Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Slice of Life: College Essay Bootcamp


On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

Last night, I hosted a college essay writing bootcamp for my 17 year-old daughter and her friends. The idea came about earlier in the week when a few of them were sitting around our kitchen table lamenting the pressure and admitting their struggle with summer writing motivation. When I said they should all come over with a pact to not leave until one essay was done, I had no idea how much energy that idea would generate. Last night, we had seven rising seniors in the loft for two hours at all different stages in the essay writing process. They were so productive, receptive, and grateful! (Jelly beans, gummy bears, sour patch kids, and M&M's helped with the gratitude, as well.)

So many strategies of workshop instruction were in play for me last night!
  • I shared some mentor essays to help generate understanding of what constitutes an effective essay, asking the kids what they noticed and liked about them.
  • I gave them some ideas for generating topics with charts and quick-write exercises.
  • I complimented out loud so that everyone could hear examples of strong writing that were happening right there in the room.
  • I taught them the power of three, which really is one of my favorite go-to strategies. (Teach into writing with patterns of three...I was hot, I was tired, and I was sick of playing the game...Once you start looking for this pattern in writing, you'll be amazed at how much you'll find it.)
While I loved watching these kids work through the writing process, I have to say the struggles and pitfalls reminded me of the same ones their younger writing counterparts struggle through in writing workshop:
  • the struggle to find a topic--the tendency is to write about something big, not something mundane. It was interesting to watch one of the boys realize that dealing with a sore sport as a camp counselor would lead him to a potential essay. (If only these students were part of the slicing community!)
  • the struggle to know what the essay is about--really, really about. How many times do I ask young writers that same question? My writing group members will laugh at this one, because I ask them the same question all the time, as well!
  • the struggle to balance the dialogue, description, and stories with the point of the essay. "Everything has to be angled toward the point of your essay," I kept saying to them.
  • the struggle to get to or stay under a specific word count. The college essays are strict about this one. The boxes will actually cut off in the middle of a sentence. We had some great conversations about strategies for cutting words--active voice, word choice, adjective elimination, adverb elimination, sentence combination, even apostrophes... 
If you have any rising seniors in your world, I recommend an essay bootcamp for them, since we slicers all know how helpful writing energy is to our productivity! They all walked away much farther along in the process than they were before, and they all want to come back tomorrow night.

Happy writing,

17 comments:

  1. How great this is, the support of a writing group means so much, and it's also clear that they trusted that you knew what you were talking about, Melanie! I love the points made, too, imagine that they left quite energized by the learning, the actual writing and those jelly beans (power of 3!).

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  2. I LOVE this idea, Melanie. Not just the fact that you gathered them together and had them make a pact not to leave (until they had a draft), but I love the important work you did to scaffold the writing process with them. Wow!

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  3. I am so impressed with your stance. Proactive, yet gentle teacher coming through like you do with little ones. After all they are little ones still, at least as writers. Writing is not a way of life for most people. Our society doesn't promote it. This makes me more grateful for this space and a bit sad for those who do not find this outlet.

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  4. This is such a wonderful idea!! Being there for them and providing real support made all the difference!! What lucky kids!!! :)

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  5. Brilliant idea! I have a rising senior who is facing the essay writing process. I love this- coaching and cheering on, helping them to form a vision of what they are trying to create. And yes- so much energy created by doing this ina group setting with some immediate feedback.

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  6. Brilliant idea! I have a rising senior who is facing the essay writing process. I love this- coaching and cheering on, helping them to form a vision of what they are trying to create. And yes- so much energy created by doing this ina group setting with some immediate feedback.

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  7. Lucky kids to have a writing coach to spur them on to create amazing essays. What a great idea!

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  8. Oh, bravo, Melanie. This is exactly what they need - rich and authentic teaching to help them find their voice.

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  9. Oh, bravo, Melanie. This is exactly what they need - rich and authentic teaching to help them find their voice.

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  10. What a fantastic idea!! I wish I would have thought of that when my kids were at that stage in life.

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  11. I love how you transferred what you know well about writing workshop to help these kids with their essays. They will come back to you to celebrate admissions. You have made a difference!

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