Giving my students real-world application to their writing

This week I learned just how little I actually know about the political system and showcased my struggles with my students.
To begin, we spent most of the week reviewing the STOP writing strategy (suspend judgment, take a side, organize ideas, plan more as you write) and the DARE writing strategy (develop a claim, add supporting ideas, reject the other side, end with a conclusion). The goal was to give the students tools in their writing toolbox to formulate persuasive writing in a more cohesive manner.
This week’s topic was based on a Newsela article on the laws involving dogs riding in cars. The students read the article and then outlined whether or not dogs should be allowed to ride in cars. At the end of the week the goal was for them to write a persuasive essay.
Thursday night rolled around, and I started planning for the essay and realized something. In the 10 years since I left college I have never once written a persuasive essay in the real-world. I haven’t sat down to write a 5 paragraph essay about my views on year-round school or whether or not students should have cell-phones. It’s not a practical experience and won’t directly translate into something they might actually do after high school. I know there are some benefits of writing an essay like learning fundamental grammar rules and organizing ones thoughts in a coherent way, but I thought I might be able to cover those same topics in a more applicable way.
At that point I knew I wanted to take the lesson a step further, but I had no idea what I wanted the students to do. What could I have them do that they might actually do in the future? I decided someday they might feel strongly about something and want to notify someone influential that things needed to change.
I decided I wanted them to write to their legislature about the importance of creating a law (or not creating a law) banning dogs from riding in cars. The problem…I had no idea who they were supposed to write to. I started searching the internet for our local congress representatives and realized it was EXTREMELY difficult to find. I either found our national representatives or found a list of local representatives but no list of which district the school was in. After 7 or 8 different searches I finally figured it out. I found a great map of the districts in the area with a listing of each representative for that district.
When class started I told them about my struggles to find the information. I showed them the map and explained which representative represents their address (our school covers 3 different congressional districts). Then I had them write a letter to their representative. The next time I do this we’ll actually send the letters to the representative (I want more prep time before I feel comfortable doing this).
This was terrifying. I know embarrassingly little about the political system, but I used that as a teachable moment. The students watched me struggle through finding answers and the final product was something they might actually end up doing someday.
 

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