Prompt: Write about a day you experienced a food fight at lunch.
Prompt: Write about your favorite day with a friend.
Prompt: Describe how you would eat an oreo cookie.
No, I didn’t make those up. Those are some of the prompts that my students have had to write to throughout the years. (Can you say…yawn? Can you imagine having to grade 165 of those essays?)
This year, we were asked to step it up and make our common writing assessment match the World Class Outcomes put out by our district. The best part was that I was able to choose my own prompt.
I knew that I wanted to make it cross-curricular, make it real world, and make it so that students couldn’t plagiarize. I met with the science teacher on our team to see what the students on our team were currently studying and to see if she had any ideas of how to work together on this assessment. Luckily, working with Ms. H turned this into a great unit, and we were able to not only connect my assessment with her curriculum, but we were able to connect it to pop culture. If you read my book review about bringing in pop culture, you know that I think it’s important.
We decided that if we brought in the idea of GMOs from science and added in a little Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we would have engaged students.
I first asked the students two questions: Who has read or seen the movie The Hunger Games? Who can name some GMOs that were used in the story?
That was all it took. I told them the scenario and the writing prompt, and you could see their minds already swirling:
In the movie “The Hunger Games,” the Capitol (a term used to refer to what we would call the government) produced genetically modified organisms called jabberjays to spy on rebels. Unexpectedly, these birds bred with mockingbirds, creating a new hybrid bird called the mockingjay. The Capitol did not intend for this to happen, and the bird became a symbol of rebellion.
Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, is writing her fourth book in the series. She is asking readers to send her recommendations of other GMOs that weren’t in the previous books/movies. You will dream up your own genetically modified organism, which would be dropped in by parachutes during the Games, that could be beneficial for one player or detrimental to a player from another district. Your task is to write at least a one-page letter to Suzanne Collins PERSUADING her to use your invented GMO in her story.
Before writing, the students needed background knowledge of GMOs and how they currently affect today’s society. They watched part of Dr. Oz’s show about GMOs, along with reading an article about them in a science magazine. They were also provided with links of websites to research in order to do their own thinking and note taking.
In Science, the students were learning about Punnett squares and Pedigree charts, so the students first designed their new GMO for the Hunger Games. Would they combine animals or plants or both? Would their GMO help or hinder another tribute? Can they show the transfer of genetic material in which their GMO was created? Can they explain how they genetically engineered their organism? I absolutely loved seeing their drawings of their new GMOs; I will post some of my favorites another time.
In Language Arts, they wrote their letter to Suzanne Collins. I have to admit, even though it is taking me FOREVER to grade these puppies, they are enjoyable to read. They couldn’t possibly plagiarize their information; their ideas are fresh and original. My favorite part is reading how they would incorporate their GMO into the Hunger Games.
To make the common writing assessment even more exciting, I decided to turn it into a writing contest. I will take the top ten or so letters and have volunteer teachers vote on their favorite three. Then I will buy those three students lunch one day. I will even mail the top ten letters to Suzanne Collins; who knows, maybe you’ll read about one of my student’s spectacular GMO one day.
So the next time you are trying to come up with a writing prompt for your students, think big. Think cross-curricular. Think pop culture. Then enjoy having engaged students…even while they are “just completing an assessment.”