School & District Management Teacher Leaders Network

The Magazine Project: Making the Writing Process Real

By Kathie Marshall — June 14, 2011 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

First, correct every little mistake in the student’s paper. Then have the student re-copy—by hand—the now “perfect” essay. It’s hard to believe, but this was the way most teachers approached writing instruction when my career began in the early 1970s. I was a reflective teacher who was always thinking about what worked (or didn’t) in my classroom. By the time I had access to professional development on “the writing process” and “workshopping,” I’d already figured out that my students didn’t need to be corrected. Instead, they needed to learn about the many steps involved in developing a great piece of writing.

I eventually became a middle school literacy coach, supporting my colleagues in action research on how to teach students to revise their own writing. It can be hard to overcome old habits—and not teach as we ourselves were taught. I think back to a staff meeting when a former English department chair said, “Guys, I don’t think I know how to teach writing. I think I just assign writing.” (That admission jumpstarted some exciting improvements at our school!)

Eventually, in 2008, I returned to a regular classroom role. I struggled with the specter of the California Standards Test (CST), which measures all writing skills with multiple-choice questions. If your own essays are littered with run-ons, does it matter that you can identify a correct compound sentence? Does the ability to choose the right transition word from a list of four selections mean that you can skillfully use transitions? I knew that my students needed to excel on the CST, but it was more important to me that these skills were embedded in their own writing.

And that’s how the student magazines were born. As I thought about how to help students meet writing goals, I realized that creating magazines on their favorite topics could help them master many of the language arts standards I was responsible for teaching. Students tend to be more engaged when they can make choices about their activities. In addition, a yearlong project with a final product can help students take a real sense of ownership of their work, which amps up their commitment to excellent writing. Finally, these authentic writing samples offer a terrific basis for assessing students’ progress toward the language arts standards throughout the year.

Here are some tips for taking this kind of approach:

Let students select their own topics—with your approval and that of their parent(s). Choice is a powerful motivator, especially for middle school students. My students’ topics have run the gamut: from endangered species to hip hop dancing to ancient Japanese deities. Occasionally, students get tired of their original topic or get interested in another student’s topic. I allow students to switch gears if they are willing to rework whatever elements have already been graded—but typically, I can convince a student to stick with the original topic.

Familiarize students with the magazine format. When you introduce the project, guide students in looking at a variety of magazines so that they can better visualize what their own magazines might look like.

Open the door to collaboration. My students may work alone or with a partner, but each partner needs to create his or her own magazine. By partnering, students are frequently able to discuss and refine their thinking and writing, a strategy that research demonstrates is particularly important for second-language learners.

Specify the types of pieces that will appear in the magazine, tying them to the standards that students must meet. My students’ magazines must include the following elements: a research report with a works cited page, a short story, a poem, a editorial, a creative advertisement connected to their topic, and a survey. Students are expected to include a cover and table of contents, and they are welcome to add other features, such as a joke or activity page. As we address each element of the magazine, we address skills and concepts connected to language arts standards, such as multi-paragraph essay writing, inclusion of supporting details, revision for organization and specificity, and editing for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Structure the magazine as a yearlong project. We work on our magazine elements from time to time over the course of the year, connected to our district’s pacing plan: narrative, expository, response to literature, and persuasion. Students keep their magazine elements in a manila file folder which is easy to organize and quick to hand out when a new lesson is presented. I set a due date for each element in the magazine and give grades or points that accumulate over the course of the year. The yearlong project makes it easy to build in time or modify assignments for slow workers or students with special needs.

Make it a low-tech project if necessary. I always give students the option of using technology to produce their magazines if they so choose. Unfortunately, my school doesn’t have enough technology available for entire classes of students to have frequent access, but the old-fashioned cut-and-paste method works just fine.

Take advantage of the time after testing. In our district, 6th graders have a lot of “down time” in May as 7th and 8th graders continue testing. It is a great time to pull the magazine elements together. By June, our magazines are complete.

Celebrate the results. Students are always excited to see the display of completed magazines and enjoy learning about one another’s interests.

When questioned, most students name the magazine project as their favorite activity of the year. I’m happy because the magazine project meets my goals as a writing teacher—helping students experience the pleasure of writing, gain confidence as writers, improve their writing skills, and understand the connection between the writing questions on the CST and their own writing. I hope I’ve also inspired a passion for writing in many of my students, enriching their lives for years to come. Perhaps one day I’ll even see one of these sparks of interest burst fully into flame when one of my students publishes a “real” magazine article.

Related Tags:


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Data Data: How Schools Respond to Student Hunger Over the Summer
The end of pandemic-era flexibility for schools and community organizations has translated into fewer students receiving free summer meals.
1 min read
Children enjoy lunches provided by the Brownsville Independent School District on June 8, 2016, at the Olivera Park gymnasium in Brownsville, Texas. The local school district provides free lunches to any child under 18 who needs a meal, regardless of their status as a student with the school district.
Children enjoy lunches provided by the Brownsville Independent School District on June 8, 2016, at the Olivera Park gymnasium in Brownsville, Texas. School districts and other organizations can sign up as summer meal sites to continue providing meals to students once school is out of session.
Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP
School & District Management Online Training Program to Boost Number of Principals of Color Expands
A New York City education college is the latest to join an online principal training program for educators of color and equity-minded leaders.
4 min read
Business like setting, with Black man on a laptop in a corporate conference room or office collaborating with a Black woman
School & District Management How Can You Tell What Students Need to Succeed at School? Ask Them
Some administrators let students drive purchasing decisions, shape dress code policies, and voice their concerns directly.
4 min read
051223 Lead Sym Mark L jb BS
Chris Ferenzi for Education Week
School & District Management Fewer Students Are Getting Free Summer Meals After Pandemic Waivers End
Summer meal programs are expected to serve fewer students following last summer's end of a federal waiver.
5 min read
Kids line up for lunch outside the Michigan City Area Schools' converted school bus at Weatherstone Village on U.S. 20 in Michigan City, Ind., on July 22, 2021. The bus makes four stops every weekday as part of the Summer Food Program.
Kids line up for lunch outside the Michigan City Area Schools' converted school bus at Weatherstone Village on U.S. 20 in Michigan City, Ind., on July 22, 2021. The bus makes four stops every weekday as part of the Summer Food Program. Summer meal programs are expected to serve fewer students this summer after the expiration of a pandemic-era federal waiver.
Jeff Mayes/The News Dispatch via AP