When developing writing prompts for middle school students, choosing topics that relate directly to their school environment or educational experience will spark their interest and stimulate critical thinking skills. In fact, if you choose school-related issues that students have expressed wants or complaints about, it will be easier to guide them toward constructing a logical argument about why they need or deserve something.
School Rule Changes
Seasoned teachers have probably lost count of the times they have heard the phrase "This rule isn't fair!" or "Why do I have to do whatever this handbook says?" Of course, the teacher's answer of "deal with it" only serves to further the divide between the two parties. However, a great teacher will use this opportunity as a springboard into a persuasive writing lesson. Allowing students to interview faculty members about the reasons behind a rule will not only help them to understand the rule but also how they can construct an argument in opposition to the rule. For example, a student who disagrees with a "no hats" policy might learn that hats are disruptive, can conceal faces and are generally unnecessary. However, this same student could craft an argument that hats hide bad hair days (thus lessening anxiety and providing comfort), and that students who take others hats are disruptive, not the other way around. In crafting this argument, the student and teacher may reach an agreement that allows hats during specific times of the day, such as during silent reading time. In doing so, not only does the child get what he wants, but he also learns a powerful lesson about compromise.
Adding School Amenities
Teachers can test their students' imaginations and persuasive writing skills by assigning a topic revolving around additions to their school campus. For example, students could choose to argue for the addition of a swimming pool or better school lunches. In doing so, students would have to think objectively and decide if the addition would benefit everybody or just a select few. Furthermore, they would have to evaluate whether the addition would actually be a benefit at all, or if it is just something they want. Students who argue for better school lunches could be instructed to evaluate their definition of "better"; for example, they would have to consider whether better means tastier, healthier or both. The addition of a soda machine would not be considered healthy, no matter how much the students may want one. However, the addition of a "make your own hoagie" station would allow students to make their own choices regarding their eating habits and would add variety to the cafeteria menu. Requiring students to think objectively guides them toward making arguments that are relevant and meaningful.
Cell Phones in Class
Cell phone use is a hotly debated topic in today's classrooms. Students arguing that phones should be allowed in class must think objectively about the topic, and also must be willing to compromise on how they are used and the limits of their usage. Students would be required to brainstorm the pros and cons of allowing cell phones in class. The writing prompt could also instruct them to anticipate how a teacher would respond to certain arguments in support of cell phones. Again, this exercise is not simply about a student "getting his way"; it's more about seeing all angles of an argument and finding an outcome that leaves both parties satisfied. This assignment would also lead to a discussion on responsible use of cell phones and how disregard for this responsibility would result in loss of privilege.
Most middle school students (and many parents) would agree that they get too much homework on a daily basis. With a different teacher for each of seven or eight subjects, along with extracurricular activities, many students find themselves staying up late to complete a task or hurrying to finish their work on the bus. However, students undertaking such an argument must be careful not to come off as if they are shirking responsibility. Instead, as part of the writing prompt, the teacher could ask them to come up with alternative methods of practicing what they learned in class. They would then have to argue that these methods are more beneficial than completing worksheets and copying definitions. In doing so, students find a productive solution to a real-life problem they face on a daily basis.