Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk,
and TEACH on 10/25/99.
This last week on NCTE-Talk, one of the list members asked for some
writing activities for Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon Week, which runs from
October 23-31 this year, concentrates student activities on alcohol,
tobacco, and other drug or violence prevention programs, activities or
events. The organization's slogan is "No Use of Illegal Drugs. No Illegal
Use of Legal Drugs." You can find more information, including classroom
and school-wide activities, at The Red Ribbon Week Coalition web page
One extra note, though: The assignments feel a little awkward to me
because of their assumptions that the students agree with the ideas behind
Red Ribbon Week. If you have students who aren't comfortable writing
testimonials about something that they don't believe in, you might offer
them the chance to write the I-Search paper (#4) on any detail that they
find and want to investigate; or allow them to evaluate the language of
persuasion (#10) in a statement (positive or negative). Either of those
assignments has lots of room for a student who does not embrace the ideals
behind the project to express him- or herself.
Posted on the NCTE Web on February 13, 2000.
[Testimonial Letter] Write a testimonial, a sort of celebrity
endorsement, telling other students at your school (or younger students)
the reasons that you support Red Ribbon Week. Your goal is to come up
with a letter that convinces your readers to participate in Red Ribbon
Week with you (and to adopt the Red Ribbon motto year-round). Your letter
needs to be convincing so think about the kinds of things that make a
testimonial believable. You don't want your readers to think you're
writing because you have to. You want them to understand that you WANT to
share your beliefs. Think about the things that will ring true and the
things that will sound fake. Be sure your letter rings true.
[Children's Book] Write a children's book for 5th or 6th graders that
encourages your readers to avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or violence
(don't try to deal with all four in one short book!) Your goal is to
explain the ideas behind the Red Ribbon Week and avoiding substance abuse
in language and with descriptions that younger children will understand.
The scientific explanations and other reasons to avoid drugs, tobacco and
alcohol that are given to teenagers can be harder for younger students to
understand. Your job is to focus on a particular kind of abuse and
explain some of the main ideas in ways that will help your audience
understand why you urge them to avoid substance abuse.
[Describing Abuse] Your job is to write place description, but the
place that you describe is one that you and you alone construct.
Specifically, if substance abuse were a place, where would it be? Don't
simply describe a place where you think that people might abuse alcohol or
drugs describe the an imaginary, abstract place that represents
substance abuse. What would this place look like? sound like? smell like?
taste like? feel like? What objects, plants, or animals are in the place?
What's missing from the place? What things and sounds would you never
hear? Your goal is to describe the place so that your readers will
understand why you would urge them not to visit. Remember it's an
imaginary place though!
[Analyze an Ad] Find four to five printed advertisements for alcohol or
tobacco, and analyze the ads for the hidden messages they send out. How
are they attempting to persuade people to use their products? What are
the advertisers suggesting that you'll gain or have if you do as the
people shown in their ads? What stereotypes are the ads exploiting (and
why)? In what ways might their persuasive techniques apply to people your
age? Are there aspects to the ads that seem to target teens? Write a
paper that analyzes the ads that you've gathered with the goal of telling
others how to read the ads show them the hidden messages and unravel
the underlying "lies" that appear there.
[I-Search on Substance Abuse] Find a detail or fact in a DARE, MADD or
similar document (or at a Substance Abuse Prevention Website such as
http://www.redribbonworks.org/). Choose something that intrigues
you and investigate it Find something that you have questions about or
always wanted to know more about. For instance, the Red Ribbon Works home
page states, "It began in commemoration of DEA Agent Enrique "Kiki"
Camarena who gave his life in the fight against drugs." Your topic might
be to see what more you can find out about this Enrique "Kiki" Camarena:
Who exactly was Kiki? You'll begin as all I-Search papers begin by
writing down what you already know and then, search for more information.
Your paper will tell us what you learn and how you learn it.
MORE INFO: If you're not sure what an I-Search paper is, take a look at
Ken Macrorie's The I-Search
Paper (a Revised Edition of his Searching Writing), Heinneman, 1988.
[Letter to the Editor] Write a letter to the editor of the local
newspaper urging readers to support Red Ribbon Week, outlining the reasons
that you support the project, and the things that your school is doing. A
good letter will do much more than simply say, "Support Red Ribbon Week
because drugs are bad." Write a persuasive piece that makes your
perspective on the project clear.
[Write a Persuasive Letter] Write a letter to someone you care about
asking him or her to stop abusing drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Your goal
is to explain the reasons that you want the person to change his or her
habits in clear way. Alternately, you might write to a celebrity or
public figure asking him or her to support your school's (or the national)
Red Ribbon Project. Whatever you do, your letter should be specific about
what you want the reader to do if you write to your local mayor, for
instance, tell him or her precisely what actions, legislation, or
statements you're want made. [See the Red Ribbon Site at
http://www.redribboncoalition.org for suggestions to write to your
legislators as well as an example proclamation you might ask local
officials or your school board to endorse.]
[Propose a School Project] Despite the Red Ribbon Project, there are
still people at your school and other schools in your district who are
using drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Your job in this assignment is to
propose a project to help reduce the number of students abusing those
substances. Your project might be an educational campaign, a change in
school policies, an outreach program, support programs or something else.
Outline the problem as you see it, the reasons that it exists, your
solution, the ways that your solution will solve the problem, and
additional benefits to your solution. Address your proposal to your
principal or the school board, whichever makes the most sense.
[Short Poems] Model your own Red Ribbon Week poem after this short
Tobacco is a filthy weed,
Write your own four line poem following Waterhouse's lead. Notice that
while the lines are short and the rhyme scheme simple, Waterhouse uses
symbolic language that makes the point very clear. Begin by choosing a
topic to write about (a specific kind of abuse or action that you want to
persuade your reader to avoid), brainstorm some possible symbols that
could work like Waterhouse's "chimney of your nose." After you've gotten
your ideas together, write your poem, and share with others in your class.
That from the devil does proceed;
It drains your purse, it burns your clothes,
And it makes a chimney of your nose.
[NOTE: It might be handy to have a rhyming dictionary in your classroom
when students work on this assignment. If you have the resources, you
could a have the students write their poems on large sheets of paper and
post them in your classroom. If you're feeling very adventurous, you
might organize a poetry writing contest that all your students could
participate in perhaps asking your local DARE or MADD program to have
someone help judge the entries, or even help find a local merchant to
[Going Back in Time] Find an advertisement, newspaper story, magazine
article, or similar resource that's 30 or more years old and that focuses
attention on alcohol, drug or tobacco use. The article can talk about the
issue positively or negatively. Either will do. If you're unsure how to
find something, go to the library and check the newspaper for your
birthday, but thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. You can do the same
thing with a magazine. You should be able to browse through the pages of
the issue and find something. Write a paper that examines the ideas in
the changes in the way that the ideas were talked about in the past and
our attitudes toward them today. What's different? What remains the
same? For information on the current opinions and ideas, you can use
brochures or web pages. In addition to pointing out the changes, draw any
conclusions that you can about the reasons for the changes that you've
[Language of Persuasion] Choose a statement for or against the use of
alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, and examine the language that is used by the
author(s) to make the point. How is technical language used? When and to
what effect? What about euphemisms how do the authors sugarcoat their
messages with their word choice? What about their sense of audience? Do
they understand their readers? How can you tell? After you've examined
the language of the piece that you've chosen, write a paper that analyzes
the authors' language, explaining what you can conclude about their goals,
their sense of audience, and their own ideas on the issues.