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Lesson Of The Week: Sandra Cisneros & “Authentic Writing”

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(Have you developed a particularly creative and successful lesson for your K-12 English, Social Studies, or IB Theory of Knowledge class? If you have, and can describe it in 400 words or less (not including student hand-outs you might want to include), send it in to me and I’ll consider publishing it in this new “Lesson Of The Week” series. I’m also open to considering math and science lessons, but only if they are simple enough for me to understand :) . If this series takes off, an Ebook compilation is a possiblity. You can use my contact form or email to send in your contribution).

This week’s lesson is from Paul L. Thomas:

Having taught a wide range of students to write as well as teaching teachers as writers and teachers of writing, I have one lesson that is effective in all of those situations: Asking students to write an original piece modeled exactly on Sandra Cisneros’s “A House of My Own” (from The House on Mango Street):

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.

Students initially are offered only: “Write your own version of this passage, changing the content but not the way Cisneros crafted the piece—‘A _____ of My Own.’”

Once the initial drafts are completed, students are asked to share and then compare how others followed the directions. Soon, a discussion of craft, grammar, word choice, sentence formation, and many aspects of composing is generated. This spontaneous discussion should be used to clarify what modeling the piece from Cisneros exactly means, thereby leading to offering students a chance to revise.

Some students notice the use of alliteration, some identify the string of sentence fragments, and some notice similes. What is important is that this activity allows students to engage with authentic conventions of published works as they contrasts with “rules” in school writing. As well, this activity also prompts a discussion of genre, mode, and form, specifically since many students call their draft a poem—although this passage is a prose chapter in a novel.

For student writers, the lesson is about craft, about purposeful language. The activity blends close reading with a craft lesson in a way that is both direct instruction and authentic.

For teachers of writing, the assignment adds a layer of discrediting the misconception that authentic writing “doesn’t teach grammar” or that direct instruction is not a best practice.

Teachers can find many similar passages to guide direct instruction based on students’ original essays as well.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Hey Larry and Paul,

    I’m working on a teacher training course in Tunisia with a group of Tunisian professors. In the writing module last week we used your idea. A very rich and productive discussion came of it and I just wanted to share some of the writing that the teachers came up with http://pcelttunisia.pbworks.com/w/page/65711315/A%20____________%20of%20my%20own. Thanks for sharing this great idea!!

    Kevin

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