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Teach Middle and High Schoolers a Potent Unit on the Personal Essay–and Create a Supportive Classroom Community in the Process

Aug 29, 2024
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Date: Thursday, August 29, 2024

Time: 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM ET

Location: Online, via Zoom

Who Should Attend: Grades 6-12 teachers and coaches

Cost: $150 per person

Secondary students spend lots of school time writing text-based pieces, from literary essays to research papers. Personal writing sometimes feels like an afterthought. But when students begin to draft admissions essays for colleges, selective high schools, or special programs, they need to write in a different mode. When they apply for their first job, they are telling their story, not composing an analysis. More than this, adolescence is a time of self-definition. The art of writing to communicate something meaningful about yourself and your world is something that will matter deeply to your students –  not only now, but in the future. 

This day will help you make the personal essay come alive for your students. You’ll study vibrant, powerful mentor texts and student writing that will help you form an image of the kind of writing you want students to do, and the level of insight and craft they can achieve. You’ll learn concrete ways to use those mentor texts with students, as well as a handful of places where you and your students can reliably find more mentor texts that represent a range of voices and experiences.

You’ll hear about how you can lean on the writing process to teach a quick mini-unit that equips your students to write personal essays on topics that matter to them. You’ll learn and try out methods for helping kids generate meaningful– and manageable– topics, ways to help kids use their existing knowledge of structure to make plans for their essays, and craft moves that bring out a writer’s voice. You’ll leave the day with fresh, new tools drawn from education research, such as the work of John Warner and Liz Prather, as well as from practicing writers.  

Then, too, when your students become equipped to write personal essays, they develop a deeper understanding of The Essay, writ large. This background becomes foundational as they move on to write literary essays and research-based argument essays and critical essays across the curriculum. So the work that you do now, in this mini-unit, truly provides a foundation for all that will follow. 

Expect to walk away with a sense of possibility and a brimming toolkit of ways to make personal essay writing feel important, doable, and meaningful for you and for your students.

Across this day, expect to:

  • Learn ways to use mentor texts to lift the level of student writing, and gain access to some of our very favorite personal essays to use as mentor texts. 

  • Learn about a powerful mini-unit you can use to launch your year that will strengthen essay writing from the start. 

  • Try some quick strategies to get students writing up a storm about topics that matter deeply to them.

  • Hear about ways you can support transference of students’ existing writing knowledge into this important genre. 

  • Draw on the latest research and craft of expert writers to deepen your own knowledge of personal essay writing.