Assignment intrigues students, teacher

September 25, 2009|By LISA PREJEAN

While preparing to teach a lesson on essay writing to my ninth-grade English class, I was anticipating how well the students would do.

We were working on expository, or informative, writing. The purpose of this type of writing is to share knowledge or to convey messages, instructions and ideas. To accomplish this goal, writers describe, explain or interpret information, clarify a process or evaluate information. This is the type of writing that is used for reports or letters.

Half the battle is selling the assignment, making it seem fun and challenging. I was determined to do just that.

Then I read the recommended writing prompt in the teacher's book. It suggested something like this: "Explain how the SUV has had an impact on American lives."

Oh, yes, now there's something that keeps the average 14-year-old awake at night.

This just simply would not do for my students' first in-class essay.


So, I turned to the Internet for some alternative ideas.

My search for "essay prompts" yielded more than a million sites. The first one I tried, Mrs. Barnard's Classroom Launcher, provided more than enough ideas for my students. (This is a great place to go for topics if your child is assigned an essay and doesn't have a topic: Expository Essay Prompts. Ideas on this site come from Paula Barnard of Pioneer Elementary School in Arlington, Wash.)

I narrowed it down to one topic so all the students would be focusing on the same task. In class this week, the students were asked:

"Imagine that time travel to the past is possible. Think of where and when you would like to go for a visit. Write an essay telling where and when you would go in the past and explain why you choose to go there."

Their wheels began turning as soon as this essay prompt was shared. Some of the students wanted to be cowboys in the old West. Some wanted to take guns back to medieval times.

While I am looking forward to reading the essays this weekend, I can't help but admit that I started to think about what time period I would pick if given this assignment.

(Admit it. Didn't you do the same?)

At first, I thought of going back to the reign of pharaohs in Egypt and watching the construction of the pyramids. Wouldn't that be fascinating? But what if one of those big stones fell on me? And would I have to be the age I am now? If so, I'd probably be dead in that time period. The life span was much shorter than it is now.

So, X that one.

Perhaps I'd like to go back to the beginnings of the Hebrew nation and witness Solomon's directives for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. It's hard to imagine walls covered with gold, but that would be a site to see. I wouldn't want to stay there too long, though, and be carried off by the Babylonians.

Maybe I should stay in modern times and just leave the imagining to my students.

We'll all be much safer that way.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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