We had today off for some reason. All hail Columbus the Conqueror! I was camping down at beautiful Refugio State Beach. 85 and postcard perfect, right down to the dolphins frolicking 50 yards from the beach. Anyway I’m back, and one of our loyal readers needs a bit of collaboration. I don’t know how many of you scroll down and read the comments unless you’re looking for a response to yours, so this might be a rerun for some.

Hey Mr. Coward. A long time reader here, and I’ve also posted a few times. I still can’t believe you keep up on this great blog, posting materials for the kids, teaching both 7th and 8th graders and like, um, seem to still have a life. Sincere congrats. Anywho, I am looking for some advice. I plan on posting something on the listserver later today, but I thought you would be a good source to start since I’m typically on board with your ideas. I teach 8th grade language arts, and each quarter we have at least one major process writing piece. The other 3 quarters are pretty solid, but quarter one needs a revamp. According to the new common core WI has recently adopted, the one genre of writing we are pretty light on is informative/explanatory, which seems to be the old expository. I’m desperately searching my resource materials and online lesson plans for a 2 week-ish writing unit that will engage 13/14 year olds. All my “best practice” material indicates the old adage “write about what interests you” but I’m hesitant that if I open Pandora’s box and let them writing about topics they love (basketball, video games, and their dog mainly) the genre will be less informative and more personal narrative. Any thoughts or lessons you have done that might work well here?

Here’s what I have, right now, off the top off my camping-addled head:

Christine, thanks for the kind words. I like to make this one a “how-to.” Our 8th grade standards call for: “a. Identify the sequence of activities needed to design a system, operate a tool, or explain the bylaws of an organization. b. Include all the factors and variables that need to be considered. c. Use formatting techniques (e.g., headings, differing fonts) to aid comprehension.” I tell them that, yes a skateboard would be a tool, but you have to be able to teach me how to use it. Step by step. Outlaw videogames, but other online “tools” and processes are ok (selling/buying something on E-Bay, creating a Spacebook profile, etc.) The key is making them break it down step by step. “Make it so even your gramma could do it.” Then if you have time, make them do presentations, and demo their instructions, or make volunteers try to follow them. Here’s a link to the handout I just last week gave my 8th grade class. Their rough drafts are due tomorrow. I haven’t done this one in awhile, so we’ll both see how it goes. I’m still working on a rubric and what to do with their rough drafts to make them actually get revised rather than retyped, so if this triggers any ideas, let me know.

What do the rest of you have for Christine? She’s already posting on Middle-L, as well she should, but surely (don’t call me Shirley) you people also have something for her.

Christine, I hope this helps.