traci’s lists of ten

Traci's 46th List of Ten:
Informative Writing

Posted to NCTE-Talk on 5/9/2004.

It's been a long time, but I've finally managed to finish a List that I can share with the group. This List of Ten concentrates on informative writing. The questions focus on local situations so that students can more easily identify the audience and voice for their piece. Additionally, many of the projects can be used to create class or school artifacts that will be useful to other classes (such as a handbook for students at the school next year).

For each of the assignments, the best approach is probably to ask students to brainstorm about the possible topics that will fit the assignment. This class-created list can then help students focus their own writing.

  1. [NEW POLICIES] Your school has instituted some new policies. Most students seem to understand the rules, but not everyone is clear about the reasons for the rules or the specific details. Your school's administration has decided that the best way to deal with the problem is to create a student handbook for the school that explains all the rules and guidelines that students are expected to follow. The handbook will be distributed to all students this year, and it will become an on-going piece of the new orientation packet given to new students each fall. Your job is to choose one of the new policies and write an explanation that tells readers what it is, the reason that it exists, and details on what happens if the policy is broken.

  2. [DEFINITION] A local civic organization is having a scholarship contest for students at your school. The winner will get a $1500 prize. To enter, you have to write an essay that answers the question, "What is a Student at [Your School]?" or "What Does Education Mean at [Your School]?"* Your job is to define the term "Student" or "Education" in the context of your school. Be sure to include concrete examples and details to support your definition.

    *Replace [Your School] with the name of your school to customize for your students (e.g., "What is a Student at Thomas Dale High School?").

  3. [BIOGRAPHIES] To help students and parents learn more about the people working at your school, your school's website is featuring a biography on a new staff member each day. The goal of this part of the website is to share information about the staff so that everyone knows more about the people that students interact with daily. Your job is to choose a staff member and write his or her biographical statement. Think about the kinds of things that parents and students probably want to know about the people who work at your school. And remember that other staff members will read the biographical statements too. You'll write two pieces--a short 25-word blurb for the homepage, and a longer profile (about two double-space pages) with more information. There will be a "MORE..." link at the end of the short blurb on the homepage that will lead to the second profile.

  4. [NEWSPAPER STORY] Write an announcement for your local newspaper about an upcoming event at your school, your local community center, a nearby religious center, or a similar location. Provide details on the event so that readers will learn everything they need to know in order to attend: why is the event going on? who is organizing it? who can attend? when will it happen? what special information can you share about the event? Be sure that your writing not only provides the details, but does so in a way that will entice readers to participate.

  5. [PSA] Celebrate a special month by creating a public service announcement for your morning intercom announcements or public access TV or radio. Consult a calendar to choose an existing celebration (e.g., Black History Month in February, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, Hispanic Heritage Month--which begins September 15), or choose a special group or topic to honor in your month-long celebration such as famous people from your state or important scientific discoveries. Students prepare an announcement for each day, highlighting a different person or achievement. The announcement should provide all the basic details on the subject and indicate why the person or achievement was significant. If resources at your school do not allow for school-wide announcements consider beginning each class period with an announcement. Compile printed copies of the announcements in a class anthology or bulletin board so that students can revisit the information.

  6. [OPTIONS] Your class (or a club you are a member of) is preparing for a field trip to a local point of interest. Everyone in the class (or club) has chosen a different location to explore. Each of you is to write a short description of the location you've chosen. All of the descriptions will be shared so that you can choose where you want to go. You need to include everything about the location: hours, cost, features, any special events, and so forth. Your job is not to persuade the club to choose your location. You're simply to provide a fair, informative description of the location so that all the places your class (or club) can visit can be evaluated.

  7. [TRADITION] Explain a tradition to someone who is not familiar with the custom. It can be a tradition for your family, within your community, related to your religious beliefs, or practiced by members of a club that you belong to. Imagine that someone is coming to visit an event where the tradition will be prominent or that someone is joining in and will become part of the tradition. Your job is to write that person a letter or an e-mail message that explains the tradition. Include details on what happens, when it happens, why it happens, and so forth. Give the reader of your message everything he or she will need to participate or understand your tradition.

  8. [CALENDAR] Create a school calendar for your website, marking vacation dates, important deadlines, sporting events, and so forth. Students will write brief entries that explain the significance of the date, explaining any special information about times and locations as well as background and links to any additional resources. With your class, brainstorm a list of major school events that occur over the course of the year (e.g., special social events, homecoming week activities, debate competition, dramatic performances, graduation) and their significance. This can be an assignment that students create one year to leave behind for students who come the next year, or it can be a rolling assignment, with different students adding to the calendar each month.

  9. [INFLUENTIAL] Write an essay about the object in the school that has influenced you in an important way this year. You may write about something you own or use on a regular basis (a book, a picture in your locker, or a gym uniform) or an object that you only interact with occasionally (the big dictionary in the library). The object that you choose should be one that you could hold: choose a book in the library rather than the whole library, for instance. Explain specific ways that this object has influenced you. Support your ideas with examples and details. All the responses will be collected and shared with new students who come to the school. [Customize this prompt to fit your situation. For instance, if you're working with 9th graders, the last sentence can explain that the responses will be shared with incoming freshmen next fall.]

  10. [BIGGEST MYTH] What is the biggest myth about 9th grade? Write a letter to the editor of your school paper or for a collection to be shared with new students in the fall that explains the biggest falsehood you were told when you were an 8th grader. In your letter, be sure that you describe what you heard before you came to the school then reveal the truth about the situation. Add details that suggest why the myth has developed if appropriate--why do you think the myth developed? Your goal is to create a myth-busting resource for students who will be in your position in next year. [Customize this prompt to fit your situation. For instance, you might ask students to write about the biggest myth about American Literature class. Additionally, you might allow students to focus their work further (e.g., the biggest myth about being in the marching band).]