Using Books and Articles to Write Authentically

Every Thursday the mayor of the small town where I work comes to read aloud to my class.  How absolutely amazing and heartwarming is it, that this man takes time out of not only his regular job, but also his mayoral duties to faithfully show up at our doorstep and spend 30 minutes with us!
During the first semester we read Wonder.  Not only was my class completely enthralled by this book, but so was our mayor.  He LOVED talking to my class about the messages in that book, and they couldn't wait to discuss the precepts with him as well.

When we finished reading the book I had my students write thank you notes to him.  Each student chose the precept that meant the most to them, and wrote a friendly letter describing the precept and an argument as to why their particular quote was the best in the book.  This was a perfect "real-world" writing activity.  My students were writing with a a real person!

It is so important to create situations where our students are authentically writing.  Our mayor is used to listening to arguments and solving problems.  Creating this shared sense of authenticity for my students was a perfect way to work on writing stamina and involve the skills of a "real-world adult" in the writing process.  They could practice writing in their own voices and incorporate other skills we had been working on, including determining tone in writing.

When students had finished, I also had them write letters to me for the same purpose.  I hung these up in our reading corner, and it has been interesting watching my students read each other's work and argue a little over the claims.  Isn't that what we are looking for our students to do?  Discuss and support their claims?

Want to help your student write more authentically?  Here are a few suggestions:
Invite a community member into your classroom to share information about his or her job.  Pair this experience with an informational article you have read.  Have an article on hurricanes? tornadoes? snowstorms?  Ask a meteorology professor to visit from the local college or make arrangements to Skype and interview where they can share information.  Allow your students to discuss and interact about the topic at hand.  If you need to, help them design important questions to ask this expert. After the Skype, presentation, etc.  have students write about the experience with their own claim.

Finally, Model... model... model... model.. model.  Did I say it enough?  Your students watching you model writing is one of the most authentic, powerful tools you can provide, especially if you feel you struggle yourself with writing. I know sometimes that is scary, but your students watching you do something that you are not 100% comfortable with will tell them it's OK to not be perfect either!

I'd love to hear the tools you use to create authentic writing in your classroom.  Please share your ideas!

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