By guest blogger and teacher, Samantha Gentrup
One of my favorite things about being an English/Language Arts (ELA) teacher is that my content area ties to every other content area and I can bring in all sorts of real world topics for my students to read about, research, question, reflect upon, and discuss. Every year I incorporate something I call Make It Real Mondays (MIRM) and these lessons have made a huge impact on my students’ reading and writing abilities as well as on their overall interest in their education. I believe that MIRM are not limited to the ELA classroom, but can also apply to science, social studies, and math. I begin by implementing MIRM in the beginning of the year and continue throughout the year until my students write their major argument writing piece in February. Because of MIRM, by February, my students have a plethora of topics and issues that they’ve learned about, making it very easy for them to choose a topic for their argument writing piece. It also makes their writing that much stronger.
What are MIRM and how do they work? In a nutshell, MIRM occur every Monday and involve humane education lessons. These lessons can involve a reading piece, a video, a guest speaker, an art activity or even a field trip. The lessons focus on issues related to compassion towards oneself, others, animals, and the environment, and each lesson involves a written reflection and sometimes even a mini-debate so that my students can process this new information about real world issues. All notes and reflections are kept in their writer’s journal for them to use when it’s time for the major writing pieces, especially their argument writing piece.
In addition to making my student’s writing better in my classroom, I’ve found that MIRM and humane education almost always tie to what my students are studying in their other content areas as well and my fellow teachers are thrilled that we are talking about their content in another classroom.
The first unit that my students complete is on personal narratives. For this unit, while still incorporating MIRM every Monday, my students read narratives about famous activists throughout history and journal daily to reflect upon the heroes. They then connect these heroes to their own lives and write a personal narrative for their major writing piece of this unit.
The second writing unit is an informational writing piece. For this assignment, my students can use their writer’s journal and select one of the MIRM topics to research and write about.
The third unit is their argument writing piece. Using the information they gathered from the informational assignment, they take a stance on an issue and defend their position while also addressing the opposing viewpoint. These writing pieces tend to be their strongest of the year.
The final unit is a creative writing piece in which my students use the real world topic of their argument writing piece, and turn it into a children’s book. Since they partner up, they get creative when combining their topics. For example, one year I had a pair of students write a children’s book about bullying and rainforest depletion. Another year I had students write about teamwork and saving a tree from being cut down in their neighborhood. For this project, they learn about theme(s), tone, and mood and how to write for a specific audience. They include dialogue and characterization and produce amazing children’s books that they hand deliver to kindergarten and first grade classrooms in our district. This is a powerful way to end the year: sharing a message of humane education via a children’s book and spreading a love for reading and writing from one age group to another.
I believe that every teacher can include humane education into his/her classroom and that can be via Make It Real Mondays and guided writing units, or any other creative avenue. There really are no limits with the right mindset and vision.
Samantha Gentrup is a passionate middle school teacher who believes in the power and necessity of humane education to empower children to positively change the world. She integrates humane education into her daily lessons and shares ideas with her peers through professional development sessions and her Facebook page at Miss G’s Classroom. She hopes to one day open an animal sanctuary and school based on humane education. She is actively engaged in animal rescue and loves to go hiking, backpacking, and kayaking and she also plays sand volleyball and finds joy in spending time with her dog and three cats.