traci's lists of ten

Traci's 27th List of Ten:
Ten Red Ribbon Week Activities

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.

  1. [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.

  2. [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.

  3. [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!

  4. [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.

  5. [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,,, or 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.

  6. [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.

  7. [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 for suggestions to write to your legislators as well as an example proclamation you might ask local officials or your school board to endorse.]

  8. [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.

  9. [Short Poems] Model your own Red Ribbon Week poem after this short piece:

    Tobacco is a filthy weed,
    That from the devil does proceed;
    It drains your purse, it burns your clothes,
    And it makes a chimney of your nose.
            — Benjamin Waterhouse
    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.

    [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 provide prizes.]

  10. [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 identified.

  11. [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.

Originally Posted on the NCTE Web on February 13, 2000.