Ten Texts That Will Get Teachers Writing by Shawna Coppola
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the best teachers of writing are also writers themselves.
What I don’t mean by this:
- Any ol’ writer can teach students to write.
- By “writers,” I mean professional, published authors.
- If you don’t write, you can’t teach students to write.
What I do mean is this: teachers who themselves enjoy a semi-regular habit of writing (and I use the term “enjoy” loosely) understand what writers go through on a regular basis. They understand the challenges writers face, the myriad of processes they have, the exhilaration felt upon composing one–just one!– amazing line. They understand both the pain and the joy of writing.
They understand, too, that writers generate ideas for their work a thousand different ways. Read a dozen interviews with authors (and illustrators, too), and you will hear a dozen different answers to the question, “How did you come up with the idea for ____?”
As a writer myself, I often share with students the fact that most of my ideas tend to come from my own reading. Although this has been the case for decades, I have only recently begun to understand how significantly I am influenced by my favorite authors, illustrators, and texts. As a literacy specialist in a K-6 school whose primary job it is to support the teachers with whom I work, I have also begun to more consciously share this and other writerly “a-ha moments” with my colleagues during our monthly writing sessions (modeled on the fabulousness that is Kate Messner and colleagues’ Teachers Write! virtual writing camp, which you can learn about in Kate’s book 59 Reasons to Write: Minilessons, Prompts, and Inspiration for Teachers and/or here: http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write/). These sessions, during which my fellow teachers and I read great texts, brainstorm possibilities for writing, and– most importantly–write, have been without question the most popular professional learning opportunities I have ever offered. They have also, in my humble opinion, been the most effective: never before have I received so much positive feedback from those who, after one of these sessions, have successfully used a strategy they learned or shared an understanding they constructed with their students. I actually do very little in the way of anything beyond offering my colleagues this low-risk time to write and to reflect together–but it works better than any “workshop” on teaching writing I could possibly dream up. Point being: teachers of writing need opportunities to write.
And in planning these sessions, I have found that there are countless texts that–just by virtue of being fun, or controversial, or unique– lend themselves to more writing. Of those countless texts, here are ten that I have chosen to share with you today. These texts provoke. They resonate. And I have every confidence that they will inspire you–and the teachers you know– to write, too.
This collection of essays that span a wide range of topics (politics! Scrabble tournaments! Sweet Valley High obsessions!) will inspire your inner writer to look at life with a much sharper, more witty, and more discerning eye.
Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
If you’ve ever wanted to take a course on writing, images, and/or creativity, look no further than this quirky, brilliant peek into the author/illustrator’s one-of-a-kind pedagogy.
We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist
What would your former crushes say if you asked them why things didn’t work out? You could either really ask them, like the author did (cringe!), or write about what you think they’d say. Which sounds more fun?
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This is the book I wish I had written– a savory mash-up of memoir, encyclopedia, and Amy’s signature wit. A mentor text like no other.
Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry edited by Billy Collins
If you’re a fan of Linda Rief’s quickwrites, check out this collection of–you guessed it– 180 contemporary poems for some great “quickwrite” inspiration. If you don’t know what a quickwrite is, Google it. Now.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Beautifully illustrated artifacts (courtesy of the great Maira Kalman) from a young couple’s relationship, along with accompanying letters, detail the myriad of reasons why teens Min and Ed are no longer a pair. Who wouldn’t be inspired to write about a breakup after reading this YA gem?
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
So many ideas for writing abound in this smart, humorous essay collection by the popular yet controversial Los Angeles Times columnist.
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Based on the National Public Radio series of the same name, this essay anthology will move readers to examine their own personal beliefs–with the benefit of having eighty mentor texts with which to inspire and guide them.
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self edited by Ellyn Spragins
What would you say to your younger self if you could write her a letter and send it back in time? Perhaps even more compelling…what wouldn’t you say?
Micro Fiction: An Anthology of 50 Really Short Stories edited by Jerome Stern
Nancie Atwell recommended this anthology, which she uses with her students at the Center for Teaching and Learning. After reading the first story, “The Poet’s Husband,” I became obsessed with trying to write one of my own–in under 250 words.
Shawna Coppola is hoping that, in time, you’ll all forget about AKR’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life so she can get away with publishing her own version someday (but shh…don’t tell Amy). Barring that, she’ll likely continue to wallow in her own river of crushed dreams. You can find her writing about her life using a non-encyclopedia format on Twitter (@shawnacoppola) or on her blog at mysocalledliteracylife.com.