Nonfiction-Writing Workshop Teacher's Notes

Activity 1 — Describing the Real World

Encourage students to use analogies, similes, metaphors, and adjectives, but remind them to search for the word or phrase that most accurately describes what they are experiencing. Also remind them that they don't have to say: "I am in my living room. I see a brown, hard chair in the corner. Next to it I see a mirror." It is more natural (and also more sophisticated) to write, "In my living room a brown hard chair sits in the corner. Next to it is a mirror."

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Activity 2 — The Interview

By this point in the workshop, the students will have a little bit of writing under their belts, so it's time to change the focus to the other crucial aspect of journalism: the interview. (This will all come together in the next activity.)

The students should pick a question on any topic  —  from the significant (what do you want to be when you grow up) to the frivolous (what's your favorite food)  —  and ask 15 people for their opinions. Most important, that they should follow up and find out why each person feels the way they do. Please make sure they understand that we don't want one word answers, they should be taking notes and come away with full quotes from people. The students should then write an article based on the information they've gathered. The story should reveal both the data and the reasoning behind it.

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Activity 3 — Writing a Profile

Students should incorporate what they've learned so far and write a profile of anyone they know. Articles must have some substance  —  if it's under three paragraphs, ask for revisions.

For more advanced students, they can be encouraged to also interview people who know their subject.

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Activity 4 — Writing a Review

This assignment is to write a review of a book, a record, a movie, a television show, or a play. Remind your students to avoid starting their stories with "I am reviewing the movie so-and-so. Also, they should not write" I liked it. It was cool." They must give DETAILED explanations of the plot (or of the style of music, arrangements, and lyrics if it is a record) and DETAILED commentary on what they liked and didn't like. You might even ask them to bring in a review from a newspaper or magazine before moving on to actual writing.

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