Secondary Resources - National Council of Teachers of English

Video 1: Why I Write

Jacqueline Woodson talks about why she writes, her process, and why it’s important for us all to share our words.


Journal or Discussion Prompt Suggestions:

  • How do you think Jacqueline Woodson evaluates whether her writing has had an impact on others?
  • Can a piece of writing be life-changing? Why or why not?
  • What role does writing play in your life right now? What role do you think it will play when you leave high school?
  • What’s one thing you wish you could write about? Who would you want to read this writing?


Related Writing Activities:


Why-I-Write Wall

Cover a large wall with a sheet of paper and write WHY I WRITE in the middle. Invite students to write their own responses to this prompt on the paper.


Writer’s Self Portrait

Invite students to draw a picture of themselves as writers. Ask them to show:

  • Where they write
  • What they are writing with
  • Invite them to annotate the picture with notes and/or illustrations of all the things they like to write about

Video 2: Writing = Hope x Change

Jacqueline Woodson explains the “equation” that fuels her work and how it plays out in the books she writes. She reads an excerpt from Each Kindness and points to the moment of change in that story that propels it forward. She concludes with a call to action, inviting us all to tell our stories of hope and change.


Journal or Discussion Prompt Suggestions:

  • What does the equation Writing = Hope x Change mean to you?
  • Name a book or piece of writing that changed the way you think. How did it change your thinking and why?
  • Have you ever written something that changed the way someone thought or felt? What was it? Why do you think it had that effect?
  • How can words change a life? What gives them that power?


Related Writing Activities:


A Story That Changed Me

Students reflect upon a story they’ve been told or read that changed the way they think or feel. They take time to write down this story with as much detail as they can remember. Invite those who are willing to share their stories with the class.


Selfie Quotes

Students can reflect on the power of their own words when they fill in the quote bubble on this template with their response to the statement, “my writing = hope x change because . . . ” Consider posting the quotes on a wall, or, if they have permission, having students take selfies with their quotes to share to the hashtag #WhyIWrite.

Video 3: What will your words change?

Jacqueline Woodson shares an excerpt from her most recent book Harbor Me, centered on a group of middle school students, and discusses how as writers we can create change by questioning the narrative we see around us and sharing the truth of our own stories.


Journal or Discussion Prompts:

  • Jacqueline Woodson talks about how writers need to “question the narrative” that society offers them. What does that mean to you? What narratives are you questioning?
  • In the piece Jacqueline read we hear how the poem the main character hears fosters her own empathy. What stories have you heard that have moved you to want to take action?
  • What’s something you want to change? Why?
  • How can the voices of students play a role in addressing social issues? How can we get more adults to listen to and take seriously what students say?
  • How do you get your writing into the hands of the people who need to read it?


Related Writing Activities:


Writing a Letter to the Editor

Choose an article from your local paper that addresses a problem your students would find meaningful. Have them write and submit a letter to the editor that includes their views on what must be done to solve the problem. Note the word length for submissions (usually around 150 words or fewer.) Often these letters can be submitted through the newspaper’s website. If you don’t want to post the letters directly to a newspaper’s site, consider using the ReadWriteThink Letter Generator.

Multimedia Storytelling

In Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, the characters tell their powerful stories to an audio recorder. This is a good reminder that our stories and our “writing” can be composed in many ways. Invite students to think of a story they have inside them that needs to be told. Give them the option of telling that story in whatever way they are most comfortable, whether via audio recording, video, writing, social posts, pictures, and so on. This project will likely take more than a class period, but consider creating a space where the stories can be savored and shared.


Organize and Action-Oriented Write-In

This is an extension of the letter-to-the-editor activity above. As a class, or individually, have students identify an issue they care about, write with a particular audience in mind, and, with your help, work with a rhetorical strategy best suited to their purpose.

The following possibilities can be used with individual students or partners, including entire classes:

  • Individual/group/class letter to the school principal
  • Individual/group/class letter to members of the school board
  • Individual/group/class letter to the opinion section of a local newspaper
  • Individual/group/class letter to a local or national elected official
  • Literacy narratives to be read at public forum, such as a school board meeting or a school assembly with invited guests
  • A few other ideas:
    • compiling literacy narratives into a class collage, report, letter, or a multimodal persuasive composition related to a relevant local or national policy
    • starting a class blog, newsletter, newspaper, or social media channel devoted to a particular issue
    • create something multimodal, e.g. a podcast, a PSA, a website, a poster, or a short video around an issue
  • For an extended project: a class could do a research project over the course of several weeks that results in some sort of public document or argument, or students could investigate the implications (positive or negative) of a policy change and provide a report with recommendations

Other Related Writing Resources for Secondary Grades