Inspiring Reading and Writing With an Authentic Audience - Part 2

This project is part of the Go Beyond Challenge I took on, along with some teachers I work with. See Part 1 of this project for some more background. I also explained how I started it off with a group of elementary students (who acted as the authentic audience).

This second stage of the project doesn't require any technology use from the students. In it, I introduce some concepts about making good stories. I also share three powerful examples of people who overcame challenges in life.

This took just over one class period this time. I met with the older students (6th graders, this year) to introduce our working definition for a good story. As an aside, we normally try to get 7th graders writing for 3rd graders, to increase the difference in ages. As I'm sure all teachers understand, there have been many obstacles this year! We were glad to have a 5th grade teacher express interest in having her students be the audience. And due to scheduling decisions, the Learning Through Literature class happened to be a 6th grade class this time around. 

As I mentioned in Part 1, these students had been the readers in this project three years ago. They had a good idea of what the end result of this would be. The teacher and I decided we needed to sharpen the focus on this part of the process, though, so I assured the class we made some changes. I always like to present a project as something new we are trying. Students generally like to be a part of learning along with the teachers.

I showed a few slides and talked them through these points:

  1. I start with several of the slides I showed the younger students just a day before. I address how technology can open doors, how they have gifts for helping others, and how we all face obstacles in life that we need to overcome. I remind them of my personal stories. Of course, we talk as if this is all for the younger students, but I'm hoping to hook some of them with the message as well.
  2. I show them the questions I asked the younger students. I don't share any of their responses yet, but I explain that those answers will be given to them the next day.
  3. I also be sure to include a photo that I took of the younger students, as they filled out the survey. Of course, seeing their faces is a key part of the motivation for this project. They will be writing for real students who need to hear the message.
  4. I introduce our definition of a good story:  A character who wants something, and overcomes obstacles to get it
  5. We take some time to discuss where we see this pattern in our favorite books and movies.
  6. I ask them to read one of three short biographies I compiled. I tell them these people were selected because they overcame challenges, then went on to help others. These are all inspiring stories to me that I enjoy sharing with them with the class. I certainly prefer a true story to fiction. The links below will take you to the documents I use (which cite the sources I pulled them from). I give them printed copies rather than having them get Chromebooks out for this.
    1. Ben Carson - Raised in poverty by his single mother, Carson faced great challenges in school. Everything turned around when he realized how much he could learn by reading.
    2. Phiona Mutesi - This story was made popular by the book and Disney movie, The Queen of Katwe. Phiona rose from extreme poverty when she discovered the game of Chess and quickly exceled at it.
    3. Helen Keller - This is a familiar story for most of us, but the students usually do not know it. The biography highlights the moment she remembers the word "water" and suddenly the world takes on meaning.
  7. After they finish the biographies, we put them in groups of three students who read the same biography. I give them a sheet of simple questions they can use to sum up the key parts of the person's story. (We used to have them just summarize what they read, but they had trouble focusing on the aspects relevant to this project.) The question sheet for each biograph is in this document.
  8. We then have each groups report out their answers, so everyone can hear the key points for each person. 
  9. This year we also shared this reading of Emmanuel's Dream, a children's book about one more person who overcame great obstacles to help others.
 As always, the students were very much into the project by the end of this part of the activity. In the final post, I'll talk about how we started making the stories and I'll share some final examples.