solve problems, and being creative allows for the development of those skills. I have tons of freebies that allow students to create and be innovative over at

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