In my last post, I talked about revamping a writing unit that I teach with my high school juniors. In the Writer’s Sandbox Unit, we focus on learning how to adapt our writing to different purposes, whether personal, professional, or public. The idea behind this is to get students ready for writing in the adult world, whether it’s writing a memoir to preserve family history, writing an application essay for an educational opportunity, or writing to affect change and impact the world.

That last one is the focus of this post, where I promised to dive deeper into the advocacy piece that I guide my students in creating. If you’re looking for a way to introduce your students to advocacy writing, maybe you’ll benefit from my process and the materials I’ll share.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

I really wanted to teach my students that words are power in the most concrete of ways. I was determined to provide them an opportunity to rehearse a writing practice that will become more and more important in their adult lives as they see the need to stand up for the things that they believe in. The essential questions I wanted to help students answer were these:

  • Why do we need to advocate for things?
  • How do we determine the stakeholders that are impacted by our issue of interest?
  • How do we select a form of communication that will best reach our target audience (the stakeholders)?
  • What strategies do we use to effectively craft a message for a specific purpose?

SELECTING TOPICS

I was very careful in the topic options that I provided to students. I wanted to offer a breadth of choices that would allow every student to find something to invest in, but that would also avoid hot button political issues that can create a tension that eclipses the process of learning. (I’ve found over the years that when students attempt to engage with ultra politically-charged topics, their research is often poor and their argument often ineffective. Also, I find it difficult to evaluate students appropriately in those instances if I interpret their beliefs as hateful.) I also really wanted to emphasize the idea of the advocacy writer not as a complainer, but as a protector. This is the list that resulted from that aim:

What’s something that you want to protect? Pick something from this list. Your choice doesn’t have to be currently at risk, just something that you care about.

*an animal or plant species

*a public space or public access to a space

*a natural area or ecosystem

*a building, landmark, or structure

*an annual event

*an element of infrastructure

CASE STUDY / MENTOR TEXTS

Individual conferencing was a big part of this unit, as students determined what they care about most. From there, we used some advocacy materials surrounding the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. This unique structure is currently in need of significant public or private funding to continue its existence, so it was the perfect thing to demonstrate how deeply people can care about protecting something, and how complicated the process of convincing others to protect it can be. I pulled some articles and websites advocating for the Domes, and we used them as mentor texts to practice identifying stakeholders and the choices the writers made to cater to them.

PROPOSAL: IDENTIFYING TASK, PURPOSE, and AUDIENCE

Next, after doing some research on their own topics and armed with a little more knowhow, every student created a proposal for their advocacy piece. It fit this format:

I will be creating an advocacy piece around the topic of _________________________ .
The reason I chose this topic is ___________________ . The aim for my piece is ________________. My main audience groups are________________. The form that my piece will take is _____________________________. My rationale for selecting this form, considering my audience, is ___________________ .

CREATING

From there, the messy process of creating began! I provided students with more examples of different advocacy forms, but stressed that ultimately, they would need to determine how to create their piece for maximum effect. Individual conferencing, again, is key here… It created many teachable moments. (Example: How does a poster with a bunch of pictures of tigers and tiger facts actually compel a specific group to donate money toward tiger habitat conservation? It probably won’t. What approach would work better?) By the end of the project, I was really proud seeing my students taking their first baby steps toward important political action, and watching them start to realize that speaking up and paying attention to elements of the world around them–even something as small as an annual city festival or the width of the streets in their neighborhoods–is key to protecting the things that we love.

MORE MATERIALS FROM THE UNIT:

Slides

Handouts

Sooner or later, these kids are going to need to defend what they care about. In a world filled with so many voices, I want to teach them how to make sure theirs is heard. <3