immersion · middle school

Shaking Up Immersion: Reimagining Playful (& EFFICIENT) Ways to Launch a Unit

Imagine you have been handed 1,500 puzzle pieces in a clear plastic bag. There is no picture or information provided. If you are anything like me, within a few minutes, momentary motivation might morph into frustration. It’s hard to work with purpose and intention when there is no context. Similarly, when we start teaching lessons in a new unit of study without taking some time to build an understanding of the why and what of the unit, we are essentially handing students a bag of puzzle pieces. Immersion is an easy – and JOYOUS – remedy that provides students with full-color clarity of the unit ahead.

You might remember these immersion-themed blogs from Betsy, Stacey, and Kathleen.

Over the years, I have also come to realize that immersion is like a pep rally: we can amp up energy and excitement while simultaneously building a clear vision for upcoming learning. What follows are a few of my favorite actions for shaking up immersion week.


Inquiry experiences generate interest and excitement. During immersion, prioritize time for students to discover more about what they will eventually create. There are plenty of ways to use inquiry to spice up immersion. Start by posing (or co-creating) a wonder about the genre or format featured in the new writing unit. For instance, you might ponder:

  • How do storytellers captivate their readers?
  • How do information writers help their readers learn about new topics?
  • What is a literary essay?
  • What can we discover about graphically-formatted texts?

Then spend anywhere from five minutes to one period exploring aligned mentor texts. Search for information and contemplate answers to these wonders. Close the experience by discussing findings and sharing ideas.

Here’s a classroom artifact that was created with second-graders after studying “first pages” of narrative picture books:

These classroom charts were created with a fifth-grade class after they spent time reviewing literary essays written by former students:


Immersion is the perfect time to introduce and investigate unit mentor texts. First, enjoy a mentor text as a community of readers. Then, reread it with your writer’s eyes. As you revisit the text, stop at a few planned places. Use these “pause points” to investigate the author’s choices. Express appreciation for the author’s craft decisions.

As you read aloud, you might…

  • marvel at how an author composed a particularly beautiful part of the text.
  • ponder how the author’s words made you feel so worried about, angry at, or excited for a character.
  • think about how the author got class members interested in learning about a topic.
  • contemplate why the author made the choice to include a particular example or statistic and what this is showing about their perspective.

No matter what you decide to focus on, explicitly uncover the author’s moves and name the strategies employed.


Let’s face it. There are NEVER enough minutes for word study or grammar. That’s why immersion is the perfect time to merge word study and grammar with writing! You might take Melanie’s advice and warm up with grammar games. You could also use high-support teaching methods or inquiry to integrate phonics, spelling, vocabulary, and/or grammar into the writing block.

During the immersion phase of a content-area writing unit, a fourth-grade class collaborated to craft a personified poem about a tree. The interactive writing artifact below shows how students “dipped in” to practice applying knowledge of past tense verbs.

During the immersion phase of a realistic fiction writing unit, a middle school class delved into a grammar-themed inquiry. Students discovered more about commas by exploring a unit mentor text.


Immersion is an ideal time to encourage students to imagine potential outcomes of the unit. How do students want to stretch themselves? Where do they want to grow? Here are a couple of tried-and-true ways to support students as they imagine and envision their next steps:

  • Introduce a unit checklist. Invite students to refer to the checklist as they reflect on their current strengths and imagine where else they could grow. Highlight the part(s) of the checklist that align with these intentions.
  • Engage in a brief goal-setting conference with each student. Listen as students share where they feel most confident and imagine where they could head next.

Lean into what students are most interested in pursuing and support these intentions through whole-class, small-group, and 1:1 instruction.

As we head into the home stretch of the school year, step back and appreciate the independence and proficiency of classroom writers. But, don’t let that busy buzz transform into ho-hum! Spring is actually the perfect time to experiment and try something new. With that in mind, I cordially invite you to shake up immersion. Tinker with new ways to launch the final writing unit. Inquire, investigate, integrate, and imagine. Afterward, share the highlights – as comments here and/or in discussions with colleagues. Immersion is a fabulous opportunity to energize classroom writing!

Pam Koutrakos

Pam Koutrakos is an experienced educator who has worked as a teacher, instructional coach, and consultant. She is the author of Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6, he Word Study That Sticks Companion: Classroom-Ready Tools for Teachers and Students, K-6, and Mentor Texts That Multitask: A Less-Is-More Approach to Integrated Literacy Instruction, K-8. Pam has blogged for ILA, NCTE, CCIRA, Learning Without Tears, MiddleWeb, Gravity Goldberg LLC, Two Writing Teachers, and Corwin Connect. She regularly presents at conferences and events across the country. Connect with Pam on Twitter (@PamKou), Instagram (@Pam.Kou), and LinkedIn.