Write to the Writer

A Lesson by ABE Teacher Gale Czerski

We have linked to individual worksheets throughout the lesson. Or you can download all the worksheets + two Change Agent articles and student responses here.

I often use The Change Agent in my ABE mixed-level 3/4 class, either as a primary text or for supplementary articles. My students are from very diverse backgrounds (culture, language, age, school experience, native and non-native speakers, gender, goals, etc.) and are in pre-GED and pre-college programs. I appreciate that The Change Agent is appropriate for many levels, and students love reading stories written by students like themselves. Plus, the themes, issues, and sense of “voice” make The Change Agent adaptable for many different kinds of lessons.

This last term, I used the “Celebrations” issue, which by the way, students loved for its colorful cover graphics! Here are two sample Change Agent articles plus the response letters that resulted from the work the students did in this lesson. To get started with this activity, students chose Change Agent articles for their Weekly Reading Logs. Before they wrote the reading logs on their own, we did some class practice. Students shared in pairs. So, throughout the term, students were familiar with the content and were familiar with discussing and writing about the content.

In the past, I’ve had students write response letters, but this time, I wanted to extend it by actually sending the letters to the Change Agent contributors.

For their final paper, I wanted them to feel a meaningful sense of purpose and connection to the reader. I wanted their writing to connect them to real life outside of the classroom. I also wanted them to practice summarizing in the context of a real-life writing project.

I first showed them the example of my letter, and we discussed the difference between letters, texts, and emails. I also had them look at the content and the form. Many of the students didn’t have familiarity writing or receiving personal letters, so we needed some background, which is another reason I wrote a sample letter. Now that I have tried this assignment, I think it would have been better to use a student sample. We also spent time generating content. As a warm-up, I had them write a journal response.

Students wrote a total of three drafts, the final draft using the Google Doc feature in their emails. If I had more time, I would have had them read their letters to each other in a pair activity, with a response guide.

Next time I do this, I might modify the 2nd draft frame. I think it was too clunky, and students were restricted by it. I used it because many of my students are afraid of writing, and I thought this may be a gentle frame. Not so. If this were used for a lower level class, I think a 2nd frame would be necessary. For a higher level class, it would have been better to let them find their own frame.

Next time, I would have the students send their drafts to The Change Agent! I hadn’t thought that far ahead (about actually submitting these so they could be shared with the writers), and when I did think of it, I let them know that I would do it. But I think there would have been more of a sense of pride if they had sent their own letters.

I think this can be adapted for higher levels and for other purposes. Next time, I’m going to use the “Prisons” issue, this time in the context of exploring social justice themes. My colleague who teaches the higher level will also be addressing this issue, so we may do a project together.

In addition to creating these authentic writing opportunities for my students, I am grateful to The Change Agent for helping our students find “ways in” to confusing, inequitable, and often impenetrable systems.

Gale Czerski teaches ABE at Portland Community College in Portland, OR.