Looking for a way to spice up your writing unit while engaging students, differentiating by ability and interest, and still covering all the required standards at the appropriate level of rigor? Teaching writing is not always easy, but I’ve got you covered. Just keep reading.
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” ~ Mark Twain
When I was in grad school for my reading specialist certification, I took a class on teaching writing. It was a little confusing to me at first exactly why I was taking a writing class in a reading program, but as I quickly learned, writing and reading are closely entwined in the love relationship that is literacy. As it was, the professor of this class introduced us to the multigenre research project.
Let me just tell you…I thought she was nutso, off her rocker, a looney for sure. Surely, she was FAR too removed from the realities of teaching high school English to possibly understand why this multigenre research paper was an insane idea to even think about integrating into my curriculum.
What is it, you might be wondering? I was, too. It’s not necessarily a brand new topic, but for good reason (um, it takes a lot of work), it’s been slow to gain popularity. A multigenre research project is a mixture of imagination, research, reading, writing, and sweat. Students pick a research topic that interests them, and they write about that topic from various angles and viewpoints through multiple genres of writing (creative, expository, persuasive, analytical, argumentative – you name it!). They package their ideas together symbolically, and they also include a transitional element (a repetend, if you will) that ties each piece of their writing together seamlessly. A LOT of thought is required. For a more specific explanation (and some quality resources), read this.
Back to my story…I’ll never forget what happened next. That professor actually made us write one. Yeah. Like, the whole thing. I just thought, seriously lady? I have little kids at home…and a dog…and a husband…and two fish…and I teach full time. Are you for real? Still, I’m one of “those” people who always has to make everything perfect and get my work done early, so I pressed on.
The MGP took me about two months to complete. And afterward, I was tired. But, I have to admit: I understood why she was teaching us about this approach to writing and reading. It really was the perfect literacy storm. That’s why I’m sharing these ideas with you today.
For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to go into all the details about exactly how to structure the unit or what to include (although you can easily do some research on this topic and find a plethora of insanely good ideas). Instead, what I’d suggest is that you get your hands on this book. It’s the text I used in my master’s class, and the authors tell you everything you need to know. I consider it my MGP bible.
What I am going to share are 11 reasons why you need to be rocking out this multigenre research paper – like, NOW.
Student interest is paramount.
The beauty of the multigenre research project is that students truly CAN write about almost any topic that interests them. Even if they’ve written about the topic in the past, the multigenre research project will allow them to delve deeper into the subject they enjoy. I seriously was amazed by the level of interest my students showed in their projects. Bonus.
Creativity is encouraged.
Sadly, many traditional research papers squelch students’ imaginations. My students are left hungry, always asking me, “When are we doing a creative writing unit?” The demands of high school English curriculum often leave little room for “fun” writing. With the multigenre project, students are writing multiple pieces about their topic, and each piece is a different genre. If Suzy wants to write a recipe, and Billy Bob is yearning to write a comic strip, so be it. Students are required to think about how they will tie each of their pieces together (which is called the repetend), and the symbolic project packaging is another angle where students can showcase their imaginations.
Minilessons can be sprinkled throughout.
One of the reasons I love the multigenre project is because it allows me to see students’ writing on a regular basis (I collect one piece each week), and I focus my minilessons on common patterns I notice in their pieces. For instance, I cover one trait of writing each week, one or two genres of writing each week, and one grammatical concept per week. Students can grasp the authenticity behind these lessons because they are geared specifically toward their current drafts. We reinforce those ideas as we draft, revise, and edit our genres.
Differentiation is a breeze.
You don’t even have to try. Seriously. It’s impossible to teach the multigenre research project and NOT differentiate. Students get to pick their topics. You get to help them decide what pieces and how many they should write based on their research and their ability levels. You gear instruction toward their needs. A custom-made assignment for every student. Done.
Conferencing with students happens often.
One of the things that I dislike about the regular research writing unit is that I always feel rushed. With the multigenre project, I make it a habit of sitting down with every student in the classroom at least once a week to conference with them about their current piece of writing and their vision for the project as a whole. (I usually do this either during group conference/feedback time or during the day each week I give students to work on that week’s genre). Students appreciate this instant feedback, and at the end of the unit, there are no surprises. We have clearly communicated expectations all along.
Potential for cross-curricular adventures.
This concept is not just an English thing, people. Anyone can assign a multigenre research project. Teachers can even join together to have students research topics that cross content areas. The benefits of cross-curricular learning are clear, so I won’t waste time by digging into those here.
Writing process is enforced naturally.
It’s always amazing to me that ninth graders can sit in my classroom and not understand the writing process. Hello? There are only five steps! Sigh. In reality, I can’t entirely blame them. If I only thought about the writing process once or twice a year, I probably wouldn’t have much reason to remember it, either. With the multigenre project, I emphasize that writing process for every piece and for the project as a whole. Let’s just say it’s sort of impossible for students not to have it mastered when we are through. Score.
Student-driven learning at it’s best.
I was a little concerned about how my enriched freshmen students would handle this whole project. In hindsight, they amazed me with their passion for the topics they chose, for the genres they wanted to write, for the depth of their thinking, and for their responsibility they took on with researching. When the choices are left up to the students (or at least you make them think that’s what’s happening), they really can impress you.
Even better, my students LEARNED TO TALK ABOUT WRITING. Say what?!? Yes, I sat with them while they conferenced. I modeled constructive feedback. They started out meek like house kittens, but they ended the nine weeks with some serious writing feedback lingo in their tool belts, and they were more confident in their abilities to assess their own and their peers’ writing. That’s something to celebrate!
Flexibility of design.
The thing with the multigenre research project is that it truly can be whatever you need it or want it to be. If you only have a couple weeks, students can complete much of it outside of class, or it could be a short project. If you have an entire nine weeks, however, you can really devote some serious instructional time and writing workshop lessons to the unit. You can include whatever genres of writing you want your students to know, and you can emphasize whatever minilessons they need. Differentiation is easy-peasy. Read the book. You’ll see. Feel free to e-mail me through my contact feature on my blog or through my Q & A on TpT for more specifics, if you are interested in learning more about how I structured my unit.
Research writing is still taught, but better.
So here’s the thing. I don’t want anyone walking away from this blog post thinking that students don’t learn how to write a research paper with this approach to writing. Quite the contrary, actually. My students had a firm understanding of what it means to write research pieces after completing this unit, but their comprehension of “research writing” was extended beyond normal.
I introduced my students not only to traditional MLA research writing skills, but also to the concept of citing research in creative writing through footnotes and endnotes. I showed them different formats of citing sources, and we discussed which citation formats would be appropriate for which genres of writing. The discussion was rich. Learning was forefront. It really was worthwhile.
Opportunity to conquer the writing standards.
I challenge you to find one Common Core writing standard that is not covered with this multigenre research project. It’s a beast. Text types and purposes? Check. Production and distribution of writing? Check. Research to build and present knowledge? Check. Range of writing? Checkmate. I absolutely adore that students can be investing themselves in a topic they love and accomplishing so much learning at the same time. It’s a rich, infectious atmosphere.
If I sat here longer, I’m sure I could come up with far more than 11 benefits of this assignment. But then you would be bored, so I won’t. I don’t want to end this post with everyone thinking my classroom during this unit was all flowers and unicorns. Do all students LOVE this assignment? Let’s be real – NO. I wish. With any project, there will always be that pocket of lovelies who hold back and grumble, but I actually had many students tell me how much they were enjoying it, so I know it was successful for the majority of the class.
If you are interested in trying this unit in your own classroom, I would first suggest developing an easy template/rubric for grading the assignments. Also, tell students up front exactly what your expectations are, and as you conference with them, make sure to give them honest feedback so there are no surprises when they get their graded project returned to them.
Start with something manageable. If you don’t fully understand what you are doing, your students definitely will be lost. Finally, get organized. Create a calendar (even an organic one that you explain will be altered as you move throughout the project) so that everyone is on the same page for deadlines, topics of study, computer lab dates, and other expectations.
You can access my free organizational materials for the prewriting portion of the MGP here. Most importantly, have fun with this. Let students drive their own learning, and don’t be too hard on yourself…the first time is always a process of trial and error! Tell your students you want their help with tweaking the unit as you go…they’ll have an additional interest to keep them vested in their work.
Have you facilitated an MGP before in your classroom? Leave your tips and tidbits in the comments to help other teachers who are trying to organize theirs!