Use this fun info text right before Christmas break
You are welcome.
I say that because I know you will love Secrets of the Christmas Tree Trade by first-time author 24-year-old Owen Long and published in Curbed.com. And frankly, whether you use it in your lessons or not, I know you will love this charming story and its:
- fly-on-the-wall view of New York City’s Christmas tree business
- history of selling Christmas trees in NYC
- vivid imagery and details
- excellent reportage-style writing
It would be easy to build an assignment with this article to keep your students busy during these last few days before break. Read on for the lesson plan and then click the print button at the bottom of this post.
Because I’m always thinking of ways to take the interesting things I read out in the real world into my classroom, I’m wondering…
Could this be a mentor text to inspire students to write their own “tell-all” piece on a topic of their choosing?
After all, my students have some of the THE most interesting stories to tell about their jobs and hobbies. In fact, my students definitely enjoy as much of an insider’s view of their jobs as Owen Long does of the Big Apple’s Christmas tree trade.
For example, my students have their own stories about barrel racing, calving, hay hauling, working at Dairy Queen, and care-giving in nursing homes.
Long’s article would be the perfect text to kick off a final week of personal narrative writing. His first two paragraphs offer so much inspiration. Here they are:
What do we notice in Long’s lead? Look at that first paragraph alone:
- the scene in an ER
- imagery (fluorescent lighting)
- sounds (groaning, jingling bells, Bing Crosby singing)
- an element of surprise… He doesn’t feel Christmas; he feels a concussion.
What do we notice about the second paragraph?
- There’s a shift from the scene to an overview of the writer’s experience and involvement with the job.
It would be easy to build an assignment with this article to keep your students busy during these last few days before break. Here’s how.
Lesson Plan: “Secrets of the Christmas Tree Trade” (4-5 class periods)
- Take one class period to read this article aloud to your students. Please note: the article is lengthy. It runs about 6,500 words… just a little longer than Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby.
- Vox Media, which owns Curbed, allows teachers to distribute print handouts to up to 150 students. See their policy here.
- As you read, have students circle especially strong imagery, dialogue and details. In other words, circle those phrasings that catch your eye, ear, or mind for any reason. Discuss these noticings. Talk about the effects of the various strong verbs, specific details, the literary devices.
- Use the bullets above for discussion ideas.
- During the next class period, have students brainstorm with a partner some ideas for their own “insider” essays.
- Once topics are chosen or fairly settled on, have them refer to their annotated copies of the article, paying special attention to Long’s first sentences, to imitate as they zoom in on a moment in their jobs with intense descriptions. Start drafting.
- Have students work on 500-word (or the length you prefer) “rough drafts” for another day or so. Have them share their drafts to you when they’re ready.
- Skim through their writing and:
- highlight in yellow their three strongest moments.
- highlight in another color any fused sentences, comma splices, or sentence fragments.
- Then tell students to 1) remove 250 least important words, 2) leave in their yellow highlighted strongest moments, 3) repair their sentence errors. Students should retain their marked-up draft.
- Assign the final draft. The goal: significant improvement over the rough draft.
- Grade it fast! Award students full points for showing improvement through revision.
Need to fill another day?
Have students read their first two or three paragraphs. Fit in speaking and listening standards by asking students to write down one question on notebook paper after each reading. Call on a student at random to ask their question.
Thanks for reading!
I truly love this article. It’s Christmas-y, well-written, and ripe for imitating. Isn’t it great when you find real-world essays that can be used in the classroom?
Let me know if you decide to use it and tell me how it goes by leaving a message on my Contact page.
Need a new poetry idea?
Enter your email below and I’ll send you this PDF file that will teach your students to write Treasured Object Poems, one of my favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!