Many writing tasks students are asked to do in school are just that–school-based activities to demonstrate knowledge and prove comprehension to the teacher. This includes writing book reports, chapter summaries, and creating dioramas.
But in the real world, field experts in science, math, history, and other technical fields are not writing those things. And the Common Core standards expect that we are providing students with authentic writing experiences. These would include real writing tasks that field experts in those subject areas would have to perform. This means we are asking students to write for real purposes and creating real products. We must provide students opportunities to create thoughtful, meaningful, and relevant products when in school, or they won’t be prepared to do so when they are out of school.
Here are a few examples to get you thinking:
Math: Students distribute a survey to their peers asking them questions about a hot topic, debatable issue, or arguable policy in your school. After collecting the surveys and calculating the student-generated results, students use that evidence to write an argument to the person in charge of changing the policy. Have students cite statistics from the surveys collected.
Social Studies/History: Students will read a picture book, chapter book, poem, or song (lyrics) based on a culture or event in history. They will write a critique of the text regarding its cultural/historical accuracy. This should include corroborating or contradictory evidence cited from other historians.
Physical Education: Provide students articles to read on physical and mental health. They will write a policy argument for how best to prevent the situation from being a problem at their school. (Read student responses to articles on bullying and concussions in sports. Visit our Idea Library for more information on Authentic Literacy in P.E.)
Language Arts: Students create greeting cards for a variety of occasions utilizing various forms of figurative language. Take it a step further and ask the computer graphics class to design the cards to then be printed and possibly sold.
Science: Strengthen students’ observation, hypothesis, and proof with Whodunit? mysteries. Reveal the problem or crime. Study the data provided within the visual image and descriptive text for each crime. As if they are forensic scientists and detectives, have students write a report claiming how they think the victim died and all the evidence/clues to prove their theory.
Building Trades: As you identify the building projects your students will tackle this semester, require your students to provide a written quote to the client (teacher/administrator) who is having the work done. Their quotes have to include a plan for materials needed and a time frame for the project. They could also incorporate a client guarantee.
Social Studies/History: Students will infer the intended message behind editorial cartoons. They will summarize the artist’s perspective and intended message on the topic.
Language Arts: Students identify a book previously read and argue why it should/should not be banned from the school reading curriculum. They will provide claims and acknowledge counterclaims within the piece. Their arguments must include abundant and relevant evidence from the texts. Consider coparing the text to others that have been banned throughout history.
In addition to authentic writing tasks, look for ways to achieve authentic literacy with technology. The 21st Century Digital Literacies expect students to search and filter information on the Internet, design digital documents with images and hyperlinks, and create multimedia using video, sound, and images.