Monday, October 5, 2015

Writing Across the Curriculum by Love Merryman

How do you teach 7th grade students to write a five paragraph essay? You give them something to write about.

When newcomers arrive in St. Marys, a coastal city in South Georgia, their initial reaction often is, "This place is fabulous!" The residents here love their country and are dedicated to life in the United States, largely because Kings Bay Naval Base is located there. At least 40 percent of our students' parents are connected in some way to either King Bay or the naval base in Jacksonville, FL, just thirty miles away. Our students frequently have unique life experiences, having moved here from Spain, Italy, or other U.S. locations such as San Diego, California, Washington, or Hawaii.

Such diverse backgrounds elicited strong, informed opinions when the class began discussing American- made versus internationally-made products. Should we participate in the global economy extensively or just buy American? That was the impetus for excitement when the class viewed Free Trade, a wonderful video. Taking the enthusiasm of seventh graders, and applying it to the five-paragraph essay assignment for all students was almost delightful when presented in segments.

First, the students watched the video, identifying important parts about trade and economy. Their discussion included comments about raw materials, transportation of materials, wages of workers, buildings for manufacturing, and tariffs. They noticed how Hong Kong, now part of China, had grown economically because of its free trade policy. They heard from Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who discussed myriad factors affecting economic decisions in countries such as Estonia.

After brainstorming, they began the first leg of their assignment:"Write a paragraph about manufacturing a 'Made in the USA' product." The next day students shared their paragraphs and the conversation naturally led to production in a global economy. The second leg was to "Write a paragraph about producing and selling a product in a global economy," and the students had to look at the experience from a different perspective.

When they returned the next day, they were excited to share their writing and compare their results. They did an excellent job articulating their differences. Thirteen-year-olds were discussing their cell phones and the multitude of countries in which the parts may have been made. Next, the real body and writing challenge  began: "Choose a position, either American-made or globally produced and give at least four reasons to support your argument." Then a brave student asked, "What if I can't choose?" I suggested that if he couldn't, he should present at least three reasons for and against each perspective.

The next day again was spent sharing the delightful, informative paragraphs. And the information learned was resonated in the writing of the students: "A global economy could lead to more interdependent societies/countries, thus WORLD PEACE."

Not only had they watched an interesting and informative video, but they also had created the body for their essay and only needed to add an introduction and conclusion. Have you ever seen seventh graders excited about writing across the curriculum? I have, and they had something important to say!

Thank you,!