Tag Archives: Writing Units

New York Times Editorial Contest for Students

The the past five years The New York Times has hosted an editorial contest for middle and high school students. Students are asked to submit 500 word opinion editorial about an issue that matters to them. The newspaper’s website actually invites teenagers to share their opinions about questions NYT pose — and hundreds do, posting arguments, reflections and anecdotes. The contest is a bit more formal and open to all students ages 10-19. You can find the complete rules to the student contest HERE.

This NYT writing contest is a great teaching tool for writing and reading units of study. Persuasive writing is a key standard and learning target within the Common Core and Next Generation Literacy Standards. We are ending the school year with a mini-inquiry into editorial writing. First, students were immersed in a variety of NYT student writing contest winners and then students will write their own 500 word editorial.

The assignment has been adapted from the contest requirements and I have provided students with a graphic organizer to help start their writing. The student’s editorial is based on a culminating social studies podcast project that my humanities colleagues have created:

Task: Create a podcast with a team of students (of no more than three) that finds a thread in history and follows that thread through. Explore a current events topic and trace the history of that topic throughout time.

What is a “Throughline”? 

A Throughline is a theme, plot, or characteristic that connects stories together. Throughlines help the viewer or reader do a few things: understand the theme/character better over time, layer experiences, make predictions, and become invested in the story.


For example: Take the enduring issue of inequality and the topic of Black representation in Congress. Look all the way back to Reconstruction to the first African American man in Congress and trace the story of Black representatives and senators throughout our history and discuss why this unequal representation exists.

Utilizing the research completed for the podcast project, students are taking a particular stance on their podcast project.

For example: If students are researching and creating a podcast on the similarities between George Floyd and Emmitt Till, their editorial might address how history repeats itself or the failures of the American justice system, students might write about how racism still exists and Black Lives Matter.

Each student brainstormed five different perspectives about their podcast topic. Together, social studies and English are working collaboratively to support student research, writing, speaking, listening, reading, and digital literacy skills. Research must be done, facts are collected, evidence is weighed and carefully selected. To strengthen an argument further, a counter point is added and debunked. Students are motivated by topics they have selected and are using their voice to persuade others.

Tagged , , , , ,

Scope and Sequence of 8th Grade ELA

As the end of the school year is on the horizon, it is a good time to reflect on what worked well and where the curriculum needs some editing and attention. I teacher recently asked me the scope and sequence of the school year and I thought to provide all my readers with a look at the reading and writing units that are in my curriculum.

The course study for 8th grade revolves around themes of Standing Up for What is Right with a selection of texts and focus questions within the theme. The goal is the provide curriculum that supports students becoming strong independent readers, writers, and thinkers.

Our first reading unit was specific to the overall theme “Standing Up for What is Right.” Whereas some teachers and parents took concern with the topic of social justice, these books highlight people who speak up and stand up against injustice. These books include I Am Malala, Internment by Samira Ahmed, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry. In this particular unit students wrote a thematic essay at the end of the unit. This was the first reading and writing unit of the school year.

Students then began writing an investigative journalism piece related to science and grounded in research. Students created infographics of their research and then recorded podcasts of their investigative findings. We looked and listened to lots of models and mentors of investigative journalism articles and podcasts to help develop our own stories.

At the beginning of January Animal Farm was an all class read. This short unit was three weeks and set up some key elements of dystopian fiction which students then selected book club choices of contemporary dystopian texts: Traci Chee’s The Reader, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and Scythe, The Giver by Lois Lowry. Students wrote a literary essay about their dystopian novel showcasing the modern day connections in the dystopian fiction.

March Madness brings about mystery writing and students participate in a writing contest to write their own creative mystery short story. Students have a choice of reading Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious or Agatha Christie as mentor texts for their own original mystery story.

In conjunction with the social studies class learning about World War II, students participate in book clubs to read a historical fiction or non fiction text about World War II and the Holocaust. Book club choices include The Diary of Anne Frank, Irena’s Children, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Salt of the Sea and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, The Book Thief, White Rose, Refugee, and Librarian of Auschwitz. While students are reading these novels and discussing the elements of the book, they complete concrete found poems, a one pager, and smaller formative assessments.

To end the school year, students are reading choice novels connected to themes of identity. Students are reading Poet X, Piecing Me Together, Everything Sad Is Untrue, Stars Beneath Our Feet, and The Truth According to Mason Buttle. To end this unit and the school year students will create a multi genre project as a means of reflecting upon middle school and how that has shaped us into who we are today. A Multi-genre Project presents multiple perspectives on a topic in order to provide a rich story and present a visually appealing product for an audience.

Here are the specifics: 

  • Students need to have a title page with a creative title.
  • Include an introduction serving as a guide to readers.  This will introduce the event you’re reflecting upon and help us understand why this topic is important to you.  Likewise, it gives you an opportunity to explain how we should read your documents.  This should be ½ to 1 page long.
  • Four separate documents from five genre categories:
    • 1 genre from the  Narrative Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the Persuasive Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the  Informational Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the Poetry Category
    • 1 genre from Visual Writing Category
  • An artist statement paragraph for each document at the end of your project answering the following questions in complete sentences:
    • What is the message of this document? 
    • Why did you pick this genre for this specific part of the story? 
    • How does this document show the larger theme of your story? 

Note that there is poetry, non fiction, video essays, and short stories included with each unit of study. I am putting together a document for students next year “The 100 Texts You Should Read Before Middle School” to update the battle of the books I created three years ago — I will share this on my blog soon. It will include all different titles and texts. I am also speaking with my science teacher about doing a collaborative unit on environmental justice and thinking about both sci fi titles or non fiction. Here are are few of the titles we are considering:

Pacifica by Kristen Simmons

Wargirls by Tochi Onyebuchi

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

Orleans by Sherri Smith

Marrow Theives Cherie Dimaline

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco


NonFiction:

Poisoned Water by Candy Cooper (Water)

Omnivoire’s Dilemma (Food/Environment)

Radium Girls (Chemistry)

Same Sun Here (Water)

What are the books and writing units that you teach? Do you offer book choices and book clubs or do all class readers? Are you able to change up books each year or are you still teaching the same books? I would love to know what other middle school ELA teachers are doing. Share your insights in the comment section of this blog. I am always looking to diversify and connect with other ELA teachers.

Tagged , , , ,