Four Ideas for New Year’s Writing Activities

BY: LIZ JORGENSEN

Hey there, happy Sunday! If you followed the advice of the many teacher blogs telling you to relax and take time for self-care over break and are now scrambling for some back-to-school lesson ideas… We got you, sis/bruh. Or, if you’re an impeccably focused and responsible teacher who did plan over break but wants to spice up your lessons with some timely writing activities, we got you too!

There’s something about the new year that makes people both reflective and forward-thinking. You go to write the date for the first time in January, and you realize that you’re writing a whole new number at the end of the date; the year is new, why can’t you be new as well?

This leads to thinking back over the past year and remembering the best and worst times of the past year. People tend to think about their mistakes and how they can do better the next year, and people of course make New Year’s resolutions.

And it’s not just adults who have those thoughts—our students are thinking about these ideas as well. With a time of year upon us that is so rife with personal reflection, analysis, and goal setting, how can we not capitalize on that in the classroom?

So, here are a few writing-based ideas that center around the ideas of reflection, goal-setting, resolutions, and the new year in general.

 

I Wish You a Merry New Year

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(Almost) yearly, author Neil Gaiman posts an open-letter-style New Year’s wish on his writing blog. Of course, because he is Neil Gaiman, they are beautifully crafted pieces of art. Any of his New Year’s wish letters, or a combination thereof, would make excellent mentor text writing for your students.

First of all, accessing these letters. Here is an article that posted portions of the letters from several years. If you find one that you like, you can Google it and find the full text on Neil’s blog. Also, here is the full letter from this year.

For those who haven’t delved into the realms of mentor text writing, the jist is that students examine an exemplar piece of writing, notice what makes it well-written, and then use the style to write their own piece. I teach freshmen in my English classes, so they need scaffolding with pretty much everything, and mentor text writing is no exception. Here are the directions I give to students when I have them use mentor texts:

For Mentor Texts, you must write the following:

1) I notice that…

-Write down what you see that makes this a good piece of writing

-In other words, what are techniques that the author is using to make it sound good?

-List at least TWO interesting things that you notice about how this piece of writing is written

2) My Turn…

-Use the techniques you noticed to write your own piece

I actually make them write the number 1 on their paper and write the heading, “I notice that…” and list their techniques, then we go over them as a class. Then, I show them my list, note any that we have already talked about, and also highlight any important factors that they missed. Then, I always also write my own “My Turn” portion to show the students how to use the style of the author to write my own piece. Then, I release them into the wild to write their “My Turn” portions.

Something to keep in mind for mentor text writing is appropriateness of length for writing readiness. It would be very difficult for my freshmen to take Neil’s entire blog and mentor-text it. There’s too much going on for them to hone in on the writing techniques being used. If I use this mentor text writing with my students this week, I will probably pick a paragraph or two for them to imitate. If you teach older or more advanced students, though, you may want to have them write an entire New Year’s open letter blog.

Also, notice that Neil focuses on his wishes for the world for the new year. You could have your students write their wishes for the world, their wishes for the school/community, their wishes for their family, for their soccer team, for an estranged friend etc. Having an option of a smaller focus may also be a good scaffold for students who struggle to think super broadly and feel that writing wishes for the world is too big.

 

I’ve Been to the Year 3000

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Another timely writing activity would be having students write a letter to their future selves. Generally, letters to the future both reflect upon the past and project into the future, which are the exact feeling that a new year stirs up.

To aid in this activity, some lovely people have set up an online version of the future letter concept. Simply type in your email address and your letter, set a date when you want your letter sent to you, and voila! You could specify that students set the date for the last week of school or the last week of 2020 to make the letter more appropriate to the new year specifically.

When I have done this activity with my students, I have written my own future-me letter and shared it with them first. Like mentor text writing, this gives them a concept of what their letter could look like and gives them a high standard of the reflective and critical thinking that they should put into their letter. Also, the Future Me website gives a plethora of examples from people who have volunteered their letters to be shared. So many mentor texts for the win!

 

One Word More, Another Word Another Destiny

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An oldie-but-goodie is to have your students choose a One Word for their new year. This has been an annual trend on Twitter for several years now, but choosing a guiding word for the year as a springboard for writing really never gets old. Just search for the hashtag #OneWord2020 on Twitter, and you will see tons of examples.

When I have used this in the past, I have had my students start by brainstorming about how they see themselves in a new year or a new semester. What are their goals for the new year? Whom do they want to become? In what ways do they want to grow? Then, I have them refine their brainstorming and look for one word to sum up the essence of what they are claiming. We look at some examples on Twitter as well.

I have them make a small poster displaying the word, defining it, and using it in a sentence. They must also decorate the poster in a way that shows how they hope the word will apply to their new year. I then display those in the classroom to keep their vocabular resolution in the forefront of their minds.

Here is a PowerPoint that I used last year for this lesson. OneWord2019 project

 

Information, Information, Information

What better way to start off the new year than with some depressing statistics about how people don’t keep New Year’s resolutions, am I right?

Ok, but for real, analyzing infographics that give statistics about the demographics and success/failure rate of New Year’s resolutions can help people see what is helpful and not helpful and how to have a better shot at meeting their goals, not just at New Year’s, but also in life in general.

Plus, being able to “read” a visual, a.k.a. analyze a visually curated piece for the argument that the creators intended to communicate, is a vital skill in our digitally-driven world.

When I have my students analyze a graph or infographic, we look at it together, discuss it informally, and then I have them write a 5-sentence analysis. Again, keep in mind the freshman factor. Scale up or down as needed for your own kiddos. Here are the directions I give them for analyzing an infographic:

Infographic Analysis Directions:

Write a paragraph of at least FIVE SENTENCES about this infographic.

  • You need to include both observation and analysis in your paragraph.
  • Observation = one thing/fact that you notice.
  • Analysis = something deeper about that fact, such as why it is important or what it means.

Analysis Questions to consider when writing your paragraph:

  1. What could that thing/fact/statistic cause?
  2. What has caused this to be true?
  3. Why is this important?
  4. What else could this tell me about this topic?
  5. What does this remind me of?
  6. How does the layout of the graphic help you understand the information?
  7. What information is NOT shown?

 

So, for the infographic samples. Here’s a bunch about varying statistics surrounding New Year’s resolutions.

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New-Year-Infographic

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And here’s a fun one about the history and traditional practices of New Year’s. For example, did you know that England didn’t replace the Julian calendar with the Gregorian calendar and adopt January 1st as the beginning of the new year until 1752?? I didn’t. Actually, I fact checked that before I posted this one so as to not spread any fake news on the blog.

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So there you have it! Hopefully some of these ideas will give you a leg up in getting back into the school year grind. Happy 2020!

Liz Jorgensen (formerly Keiper) is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @LizJorgenTeach.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • What are some other lessons that you use to help students both reflect and look forward during the time of the new year?
  • Share some strategies you have used to help students tackle mentor text and infographic analysis.

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Looking Back to See Progress

BY: LIZ KEIPER

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

― Søren Kierkegaard ―

While every season of the school year has pros and cons, I often feel that January through March is the sweet spot of the year. At this point, you know your kids pretty well; you know their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their personalities, what motivates them, and you feel like you’ve built enough of a rapport with them that while they respect you, they still know that you care about them. However, one of my favorite things about the winter months is getting to see the progress that my students have made.

This year, I’m embarking on phase one of National Board Certification. Since I’m working mainly on component 2 this year, I have been collecting work samples of various struggling students all year so that I can study and write about their growth throughout the school year. Because I’m so specifically looking to see growth in the students I’ve honed in on, I’m noticing it much more this year than I have in the past. In the beginning of the year, I sarcastically joked that at least the terrible essays that I was grading would make wonderful NBCT fodder. However, it has been exciting to watch the growth of these students in a more intentional way than I have in the past. It’s like they’ve become my favorite sports teams, and every time they turn in a writing assignment, I’m rooting for them—“Yeah, look at that well-crafted thesis!” or “Using a topic sentence for the WIN!” or “Come on, come one, come on, use a specific example to support your argument! I know you can do it—there it is!! GOALLLLLLLLLL!”

I’ve also had some wonderful interactions with students who at an earlier point in time were real classroom management issues for me. Not that all of my students have become perfect angels in the past six months, but… I do tend to think about some students in the beginning of the year, “This is going to be a battle all year. We’re never going to click. I just need to work as hard as I can to not let them get the better of me.” And, some students do remain a figurative thorn in my side for 180 days, but there are always a handful who surprise me, which subsequently makes me feel ashamed for making foreshadowed assumptions about their lack of behavioral growth. The takeaway: never give up on people, and never give up on students. Some will choose to never rise to the occasion, but some will. Whether or not people change their behavior, it is worth pouring into them.

This sort of reflection reminds me of a growth wall. It can be a powerful tool to show children change over time. Growing up, my mom used to periodically measure us against a wall and mark how tall we were, write our initials, and write the date. It was so fun looking back at how short we used to be! Getting caught up in the whirlwind of life makes you forget how much you have grown because you tend to think of yourself as always being as you are now. Growth is easy to forget about if you don’t look for it.

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January is a time when we tend to plan for the future; we make resolutions, we dream big, we plan to make the coming year great. But I think that you can’t truly plan for the future without also reflecting on the past or else you will miss seeing growth. Your students might not yet be where you want them to be, but think about where they were in August. Think about how they wrote in August. Think about their level of critical thinking, their discussion abilities, even their behavior. Some of them may have grown more than others, but bottom line—they HAVE grown. Use that as a springboard to encourage them to get where you want them to be by the end of the year.

Recognizing growth requires reflection. So, while you’re looking ahead with anticipation to this new year, take some time to look back as well.

I will leave you all with the end my favorite poem about time, past, future, reflection, and growth—“Little Gidding” from The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

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Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.

WVCTE is wondering…

  • How do you reflect to see growth in your students? How do you help your students to see their own growth?
  • What are your classroom New Years resolutions for 2019?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

 

#OneWord2018: Starting off the New Year Right

By Jeni Gearhart

2018. Here we are, on the cusp of a brand-new year. As a teacher, I tend to think of a new year with the school calendar rather than the one that begins in January. However, January is just as good of a time to make classroom changes as is September. With a new semester, it can also be a clean slate for our students—and for us.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been good about maintaining New Year’s Resolutions. Those January resolutions (to meal prep more proactively, or to go to the gym more often, or not to get behind in grading) don’t tend to happen once February rolls around. U.S. News found that 80% of new year’s resolutions fail within a month. So, if you ask me about my resolution in February, I’ll probably be eating frozen pizza. At least I’m honest!

Instead of making a vague resolution that I won’t keep, my students and I will be making one word resolutions for the semester. Unlike your typical New Year’s Resolutions, choosing one word focuses on attitude. We will focus on making small changes in how we think or act.

Last year, my One Word was Perspective:

This simple word guided the rest of my curriculum last year. In my classroom, 2017 focused on understanding perspective. We listened intentionally, and we sought to find stories that differed from ours.

We start this activity by talking about the word “Resolve” and “Resolution” After defining these in their own words, we look at dictionaries for definitions of the words. I love looking at Vocab.com definitions because they talk about the word origins. Vocab.com defines resolution as “being firmly determined about something” and notes that resolution comes from the Latin Resolvere, “to untie, to loosen, undo, settle”. I think this is so interesting. A resolution means that we are undoing or loosening something—like a poor habit.

After talking about these words, my students do a quickwrite:

  • In what ways do I want to be different this year?
  • What do I want to accomplish this year?
  • What do I want to change about myself or the world this year?

 

#OneWord or #OneWord2018 can be found trending on Twitter. I will usually pull up some of these and show them to my students in addition to my OneWord example. Informally, we talk about the connotations of the words chosen. We discuss why those particular words may be impactful. Students then generate a list of 5 words that demonstrate a change that they want to make in their academic or personal life.

Finally, we do my favorite part of this activity—a visual definition poster. Students define and illustrate one of their words on half sheets of computer paper. On the back, they explain why they chose their word and how this demonstrates a change or goal that they have for 2018.

Here are a few of my students’ projects from last year:

   

These mini posters are then hung on a wall in my classroom for the rest of the school year. My students and I are constantly reminded to keep trying to make positive change in our own lives and in the world (even on the days when we’d rather eat frozen pizza).

 

After all, in the Words of Kid President “The world is changed by you, it is one person filled with love . . . the world is changed by ordinary people, ordinary people filled with big love”

 

 

WVCTE is wondering . . .

  • What is your #OneWord2018?
  • What new year’s activities do you do in your classroom to start the new semester?

Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!