[Today’s post “Using Mythology and Percy Jackson Books to Teach Middle School Writing” was written by guest contributor Michelle Habrych.]
Ignite your middle school students’ passion for writing with the free “Guide to Using Mythology and Percy Jackson Books” from I Choose Joy. This resource-rich guide ingeniously combines Greek mythology and the captivating Percy Jackson series to cultivate essential writing skills. Seamlessly blending engaging topics with formal writing techniques, let’s take your students on a transformative journey from crafting better sentences and paragraphs to exploring diverse writing forms. Your students will flourish in their writing while immersing themselves in a world of creativity and imagination.
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If you’re looking for a way to get your kids excited about writing, there are many creative options available. Seven years ago I created a class at my homeschool co-op to work on basic writing skills, based on my own kids’ love for mythology and the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan. Here is what I did.
Inexpensive Writing Resources for Middle School Writing
I scoured the internet for free or inexpensive writing resources that would meet them where they were, without being too “little kid” for them as they were in middle school. They needed to know how to build better sentences and, therefore, construct better paragraphs before we even thought about writing essays. I also wanted to teach them about different types of writing, such as letters, story analysis, and news articles. Eventually, they would be taught to compare and contrast, persuade, and, at the end of the year, write a research paper.
I used the theme of mythology as a basis for writing all of our papers/projects for the year. The first semester focused solely on Greek and Roman mythology, including information about relevant constellations. For the second semester, we included Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Asian, African, and Native American mythology as time allowed. It was not a creative writing class, though some assignments were creative in nature. I wanted to get the kids to use topics they already loved to ease them into more formal assignments. My secret plan was that it would be fun for them. I think it even worked sometimes!
As part of the class, students were expected to keep a journal during the week and write on specific topics as assigned. This helped students to develop their writing in a non-threatening way. It was also required for students to have read (or re-read) the entire Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series before we started class in September. They also needed to read the first two books in the Rick Riordan Heroes of Olympus series by the end of the first month of class. Audiobook format was permitted, but simply watching the movies was unacceptable since there were too many changes made to the story. It’s important that the stories be fresh in the minds of both the students and the teacher if you are going to properly discuss and write about them.
Writing in Class/ Homework
We would be writing in class in addition to homework, so I offered students the option to bring their laptop, tablet, or device if that was easier for them than handwriting in a notebook. My own son struggled greatly with handwriting keeping up with his thought processes, so I allowed this to remove obstacles for him and anyone else who might benefit from typing during class.
Required Materials for the Middle School Writing Class
Parents provided six notebooks for their students: three for journals, three for class notes and writing assignments. From class fees collected, I provided materials printed or copied for them, as well as the second semester textbook Ready! Set! Research! by Scholastic Guides.
How to Teach the Middle School Writing Class
I started week one by teaching them the difference between myths, folktales and fairy tales. We discussed how word choice is important to convey meaning to the reader. For an in-class exercise, I had the student write a list of any 25 words they liked, based on meaning or sound or any other reason. Then they had to combine three words into silly phrases to see what they could come up with.
After that, we discussed puns, which play a big part in the Percy Jackson books. Students were given the assignment to write a pun a day in their journals that week. Additionally, we covered different ways to say “sad,” “happy,” “mad,” and “said.” I gave them lists of options, including movement words, which I found and pinned (see my Pinterest boards here and here. Using a precise verb (sprinted) versus a verb with an adverb (walked quickly) was also taught in the first class.
The students’ middle school writing homework for the first class included their week’s journaling topics, many of which I found on Pinterest. They also had to each pick a different major Greek god or goddess and read a story about him or her, which could be from a book or from Mythweb. I gave them each a KWL chart in class to start and complete as they learned about the god or goddess. This is a simple column form which shows what they already know about any topic, what they want to know, and what they learned (pin on my board).
Write Better Paragraphs
I used two main books to help my students learn to write better paragraphs: Paragraph Power by Adele Fiderer and Paragraph Writing Made Easy by Rosemary Shiras. Each week, in addition to teaching formal writing skills, I tried to make time for word play, as described earlier with the word lists and puns. Other topics I taught about in this category include idioms, alliteration, alphabetical word lists, stretching each others’ sentences, and more. I found many of the word games online and in books which I can no longer remember. A quick Google search could help you find some based on the ideas I mentioned. Mad Libs are another great game to try.
Here are some examples of journal topics I assigned the students. I do not remember if these were ones I made up or if I was inspired by a resource on my Pinterest board. But they will give you an idea of what I wanted them to explore in their writing, to help get words flowing. I asked them to write at least five sentences on each topic, to write once a day to get into a habit of writing, and to use descriptive words. Later in the year, this would be increased to be fully thought-out paragraphs with introductory sentences, supporting details, and conclusions:
- Clarese had to choose which entrance to take into the Sea of Monsters. There were dangers involved in each choice. Which entrance would you have taken? Charybdis? Scylla? The rocky gateway that Annabeth mentioned Jason using on his quest? Why? What did you think of Clarese’s strategy? What would you have done differently or the same?
- Imagine the Lotus Casino and Hotel is real. What activities would you like to do all day without worrying about the time or cost? What do you imagine the hotel looked like? Smelled like? Use your senses.
- Imagine that, like Percy, you had to change schools every year (you’re not homeschooled). What would you like about that? Not like about that? Challenges? Benefits?
- Percy and Grover have a special friendship. Tell me about the special connection you and a friend have. Why do you like that friend? If you can think of one, share a story example from your friendship.
- Think back to all of the battles in the five Percy Jackson books. Pick one and write about it IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Why did you pick this one?
In-Class Writing Exercises
For in-class writing exercises, I used ones like these: Using signal words (transitions) write an enumerative paragraph in class about a Greek goddess. Then, using signal words, write a sequence paragraph in class about a Greek Myth. Working on this kind of exercise in class had the students practice what they had been learning, but in an environment where they could ask the teacher any questions they had as they worked. I highly recommend utilizing these types of “writing workshop” days.
Practice Different Types of Paragraphs
Here is an early homework assignment to practice different types of paragraphs: Write a comparison and a contrast paragraph about a Greek god and his or her Roman counterpart; write two paragraphs: one about similarities, one about differences. Using signal words, write a descriptive paragraph in class. Imagine Typhon is stirring up trouble again. Describe what you see with the disaster this monster is creating (choose a different type of natural disaster). Use details. Don’t forget to outline it first!
The Hero’s Journey & Write Your Own Myth
We ended the semester by learning about The Hero’s Journey, and they wrote their own myths. I used materials from Laura Randazzo’s Greek Mythology Unit Bundle I bought from Teachers Pay Teachers. We also watched this Ted Ed video (https://youtu.be/Hhk4N9A0oCA?si=vH_Bfnegnf3xrlx9):
Research Paper Project
Second semester was their big research paper project. We used Ready! Set! Research! (their textbook) and How to Write a Great Research Paper by Beverly Chin for most of the lessons. I also reviewed more information from a book I had in my home library, Write Source 2000, for its section on research papers. I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to have this book, but it’s certainly helpful!
To prepare for the research, we began by doing plenty of exercises together. Students also completed assignments from the books to work on their skills. They learned about outlining, taking notes and using index cards, writing a bibliography, and more. I took them to the library to do research on their chosen mythology topic.
Avoiding Plagiarism in Middle School Writing
Avoiding plagiarism is an important topic we covered as they were working on their research papers. Over the years of teaching, I have used many resources to teach this. Here’s my favorite “avoiding plagiarism” resource from Teachers Pay Teachers and Laura Randazzo
It was a good year of writing and improving their skills, and I think they enjoyed it more than if we had simply used a regular curriculum. It may have been more work, but it was also more memorable for them and for me.
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Michelle Habrych is a retired homeschool mom, having graduated her two students in 2019 and 2021. She continues to teach at the homeschool co-op they were part of for 16 years. She enjoys reading, writing, and teaching.
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