Although the Times is known for its award-winning journalism, the newspaper also has a strong tradition of publishing personal essays on topics such as love, family, campus life and navigate anxiety. And on our site, our daily writing prompts have long invited students to tell us their stories as well. Our 2019 collection of 550 prompts for storytelling and personal writing is a good place to start, though we’re adding more every week during the school year.
In this unit, we draw on many of these resources, along with over 1,000 personal essays from the magazine’s long Lives column, to help students find their own “short, memorable stories” and tell them well. . Our related mentoring lessons can help them practice skills such as writing with voice, using detail to show rather than tell, structure a narrative arc, immerse the reader in a scene and more. This year we will also include mentor-guided lessons that use the work of the 2019 winning students.
As a final project, we invite students to submit finished stories to our second annual Personal Narrative Writing Contest.
Book reviews and literary essays have long been staples of language arts classes, but this unit also encourages students to learn how to critique art in other genres. As we point out, a cultural review is, of course, a form of argumentative essay. Your class might be writing about Lizzo or “In Search of Alaska,” but they still need to make statements and back them up with evidence. And, just as they must do in a literary essay, they must read (or watch or listen to) a work up close; analyze it and understand its context; and explain what is significant and interesting about it.
In our Mentor Texts series, we feature the work of The Times’ film, restaurant, book and music critics to help students understand the elements of a successful review. In each of these guided lessons, we also highlight the work of teen contest winners from previous years.
As a culminating project, we invite students to send us their own reviews of a book, film, restaurant, album, theater production, video game, a dance performance, television show, art exhibit, or any other type of work that The Times reviews.