I’m Writing, Too; So Should You

Yesterday, I shared some of the handout materials that we are using for our Environmental Science/Persuasive Essay Project that my sixth graders are starting to embark upon. As we began some web-based research yesterday, I explained to them that I was assigning myself the project, too. And I am. As they work through their ideas, I am working through mine.

My intent is to make my thinking visible to them every step of the way — from these initial brainstorming/planning sessions to the writing of the piece to the creation of the media component that will accompany the essay at the end. I want to try to show them how writers work — the ups and the downs — and answer questions they have about my writing process, and share my work with them, just as I have them share their work with me and the class.

So, yesterday, I shared out my topic (Fuel Cell Technology as an alternative energy source) and walked them through how to use our graphic organizer on gathering information from websites. Although it is not a full-scale research project, they need to have some background knowledge in order to “make a case” for their persuasive ideas.

Here is what I shared with them:
Web Research My Sample

Tomorrow, we will begin to use another graphic organizer to map out their essay. For many of them, this is the first large essay project they have encountered, and so we take it slowly, laying out daily expectations to make it manageable. A graphic organizer is invaluable to this project for many of my students, particularly those struggling writers.

Here is my Essay Map for a piece on Fuel Cell Technology:
Five Paragraph Essay Map – My Sample

Writing with my students is a powerful experience, and I wish more teachers would do it. I can’t remember any of my teachers actually writing with us or sharing their writing with us. It always made me wonder what kind of writers they were. It was as part of them was hidden from view.

My students appreciate the honesty (I tell them when I run into walls and I let them in on frustrations and successes), and I hope it provides a model for them in their own writing. The real dangers here are that you could embarrass yourself as a writer (I don’t worry about that but I acknowledge that some teachers do) and some students might seek to emulate you so completely that it feels as if they are a shadow writer. That’s why I picked Fuel Cells — not a single student knew what that was and there was no danger of a copycat writer. (Oh, another bonus: I get to learn more about an interesting alternative technology and my students will be learning, too, through my sharing of my work).

Peace (in the cells),

  1. Yes, many teachers are readers but very few I know are actually writers. Students usually write because their teacher tells them to and teachers don’t write at all so students see writing as an unnatural process. Also, if you don’t write yourself you tend to make unrealistic expectations for student writers. For example, in classrooms students often have to take every piece of writing through the whole writing process and have no chances to change their minds about their topic. In real life, I discard more blog posts, more screenplays, more short stories, than I actually publish. Practicing writers know this but teachers who simply assign writing do not.

    Thanks for sharing your process. It’s helpful as I’m teaching a writing lesson today.

    • I think your comment about the discards is important — writers often go down a path that goes nowhere, and then are forced to double back and retry again.

  2. Your lesson flows so nicely. Your observations and interaction with your students must pay big dividends. Did you design all your graphic organizers? They would work well with younger students just learning the research process.

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