In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Oct
  • 08
  • 2008

We just finished our zombie writing in English 3, so this is the start of another unit. For this one, we’re writing about writing, reading, and thinking. It’s pretty tough for teenagers to spell metacognition, let alone actually perform it. Starting with a discussion of these ideas is smart, but it can’t be a class discussion because there are two sides to teenage opinion on books and no gray will be heard. It also devolves into a “cool” kid versus “nerd” kid conversation very quickly. So how to get students discussing these issues before they draw back onto old and flawed thinking, that’s Big One here.

Big Two comes in the form of the texts I’ve chosen. I work the students through pieces by Emerson (from “The American Scholar”) and Bloom (from “Why Read?”) for this and it’s usually a pretty confusing time. The payoff is strong, though, so it’s worth this trip in order to beef up their reading and thinking skills. It also sets the stage for how we’ll address future texts, yet another reason the chore is well worth the effort.

Big Two

This year, I’ve shrunk both texts down by just about half, taking out all the parts we regularly skip or that only make things more confusing (or, worse yet, I don’t even entirely understand myself). I’ve marked up my texts for the last few years and there are parts that shine as the most important. I left things in that help those parts make sense, but the rest I took out.

I need to do this more often.

Big One

Before we start to read the texts, though, I want the students to think about their opinions on these topics, to really get down to why they believe what they believe. Most students easily identify with one of two camps: reading sucks or reading is great. There is practically no middle ground there (and these camps don’t tend to be co-ed). To keep both camps focused and working through their beliefs, I gave a series of questions:

  1. Ideally, when should you read? Ideally, why should you bother to read?
  2. Really, when do you read? Really, why do you bother to read?

What use are books? Are books ever good? Would the world be different if we never had to read? Would your life be different? When is reading necessary? When might you enjoy reading? What’s the purpose of reading? Why would anyone ever write? What’s the point of reading and/or writing? Give an argument for or against reading. Back that argument up with experience and/or observations from your life.


  1. Groups just talk as a note taker jots it all down (10 mins.).
  2. The note taker reads off what was said, just to refresh everyone’s memory (2 mins.).
  3. Silently, they write down their ideas about these questions (5 mins.).
  4. Each person blurts out what they wrote (30 secs. each).

This isn’t groundbreaking, but it worked fairly well. The discussion I heard was on point and everyone wrote for five minutes non stop at the end. The following day, each group put together a 100-word response to the questions, one where all questions are addressed and everyone’s ideas are expressed (I gave 15 mins. for this).

Thursday is when we dive head first into Emerson. It’s also the day when groups will begin to work on transforming that piece of writing into a Visual Essay. These will come in two flavors:

  1. Chop your word count in half, no words anywhere in your visuals, read your writing as the visuals display
  2. All wording in visuals must come from your writing, maximum of 10 words per slide, 30 words total, do not read your writing as the visuals display

I have some work from last year to show as models. I’ll let you know how it goes.

When this is all over, we’ll have a piece of writing with several parts. Part One: a statement of opinion about books, reading, and writing. Part Two: an explanation of Emerson’s and Bloom’s ideas on same. Part Three: agreement or disagreement with the ideas of the two authors. Part Four: a visual component that helps defend/explain their ideas. I suspect this will be near the 1000 word mark (about 3 typed pages), though I haven’t set that in stone just yet. The logistics of all this is still in the works.

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