A colleague on social network for teachers posted this query. Because many of you are considering similar issues as you plan for the school year, I decided to include my response as a blog.
What themes do you think would resonate with 8 graders that might incorporate
all 3 genres of writing- narrative, informational and argumentative?
Please elaborate if you have ideas!
Consider “Who am I? Who Are We?”. By 8th grade young adolescents are beginning to pull away from parents in an attempt to establish their own identities. This is a propitious time to have them read, write, and talk about themselves, others their age and the challenges of determining and living lives of integrity. Three assignments that evoke this kind of cogetation include a journalism piece on “What award will I earn in 25 years?” It is written as a human interest article that requires students to consider their current skills and interests, what education and experience will be required to achieve their goals and how their behavior, performance or products benefits society in ways that qualify the student for the local, national or international recognition. Here’s the link to the first assignment, the “Human Interest Story”
The second assignment invites the students to respond to “Who Am I?” as it relates to their family and community, culture or nationality. It’s called “What’s in a Name?” and is a variation on one frequently assigned after reading the chapter “My Name” in Sandra Cisnero’s coming of age novel, House on Mango Street. The complete assignment is found in Chapter 11 of Teaching Writing in the Middle School: Common Core and More (November, 2013), and calls for students to conduct different kinds of research to answer and then write, in the mode of their choice, about questions relating to their names. Some write narratives, some write informational essay, some choose to combine the two.
- Use a dictionary and/or online resources to find out what each of your own names means.
- Interview a family member to learn the sources of your name(s). If you have equipment, audio or videotape the interview. Who named you and why? Are you named for a friend or family member? Someone else?
- Determine the kind of surname or last name you have. Is it a place name, like Al-Fassi, Hall or Rivera; an occupation, like Chandler, Smith or Taylor; a descriptive, Braun or Strong, or a patronymic or version of a father’s name, like Ben-Yehuda, McNeil or Von Wilhelm, etc.?
- Describe incidents you have experienced because of your name, including mispronunciations, misspellings, and misunderstandings.
- Write about nicknames and related embarrassing or humorous experiences.
- Identify challenges you feel because of the name(s) you carry.
The third assignment asks students to consider what they value and how that influences their behavior. We look at fiction and non-fiction to see how people, real and imagined, are motivated by what they believe. We look at the conflict that arises because of differing beliefs, and then students write and deliver persuasive speeches that use as counter-arguments opposing beliefs about topics of interest to the students and may arise from issues they
experience or observe in literature and in life. Here’s a link to that values assignment.
The key to the success of these assignments is creating and nurturing a safe environment in which students learn how to listen respectfully and respond courteously to their classmates. For this reason, I recommend beginning with the names assignment, move on to the award, and then the assignment on values.
The first assignment is primarily personal and students get to know one another during peer feedback time, reading and commenting on the way peers write rather than challenging the veracity of what they say.
The second, again, is personal, requires some research, but projects into the future encouraging students to consider ways the choices they make today influence the opportunities they have in the future.
The third, also is personal, but because it raises issues relating to religion, politics, and morals, can be delicate if students do not feel safe being vulnerable and expressing preferences for values that may be very different from those of their peers.
All in all, however, each of the assignments flows from the questions: “Who Am I?” and “Who Are We?” and elicit the three kinds of writing you mention in your posting: narrative, informational, and argumentative.