Last fall, one of my seventh-grade students wrote an “Expert Advice” article, one of ten assignments in our Writer’s Workshop project list. My students seemed to like this particular assignment. They chose a topic they were familiar with and then wrote a how-to article. “Jared” wrote an article called “Four Ways Novice Hunters Can Avoid Hunting Accidents.” He wrote a first draft, received feedback from another student, and then submitted a second draft to me.
Right away, I could tell it might be a piece I could submit on his behalf to a magazine, print or online. I knew Jared had a publishable story because of the way he tackled the assignment. First, he wrote his article in steps, which always makes for a reader-friendly piece. Second, Jared’s advice indicated that, as an avid hunter, he wrote from experience and possessed some natural expertise. In addition, his writing contained his own voice with tips such as, “Hunting on legal ground is also an important law to follow. By hunting on legal ground, or government property, you can avoid trespassing and a visit from the sheriff.” I knew that, with a few more rounds of revisions and edits, Jared would have an article ready to send out.
So the next morning during my plan time, I googled “deer hunting magazines youth” to see what I could find. A few results popped up. I visited a couple and found one in particular that seemed promising. I read what kinds of articles they typically publish and found the name of the editor. I also discovered that the magazine had a distribution of 57,000 copies!
After talking to Jared’s mother for her approval, I dashed off a short email to the editor asking if he would be interested in reviewing the article after Jared finished it. Here’s my email:
Dear (Editor’s Name):
Good morning! I’m an English teacher in Missouri and I have a student who is working on a very good how-to article for novice or first-time hunters. I told him I would inquire about any publishing opportunities he may wish to pursue.
Does your magazine ever publish student-written articles? Would this how-to type of article be a fit for your publication? If not, do you have any advice on where he might send his piece when it is finished?
Thanks for your time in thinking about this. I appreciate it.
Marilyn Yung, Teacher
Within three hours, the editor responded. (His quick response surprised me, by the way, because in my own writing experience, editors usually require from a few days to a week or two to respond.)
The editor’s reply: Yes, he would be interested in seeing the article when Jared had it ready. He explained that while the advice may not be useful to many of the magazine’s readers, the fact that the writer is a student may be the interesting part. He added that even if it didn’t work for the print publication, it could likely be used for the website. He ended with, “Either way, I’d like to take a look and see. We are trying to provide more how-to info for beginners, and we are also interested in encouraging young hunters and writers!”
So after two or three more revisions, we emailed the final draft just before the holiday break. I’ll let you know when I hear the final word from the editor about Jared’s article. Whether it is accepted for publication or not, it’s my hope Jared has learned he has solid potential as a writer for the world beyond the school walls.
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The future of the country is in good — albeit small — hands.
Just when you think the country is spiraling out of control due to natural disasters, political upheaval, and lone wolf violence, you read some words written by twelve- and thirteen-year-olds and you realize that kids will carry us through. In short, everything’s gonna be okay.
I just finished reading some first drafts written by my seventh-grade students. These drafts will grow into essays they will submit in a couple of weeks to an essay contest sponsored by our local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Each year has a different theme and this year’s is “America’s Gift to My Generation.” What are these gifts, as determined by my students? Here are some my students wrote about: freedom, the ability to make choices, security, free speech, education, medical technology, optimism, diversity, the opportunity to seek meaningful work, the Bill of Rights.
These gifts make me hopeful. My students could have written about video games and unlimited data, but they didn’t. To know that Sarah values her education, Eric treasures the freedom to speak out, and Kaila cherishes being secure, makes me realize that the future of the United States is in good — albeit small — hands.
A cynic might say, “Well, what would you expect? The kids want to win the veterans’ contest. Of course, they’re going to write about freedom, for example.” And to the cynic, I respond, “You’re exactly right.” My students know their audience. They know what’s appropriate (most of ’em anyway). That speaks well of their judgment and foresight, and again, I am encouraged.
I’m also encouraged because my students are diverse. Some occupy the lowest rungs on the socio-economic ladder; some rest comfortably at the top. Some have the latest Smartphone; others are living the digital divide. Some ask to borrow scissors and glue-sticks to take home for a class project; others have all these supplies at home plus full bookshelves.
However, despite their various circumstances, these first drafts reveal that deep down my students know what’s important and worth writing about. They understand priorities. They know that being an American provides advantages that millions in other parts of the world simply don’t have. More importantly, my seventh-graders — tomorrow’s leaders — know whom they should thank for those advantages: our veterans.
Next week, we’ll start revising these first drafts. They’ll become more focused, more eloquent, more concise. These short writings will blossom into hopeful messages that confirm our future is secure.
Our local VFW post will generously award three students with recognition and cash prizes during our Veteran’s Day assembly in November. When that happens, I’ll share with you the gifts the winners wrote about. Until then, no matter what happens in the meantime, trust my seventh-graders. Everything’s gonna be okay.
Thanks for reading. If you learned something from this post, click like and share it on social media. Most importantly, leave a comment so I can know your thoughts on the subject. Also, follow this blog for more ELA teaching reflections and information about writing contests for students, including the VFW contest mentioned above.
I drove the twenty minutes to my classroom today to . . . start. There’s always a day or two (or three) before the big day when we’re required to return to school for in-service training. On days like today, when I’m often working alone, I just begin. Here’s what I did, with the help of my husband for the heavy lifting:
- returned all the furniture that had been moved to one side of my classroom by maintenance staff to its approximate place in the room
- untangled a giant wad of electrical and computer cords that had also been moved
- connected my computer back to its dock
- set up the sound system
- tested the speakers; played Ed Sheeran for a sound check; yep… sounds good
- tested my smartboard
- connected the document camera
- put the desks into loose rows that will probably change before it all begins
- helped a new teacher across the hall begin to get settled
- made a mental note to purchase an oil diffuser like the one used by the same new teacher
- rearranged my small black bookshelves
- put the carpet down
- uncovered the big bookshelves
- stared inside my closet. (But that’s all I did because it’s packed too tightly. Once I start unpacking it, there will be no going back.)
- put some new stickers in my sticker drawer. (Never underestimate the value of a sticker.)
- resolved to buy a new poster or two for my big poster wall
- looked at some boxes of supplies and books I requisitioned last spring
- decided to leave those boxes for another day
Now, I’m off to start a draft about Contest #4 That Works for My Students. Look for it tomorrow! Here’s a post about Contest #3. I love using writing contests in my ELA teaching.
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Congratulations! You found Medium. You should stick around and see what this site offers English Language Arts teachers.
Wander aimlessly throughout this platform and its writers and publications. It won’t take long before you’ll unearth some very cool stories (btw, everything is called a story on Medium) about an unending supply of topics: from coding to human rights, from motivational thinking to tacos. Get lost in the good stuff on Medium and then plan to share this goldmine of writing with your students in the fall.
One way I share Medium with my middle school language arts students is by finding a story to use as a mentor text. If we’re writing, for example, how-to articles, I search in my Medium network for an age-appropriate one I think will intrigue my middle schoolers. Then I print, make copies and we read them in class.
Then we’ll do a straight-through “cold” read. Sometimes I read aloud; sometimes I have students do that on their own. After that first read, students are often surprised at the original, sometimes quirky, always engaging writer’s voices found on Medium. They can’t believe, for example, that someone actually wrote this. They also can’t believe the variety. Research-driven studies and silly listicles… it’s all here. Medium stories are a fresh change from the made-for-school reading they get so much of.
Then we pass around the highlighter bucket and we read the story again, marking it up and keeping track of the ideas it presents and the questions it poses. And then we talk. Here are the questions we throw around:
- Do you like this story? Do you find it enlightening? Does it speak to you? How?
- How does it begin? How does it end?
- Where is the strongest moment in this story? Weakest?
- What do we notice about how it’s built?
- How many paragraphs? How many sentences in a paragraph?
- What techniques does the author use? Repetition? Alliteration?
- Does it have a topic sentence or a main idea? What is it?
- How does the author develop and explore this idea?
- Does the author use evidence? How is it presented? Is it effective?
- If you had written this article, how would you have tagged it?
- What techniques could you pull from this mentor text as you write your own how-to?
I know that looks like a lot of discussion questions. In fact, you may be thinking, Wow. Way to take a perfectly good story and ruin it with over-analysis.However, our discussions are casual and organic; we ask the questions that make sense for the story we happen to be reading. Everybody is free to contribute, of course, and they do because the stories on Medium are accessible, relevant and created by real, living and breathing, connected writers who blog about the world that exists beyond the concrete block walls of school.
So now that you’ve found Medium, delve deeper. Find a handful of stories that you’re enthusiastic about. Restock your highlighter bucket. Get lots of colors. Plan to read, talk about, and imitate some Medium stories with your students this fall.
Click like if: a) you liked this, or b) know some teachers who need to find Medium. Could that be you??? Follow this blog to stay in touch. I’ll be posting more Medium resources for teachers soon. Thanks for reading!