Ready. Set. Write. These three words set the tone for my pedagogic philosophy about writing: For students to improve their writing, they must write often (preferably daily) and they must write in quantity.
I expect students to be ready to write daily. Additionally, rather than announcing an essay assignment at the end of a literature unit, I focus students attention on preparing for major writing assignments throughout our study of literature and weave focused writing instruction into the literature units.
As a teacher, it's my job to help students find their writing voices and to show them they have important things to say.
This lesson is part of the unit The Poetry of Nonfiction and Informational Texts: Connecting Genres.
"I am always writing. Always." The embedded video teases viewers with Sherman Alexie's words. What does Alexie mean when he says, "I am always writing."
The interview focuses on Alexie's winning the National Book Award for YA lit for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. While Alexie's YA novel certainly propelled him to literary superstardom, his genius spans genres.
Introducing students to Alexie's essay "Superman and Me" gives students a window into a minority writer's love of books and how they, too, can discover their inner reader.
My school is a feeder school for the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, and I have several Native American members of the Shoshone Bannock tribe in each of my classes.
Moreover, Alexie's essay combines two modes of writing: narrative and expository (process analysis). These two modes are reflected in the interview as Alexie tells the story of how he came to love books and includes glimpses into the "process" by which he learned to read at a very young age.
The relevant part is from 7:40-8:45.
After showing the interview clip, tell students that Alexie narrates the process of becoming a reader in an essay originally published in a newspaper, The Los Angeles Times. The name of the essay is "Superman and Me." The link is to a printable version of the essay, which The Los Angeles Times has made available with permission.
Give each student a copy of the essay. ShermanAlexie--Superman.pdf
Since Alexie talks about how a comic book character influenced his reading life, it's appropriate to storyboard the essay in honor of its comic book tribute.
Next, introduce students to the concept of storyboarding. To do this, I show student four different templates from which they can choose and give them a handout of one. It really doesn't matter which template students use, but I like the ones w/ lines best because they give students a place to write more.
I explain to students that their favorite movies, songs, television shows, and even video games begin w/ storyboarding the concept. I also tell them that comic book writers also storyboard, and that they can use storyboarding as a way to plan their own writing and as a way to show their thinking about a writer's writing.
I give students a definition of a storyboard: "A storyboard is a visual organizer. It generally shows a series of illustrations displayed in sequential order. Collectively, this sequence of illustrations provide one a pre-visualizing of a video, a movie, a television show, a commercial, or presentation." Essentially, we can use a storyboard to plan our own text or to analyze a pre-existing text.
Next, I read the first paragraph of the essay and either model or ask students to create one or more visuals to accompany the text using their own paper, which is based on the storyboard template.
Then I have the student put his/her drawing on the overhead (or document reader if one is available).
I repeat the reading and student example for the second paragraph.
Students then have the opportunity to ask questions before working on their own.
Before giving students time to read the essay and create their storyboards, I discuss the essay's structure briefly, explaining that it's narrative--tells a story--and process. I ask students what the word process means and write the word on the board.
One student tentatively responded, "gives steps for doing something."
I responded, "Absolutely right. A process essay tells the steps for doing something, so Alexie tells us the steps for his becoming a reader and puts those steps in the context of a story."
Next, I tell students that when they storyboard, I would like for them to think about two things:
I explain that we typically think about what happens when we read, but the way we use reading to improve our writing is to think about "how" writers tell the "what" when they write. This is something we'll get back to later in the year.
The student examples show how the students used visuals to construct meaning from Alexie's essay.