Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Essay of the Week

In our fifth grade classes, we implement one of Rafe Esquith's (author of Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire) favorite things - Essay of the Week (or as our kids refer to it, EOTW)!

Every week, students are required to write an essay. The topics vary. Sometimes they are based on the social studies the students are learning or writing techniques. Oftentimes, those are combined. Here are some examples from this year.

  • Do you support the bombing of the Lusitania, or do you think it was uncalled for? Support your opinion with evidence. Consider the opposing point of view.
  • Compare and contrast the Roaring 20s with the Great Depression. Create a Venn Diagram or Double-Bubble Map to plan your writing.
  • Imagine that you show up at school one morning, and there is a sign on the front door saying, "School is closed." Why did the school closed? What is the conflict? What will you do about it? Include descriptions of setting, protagonist and antagonist, three major plot events, and the conflict and solution.
Essays don't always have to be five-paragraphs. Sometimes we provide an outline for the essay so that students have the support they need to have writing success. Sometimes we just let the kids go with it and see what they come up with. We've even had students write poems for essays of the week, especially on a short week or a testing week.

This week, we're wrapping up our study of Modern America. We're covering from about 1985 until today. Here's our EOTW for this week:

Imagine you are YOU, but you live in a time when these things don't exist:
  • personal computers (laptop or desktop)
  • the Internet
  • cell phones
  • video games
What will you do on a typical Saturday? Be sure to include good descriptions of character, setting, and plot. Have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

My students are flabbergasted! I overhead one of my students say, "Oh my gosh! That must have been, like, during the 1920s!" *Sigh. I had to go tell him that I grew up without all of those things! My students looked at me like I was an alien.

But you may ask why we have an essay every week. We feel that writing is a lot like riding a bike - the more you practice, the better you'll get. We just had our statewide writing assessment, and the kids felt confident and have done a great job on the practice. I hope that our test scores will confirm our beliefs about writing and essays of the week! I started this last year, and my students did a great job on the writing assessment. 

I think that this will really pay off for them in the long run as well. Another of my students said last week to the rest of the class, "Do you realize that when we finish 5th grade, we'll have written over 40 essays?" The kids were amazed. Then another student replied, "That means we'll be REALLY ready for middle school!" 

So, my students might think I'm an outdated alien life form, but at least they seem to understand whey we have them write so much! And it appears that some of them actually appreciate it - LOVE!