If you’re like me, you schedule all your doctor’s appointments, your teeth cleaning, car servicing, and every other annoyingly time-consuming task for the summer or during school breaks. Or, if you’re lucky you might be using that time to hop a plane to some wonderful vacation destination.
What do your doctor’s, dentist’s, shrink’s, veterinarian’s offices, and economy seats on airplanes have in common?
Besides the fact (or perhaps, because of the fact) that all of these places require you to sit there and wait, you’re generally provided with magazines. And magazines are one of the absolute best places to discover exemplars of good expository and opinion writing for students in the middle grades. Looking for an example of a compelling lead? How about powerful description and supporting detail? Maybe an illustration of how to flawlessly weave quotes, statistics, and anecdotes into the text? A succinct and effective conclusion? Tone and voice? Or, you might be interested in teaching students about organization and text conventions – the use of intriguing titles, section headings, bold-faced or italicized print, the use of photos, charts, and graphs. All of these elements can usually be found in magazines.
So, why are magazine articles often perfect for classroom use? Unlike nonfiction books, magazine articles require an economy of space – they don’t have the luxury of going on and on. In fact, most magazine feature articles contain no more than 1,500-3,000 words. Letters to the editor, only 150-800 words. They also need to be tightly written and to the point – no meandering text. So the organization must be clear and efficient, easily accessible to the average reader. (Most magazine articles are written at no higher than a 6th grade reading level.) By definition, magazine articles need to say a lot in a minimum of space. Perfect for the attention spans of the 4th – 8th grade set.
Here’s how I recommend that you make the most of magazine articles:
1.) Select articles on high interest topics – pets and animals are big with kids of all ages,
sports and leisure, interesting science topics, travel articles, etc.
2.) As you read, make a mental note of the specific writing skills the article best exemplifies.
3.) Clip the article (or, in the waiting room scenario, perfect what I call the “sneeze and tear technique.”)
4.) Copy the article, triple hole punch it, and place it in a binder – this is where you’ll house your collection of exemplars. And/or scan the article so that you can later annotate it with your class on your white board.
5.) Use post-its to highlight the specific elements the piece best exemplifies, and categorize as such. I have collections of articles with powerful leads, vivid
description, illustrative quotes, compelling statistics, specific examples,
clear main ideas, clever word referents, and effective conclusions.
6.) Whenever you’re teaching a particular skill, go to your collection of exemplars and
begin there, with examples of these skills implemented by published authors.
So, the next time you’re stuck at the hairdresser’s, sitting under the lamp with a head full of foils, or waiting at the car dealership to get your 50,000 mile service, skip the complimentary TV and perusethe magazines instead. Just be sure to practice the “sneeze and tear technique” before you get there!