Use John Green’s classic for awesome student essays
One of my favorite book purchases of 2022 was uber-popular author John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. This book contains about forty-four personal essays on events, objects, and/or people chosen by The Faults in Our Stars author as examples of how humans have helped shaped our current age. Each essay ends with a star review, ranking each topic on a scale of one to five stars.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. It’s an invaluable 274-page resource for showing students real-world blended-genre writing that incorporates research, personal anecdotes, and historical context… on a wildly diverse range of thoughtful topics, including:
- Diet Dr Pepper
- scratch-and-sniff stickers
- air conditioning
- spinal meningitis
- the Indy 500
- the QWERTY keyboard
- the Lascaux cave drawings
- our capacity for wonder, a la Jay Gatsby
As written on the book’s dust jacket, the essays in Green’s book celebrate the Anthropocene, the current geologic age, “in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity.”
Green’s essays serve as wonderful mentor texts to inspire students to write their own similarly styled essays.
In my own classes last year, I read aloud several of Green’s essays, and then facilitated a retroactive outlining activity to help students prepare to write their own Anthropocene reviews.
To define the project, I created an essay assignment sheet that briefly spelled out the gist of the assignment. I used this sheet with my high school juniors and it resulted in one of my favorite essay assignments of the year!
Note: My assignment sheet does not include a word count requirement. I had my students write essays of 750-1,000 words. Please include the word count requirement (if needed) that suits your students. Also, a rubric is included with blanks so you can fill in the points you prefer.
Briefly, students chose topics (events, people, objects, or inventions), and then they explored those topics’ histories, adding personal connections, observations about the topics’ impacts on humanity or life today, and star reviews that served as the thesis statements.
This sheet will guide your students to write their own Anthropocene reviews based on the style and format that Green uses in his book and on his podcast.
The directions read as follows:
- After reading and taking notes on three to four of John Green’s essays from the book or the podcast, write your own review that could be featured in the book.
- Choose anything you are interested in writing about and then take a mental stroll with it. Like Green does, choose something that you can research and identify with on a personal level that will also make a larger statement about humanity and/or life today. For example, Green wrote about Diet Dr Pepper to comment on man’s innovation. He wrote about the QWERTY keyboard to comment on man’s collaboration.
- Simulate Green’s style. Use your notes to recall and reference the choices Green made to include the four areas on the rubric below: historical info/context, personal connection, a larger statement about humanity, and a thesis with star review.
My students seemed to enjoy writing such creative and personal essays, and I enjoyed learning so much about their perspectives on all sorts of interesting topics…
…including toe socks and drag racing!
Also, it seemed that nearly everyone was familiar with John Green (thanks Crash Course!). He’s got serious street cred, and that helps A LOT when assigning essays LOL.
I hope you enjoy using this assignment with your students. It’s a winner! Thanks to John Green for his amazing collection of thoughtful essays.
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As mentioned in my first post of the year, I’m currently reading and researching some nonfiction texts that address student disengagement and how it is encouraged by the Internet, Chat GPT, screen time in general, and our distraction-filled culture. Stay tuned for more information and, hopefully, some creative ideas on how to address this issue with and alongside students.
Feel free to leave a message or ask a question about the Anthropocene Reviewed essay resource, student disengagement, or another teaching concern by leaving me a message on my Contact page. I appreciate you!
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