Tag Archive for College Essays

History Pin: Classroom Ideas

History Pin first caught my eye when Richard Byrne highlighted it on his website Free Technology for Teachers.  Now I know I’m an English teacher and that I should be able to articulate, in great detail, the coolness of History Pin.

iStockphoto.com

Unfortunately, I can’t.  It’s just cool.  Exploring History Pin requires little more than the ability to get on the website.  The concept is simple really.  Anyone with a Gmail account can pin photos to a specific geographic location.  With each pinned photo is the opportunity to add a “story” on the photo itself.  With modern Google street view as the backdrop, photos appear in the spot where they were originally taken.  The effect is remarkable.  It makes a much better argument than I ever could about history, the human experience and the passage of time.  History Pin’s overview video is a good place to start with your students when beginning any project involving the website.

What’s particularly intriguing is the idea, in their words, of creating a digital history of the world. Easy to navigate, the website offers several different classroom uses. Because students can search their own streets and towns, it is an interesting way to teach about the art of stories via image.   History Pin offers a variety of resources for getting started.  Check out their resources so that you can easily familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the website.

1.  Use it as a means to explore time periods that accompany literary units. Now that the National Archives and the Smithsonian have partnered with History Pin there many options for how this can be accomplished.  Listed below are some collections/tours that can be easily implemented in your classroom.  Have students annotate the images and use them to create arguments about literature’s place within the society it represents as well as today.

2.  Use History Pin as a means for students to begin constructing their own narratives or college essays.

  • Since students struggle with creating their own authorial voice, ask that they begin by creating a History Pin tour of their own focused on one particular theme (i.e. the role of family, nostalgia, education, disappointments, triumphs).  Each photo should reflect the theme that they are creating.
  • When they create the accompanying “stories” for each photo have them treat each as if they are the opening paragraph of their college essay or personal narrative.  They should not just be a basic summary of the photo itself.  Use our previous post about personal narratives to offer some professional models before you begin.

Weekend Tech: Tweets are still #funny

 

In yesterday’s post I referenced The New York Times Article, Writer’s New Form: Tweet-Up Comedy.  One of the most interesting components to the piece was WitStream, an aggregator of humorous tweets.  Now I think WitStream is simply genius.  It helps that Michael Ian Black is one of the brains behind it, and I do like the idea of a “24 hour live comedy ticker.”  I am not recommending that you show the website/posts in their entirety to your students.  It can be a minefield.  Instead, take a screenshot of appropriate WitStream posts.  See example below:

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Writing and Voice: Day Three

Quite often a student asks me why I can’t specifically give them a formula for how to improve their voice as a writer.  Now of course I can talk about style and formatting.  I can even discuss punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice.  But ultimately, the right answer is that there is no right answer.  This is the type of response that drives a teenager insane.  INSANE.  I know this because I’ve watched it happened directly in front of me.

The fact that everyone can have their own style/voice stymies them.  It can’t possibly be true.  It just can’t.  I must be withholding, joking or tricking them.  It’s easy to have them identify the difference in writer’s voice between Hemingway and Fitzgerald but it’s not so simple when they are being asked to come up with their own voice.   I mean, their must be some kind of surefire checklist that gets them an A.  No?

That’s why there’s nothing like This American Life.  Nothing.  It’s one of those radio shows that you don’t just listen to.  It’s an emotional investment every week.  For our purpose today it is also a lesson in teaching students about voice and point of view.  Each week the host, Ira Glass, highlights a topic and then includes anywhere from 2-8 acts from other commentators about that topic.

Some of my favorites include What I learned from Television, Return to Childhood and Notes on Camp.   Transcripts are available for all of the shows along with the audio.  All you have to is select episodes and acts.  (A whole show runs 59 minutes, and not all of it is appropriate for some students.)

What this offers you is the opportunity to provide examples of “stories” all on the same topic but wide ranging in terms of their approach.  It’s great for creating voice in personal essay, college application essays, even for working on how to create meaningful introductions and conclusions in academic writing.

 

Using only the Prologue

Annotating and Discussing

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style, and point of view.
  • Have them discuss his argument, voice, and point of view as a class.

Writing

  • Have them construct an opposing point of view to Glass’s using his voice and style. 
  • Have them add another paragraph to the argument he’s already constructed in the prologue.   

 

Using the Prologue and “Acts”

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style and point of view.
  • After students have annotated and you’ve all discussed as a class, have students write a short piece about This American Life’s theme of the week.
  • Then, have students listen to one of the individual “acts” following along with the transcript while they mark for voice again.
  • As a class discuss/evaluate the speakers voice and the format of the “act.”
  • Now, have students rewrite their piece based on some of the characteristics found in the first “act” you’ve played them.

Repeat with as many acts as you enjoy/have time to use in class.

Writing & Voice: Day Two

Sometimes I forget that students struggle to understand the reasoning behind teaching literature.  Sure, they are very good at understanding plot, but how much of that is a result of sparknotes?  And yes, they are very good at seeing blatant symbols; what else is The Scarlet Letter to most them but a visible discussion about human sin and failing?  Where they struggle is in understanding how texts serve as professional models of writing.  And I struggle to teach them the importance of mimicking good writers in their essays and journals, paragraphs and reflections.

Creating student voice begins by having them blend their own ideas with the style of authors they’ve read.  Finding pieces that are accessible to students is a good place to start.  50 Essays: A Portable Anthology is a wonderful resource if you’re already using it for your classes.  If not, David Sedaris and Amy Tan, both of whom have featured essays in the anthology have works available online.

 

Give students a non-fiction text to read.  Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and David Sedaris “Us and Them” or “Let it Snow” are perfect for this type of an exercise.  They’re also enjoyable to read for both students and teachers.

These non-fiction pieces are great for classroom discussion since they examine the idea of family.  Have students focus on identifying:

  1. Phrasing and word choice that contribute to author voice
  2. Punctuation that helps to uncover author voice
  3. Details and storylines that create intimate conversations between author and reader.
  4. Engaging elements in the introductory paragraphs and reflection in the concluding paragraphs.

After your class has made a list of unique author characteristics, ask students to write, employing the characteristics of either Sedaris or Tan.  This can be a perfect way to practice learning voice for personal narratives or college application essays.

Beginning Assignment

Mimic David Sedaris’ style as respond to the prompt below. Your response should be one paragraph of 8 or more sentences

Discuss your favorite food related memory from elementary school.

Include:

  • Sensory descriptions
  • Witnesses-Who saw this occur?
  • Exaggeration-but only if it’s funny

 

 

Since creating good voice in student writing means “throwing out” bland sentences, know in advance that this paragraph will probably only manufacture 1 or 2 meaningful sentences.  Use the revision exercise below to work with those sentences.

 

Revision Assignment

  1. Choose the best two sentences from your food memory written in Sedaris’ style.
  2. Reread the Sedaris story (or give them a second story) in order to remember his writing style.
  3. Revise your best two sentences in order to completely create the “Sedaris effect.”

 

You can use this type of exercise multiple times and even ramp up the level of difficulty or change the outcome.  If you prefer argumentative or analytical writing, choose columnists like Maureen Dowd or Charles Krauthammer.  Instead of writing about the personal, have them write about research topics or current events mimicking the style of newspaper columnists.