Collecting Ideas As An Essayist

Today’s lesson is one of my favorites of the school year. It’s the day when the kids really start to notice the world around them with a heightened sense of awareness. The teaching point for today is: Writers observe the world with extra care and alertness and then think hard about their observations, recording them in writing.

Here’s a peek at the active engagement of my minilesson. (The rest of it isn’t much different than the accompanying lesson in Calkins & Gilette’s Personal Essay Book, which is why I’m not posting it.)

Active Engagement: Now it is your turn to try it. Let’s practice living like essay writers. Look around our classroom or look at something you are wearing, or at some part of you. In just a moment I’m going to ask Partner A to write in the air (This means to say the exact words you could write) something you observe, and then say, “This makes me realize…” or “The idea this gives me is…” And then push yourself to make a thought.

For instance, I might say: I notice that I have a lot of stuff on my conference table. I have a lot of supplies in my desk apprentice, papers that are in piles underneath paper weights, my lesson plan book, my keys (shocking, I know!) and even some makeup. It looks pretty messy. I think of it as controlled chaos. This makes me realize that even though I know where everything is, other people might get the idea that I’m disorganized and don’t care about the way I keep my personal space.

Got it? Okay, get knee to knee and eye to eye with your writing partner and start writing in the air (Partner A).

Students try it. Share out…

It always amazes me to hear the things the kids say when they write in the air when I interrupt them by saying, in a loud and slightly bizarre voice, “This makes me realize…” or “The idea this gives me is…” They shift gears and hit the clutch and really move from observing something to growing some thinking about what it is they notice.

In the past, this lesson alone has lifted the level of kids’ notebook entries. It’s amazing.