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“Using Anthologies to Teach Writing”

When I was growing up, our family had an Anthology of Children’s Literature. (No doubt one of my mom’s college textbooks!) Even though we regularly checked out books from the library, I spent a lot of time browsing through that book. I loved that I could find stories from all over the world. In that volume, I discovered new tongue twisters, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” and James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation.”

Today, biographical anthologies have become popular in the children’s literature market. You can find anthologies on a wide range of topics like sports, science, technology, math, and more. They provide young people with an easy way to access stories about people who overcame obstacles to achieve success.

Because anthologies collect the stories of people around a theme, they offer many ways for readers to engage with the stories. Readers can take a treasure hunt through the essays in search for someone that interests them. Students might seek someone who:

+Champions a cause that matters to them.

+Overcame difficulties in school.

+Plays their favorite sport.

+Works in a career that interests them.

+Did something brave.

But how do you get young people to engage with these stories? When I wrote Mightier Than the Sword, an anthology of stories about people who used their words to change the world, I chose people from many disciplines because I wanted young people to see that many people write, not just storytellers. I added interactive writing exercises so that young people could write to change their own worlds.

I’ve been an artist educator since 2001, teaching in classrooms, libraries, and museums. I often use mentor texts and anthologies to engage young people in learning history and inspire their writing. Here are three writing exercises—and an art exercise—I use with historical texts:

Writing Exercise #1: Social Media Profile

Sei Shonagon (965-1010) captured court life in her writing, a genre known as zuihitsu that combined lists, advice on conversation and letter writing, observations about events, and suggestions on how priests should preach and dress. Had Sei Shonagon lived today, she might have developed a social sharing site like Instagram or Twitter.

Try this: Invite students to create a social media profile and several posts for the person they’ve chosen. This will especially fun when working with historical people. Maybe George Orwell would write a status update like: “Big brother? This whole platform is sus.”

Note: You can use any social media site that your students can relate to. There are several kid-friendly social media sites that might work, like GromSocial and PopJam.

Writing Exercise #2: Protest Song

The Afghan rapper and activist Sonita Alizadeh was angry about her parents’ plan to sell her into marriage, partly to help raise money to purchase a bride for her brother. To protest this, she wrote and performed the song “Brides for Sale” and posted it on YouTube. Alizadeh’s song saved her from an arranged marriage and paved the way for her to go to school.

Try this: Invite students to write a protest song for a cause that they care about.

Writing Exercise #3: Letter Campaign

Young Sophie Cruz wrote a letter to the Pope, asking him to fight for the rights of immigrants in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to protest the advice to “wait” for justice. His letter became a sermon and then was published in newspapers and magazines across the country.

Try this. Ask students to write a letter to encourage change. Perhaps several students will want to create a letter-writing campaign to challenge an organization, government agency, or a government official.

Bonus Exercise: Protest Art!

To protest the lack of women’s works of art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Guerilla Girls plastered posters on New York City buses asking: “Does a woman have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” The poster featured a reproduction of the nude in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, with her face hidden by the group’s signature gorilla mask. The poster educated readers on the statistics: “Less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are female.”

Try this: Invite students to create an art poster or social media meme to support their favorite cause.

Choosing Anthologies

The library is full of many kinds of anthologies on a wide range of topics like sports, science, technology, math, and more. Check out a big stack and let your students browse. The more they read, the better chance they will have of finding a role model who matters to them.

Published July 27th, 2021 by Beaming Books

About the Book: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. The stories are accompanied by writing and creative exercises to help readers discover how they can use writing to explore ideas and ask for change. Sidebars explore types of writing, fun facts, and further resources.

Download the free activity pack: https://ms.beamingbooks.com/downloads/Activity_Packet_MightierThanTheSword.pdf

About the Author: Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com

Thank you, Rochelle, for your book and for this incredible post with such useful classroom ideas! 

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One Response to Author Guest Post: “Using Anthologies to Teach Writing” by Rochelle Melander, Author of Mightier than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing

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