Here’s a radical idea. Let’s teach high school and college students to write stuff that they’ll actually need to write in life or in an office: emails, blog posts, social media posts, marketing copy, research reports, and presentations.
Take time from analyzing Plato, Great Expectations and Catcher in the Rye and spend it instead analyzing great non-fiction writers like Mary Roach, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Pollan, and Isaac Asimov. When you read vivid narrative written in active voice, you write that way, too.
Immerse students in Seth’s blog and Guy Kawasaki, then assign them to write their own practical, how-to blog posts. Have fellow students attempt to follow the instructions, and comment on the posts based on whether they succeeded.
Tweet for a week. Practice short, grammatically correct, practical tweets with links to promote a cause. See if they can get their school interested in diabetes prevention, global warming, or diversity and tolerance in 140 characters or less. Include videos or animated GIFs, too.
Assign students to write emails that accomplish something. Write the mayor about changing police procedure, or write a local celebrity to request an interview. Earn more credit by getting a response, not just writing well.
Require students not just to research, but to edit Wikipedia based on the results.
For longer pieces, students must prepare with fleshed-out “fat outlines” or “treatments,” not sterile outlines that prepare you for nothing. Train on clever Google research tricks. Write final documents with embedded links along with citations.
Turn in all assignments electronically. Grade them with redlines in MS Word or Google Docs, the way it really works in an office.
When I was hiring, I would have paid a lot more for students trained this way. Why aren’t we teaching this way? (If anybody reading this is actually teaching this way, please tell us about it.)
In case you think this is impossible: I’ve already taught this class once. My teen students ate this stuff up. ( I’m running it again this summer and I’d love to have your teenager this year — sign ’em up.)
A conversation with my son Issi inspired this post.
Photo: Pete Forsyth demonstrating Wikipedia use by Ellis Christopher from Wikimedia Commons