The academic essay holds a lot of weight in our classrooms. It's our primary means for teaching the foundations of writing, but is teaching the academic essay alone the best for our students?
No, it’s not…and I am sure you already knew that!
Although we can’t get rid of the academic essay, what we need to do is make room for the practical application of writing skills in our classroom as well.
I want to share with you five different writing activities to jumpstart your student writers to make the writing process a more authentic one for your students.
Let’s start with and place an emphasis on argumentative writing. It’s one of those key writing skills our students need in today's world, in a high school setting, etc.
Let me give you quick context. Many, many moons ago when Alexander Pope was translating the Iliad into English, it took him five years to do it. Obviously, you're not going to work for free for five years. So what did he do? He asked some of his friends and neighbors to pitch in, allowing him to translate the Iliad but also keep food on the table.
Eventually, it came to pass that the translation was complete and what did he do for the people that pitched in? He gave them all a free copy of that translated version!
Fast forward to today, that's what we call crowd-sourcing or crowd-funding. It's something that we do all the time. There are tons of people that are crowdfunding right now for a slew of different well-intended reasons. You have people that are doing it to write a book or create an app…or maybe somebody who's doing a community project.
The idea of crowdsourcing can translate to the classroom. This idea goes much further than the five-paragraph essay because students have to connect empathetically with their audiences.
Your students can crowdsource an article, a website, an online project, etc. If you want, you can even do this in any live fashion where they're raising money for things; this is going to motivate them in a different way than just writing the traditional essay. It also lends itself to the real-world application they need in today's society, where again, a lot of our innovative ideas start!
Everything is changing in our schools! Our experience in education is changing just as fast as it's calling for change and it’s been calling for change for some time.
Right now, there's so much that's changing that it is a perfect time to give this kind of writing project to your students, because…
Perfect school, Perfect pitch is going to take on a design format. Our students are going to be working hands-on to create something! They love to create am I right? That is the generation we're working with.
They are going to come up with an idea of what the perfect school experience would be like with regards to physical plans. They could choose to plan out the entire school or a piece of the school, like the media center or just the cafeteria. They're going to create this perfected version of some location within their day-to-day school experience.
Once complete, they're going to pitch that idea Shark Tank-style, to you and possibly a platform of relevant stakeholders…maybe this could be other teachers, community members, or even a person or two from out of state via Zoom or Google Meet.
This activity allows them to work on argumentative, hands-on design skills to share their perspective about how the school could be and also provides a modern angle of the elevator pitch. They're practicing a skill set that they're going to use down the road! This is definitely a way to give them a voice, to give them some practice in public speaking, and to gain confidence.
My third activity goes along those lines of self…being your own self-advocate and building competence in what you have to offer in this world. This is going to take more of a social, emotional edge and it’s what I like to call...
With this activity, we are educating our students on what it means to make themselves stand out.
Essentially, our students are creating a campaign around themselves and what makes them unique. I have my students consider three different things:
Through the combination of these three things, our students can dig down and unpack what it is they have to offer that sets them apart from everyone else. Then it's just a matter of building that thematic concept out so that everything flows.
Ultimately with this activity, our students are creating their own unique brand. Right now, if you want to get social media involved as well, you can have them deconstructing the way that other brands are built on Instagram or Facebook. What colors does a brand use? How can you come to understand the brand’s values? How are they packaged up in a way that shows their audience who they are and what they stand for?
This particular activity truly dips into your social, emotional learning skills, as well as writing skills. It teaches students not only to be persuasive but to be a storyteller as well. I can guarantee you storytelling is the number one communication skill that any leader needs in a modern era, especially because it's what whole brands, companies, organizations are built upon.
The last two ideas I have to share with you dip into another element of our modern world…practical application skills that our students most certainly need. We live in a visual era. Our number one medium of choice is video and everything is image-heavy. So, these next two activities are heavily rooted in visual communication.
If you're familiar with Instagram, for instance, you'll see a lot of lovely tiles of curated images, aerial views of a collection of items organized on the ground or a table. This is what we call flat lay, where you have a lot of different things that are laid out in a visually-appealing way.
We live in the era of things, right? We love stuff and so the flat lay just naturally grabs our attention because we like to see ALL OF THE THINGS! Ha! We also live in a visual society and so a flat lay communicates to a modern audience, which is something all of our students need to understand. They need hands-on application with this idea of visual appeal and this activity does a wonderful job of focusing on this skill specifically.
So this activity challenges students to construct a flat lay image that has purpose and intention…all of the included items related to each other in a thematic way and are all speaking to a central point...similar to a photo essay. All of the items in the flat lay are working together seamlessly to create a message. Isn’t this the same thing we do when we write essays? Don’t we put a collection of sentences and paragraphs together to support one solid message?
Yes! So, this activity requires the same skillset but also speaks to creative and visual skills as well, something all of our students can benefit from moving forward in this digital world.
Now this is going to take the traditional essay to the extreme.
We have information coming at us from all different angles simultaneously in real time and we need to filter, process, and synthesize that information to make meaning out of it! Photog 101 doesn’t just help students communicate through images. It teaches them to communicate through the angle of images…through the angles of a camera. I know you're probably like, why would I do that in the middle of my ELA classroom?
Well, think about the following:
Think about certain angles with certain light and how that creates the mood for the viewer to experience. Whenever an audience is looking at images, that visual communication is so powerful and that visual communication is what we want our students to create!
With Photog 101, walk your students through five or six standard camera angles and explain how to really capture those angles in a way that resonates with the audience and speaks to them on that energetic and empathetic level.
Essentially, it's communication without words.
They pull together their portfolio about themselves or other topic and tell a story with different camera angles. Through different images in different placements with different camera angles, they are achieving the emotion behind the images, not just the images themselves. This type of activity really gets them to think creatively, from a detailed and big picture perspective, while still hitting on so many standards.
I hope these ideas are inspiring and hope you can bend, break, or blend them in your existing curriculum as all of us teachers seem to do!
If you are interested in a step-by-step detailed plan for any which one of the activities, you can easily access them HERE! Go ahead and get your hands on a very healthy stack of lesson plans, detailed down to the rubric to help you get going with these types of activities in your classroom.
If you have any questions, I am here for you! Just reach out!
In the meantime, we will see you soon!
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