Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Problem Essays

My team of fellow sophomore English teachers and I have designed the formal essays we assign this year to center around problems. We wanted to move from easiest to hardest, so we’re starting the year with a narrative essay. Our students will write about a problem they’ve experienced and also explain a solution they tried that may or may not have worked.

In addition to relating this personal story, students will also be expected to incorporate two sources: one of them will be an interview they conduct with someone who could share some insight into the problem (a family member, a friend, an expert, etc.) and the other source is not stipulated. More than likely, students will select a news article or magazine story about their problem, but they could also use a book or a documentary–anything, really, as long as it’s reliable.

After the narrative essay, students will move onto an informational / explanatory essay in which they will explain a local problem that affects our school, school district, community, city, or state. They’ll have to incorporate three sources instead of two, and the length of the paper will increase as well.

Those are the two big essays of the fall semester, but my students will do plenty of everyday writing in my class as well. In the spring semester, we will shift gears to argument writing. Our third paper of the year will deal with a national problem along with a proposed solution, backed up by research. The source requirement will now by four, and the page length increases again.

The fourth and final problem essay of the year focuses on a global issue. On top of proposing a solution, I’m thinking I might have students research a couple causes of the problem as well. We’ll see. Regardless, the source requirement will now be five, and the page length, yet again, increases. Students will also be expected to present their findings to the class through a presentation for which they can use a PowerPoint or a Prezi or some other approved presentation tool.

We designed the essays in this way to have mini bursts of research spread throughout the year, so that students have plenty of time to practice those research and synthesis skills that are all too often zoomed through in one dreadful, cram-packed, month-long, research-paper unit.

Today in class, my sophomores brainstormed problems encountered by Americans teens in 2012. We are starting broad, but we’ll zoom in on their own personal problems soon. I know for a fact that some of my students deal with some of the problems on this list.

American Teen Problems: 2012 Edition

  • Abuse (physical, verbal, sexual, etc.)
  • Acne
  • Addictions (technology, pornography, etc.)
  • Balancing life: school, sports, activities, job, etc.)
  • Braces
  • Breaking an iPhone
  • Bullying
  • Car wrecks
  • Choosing a college
  • Clogged school hallways
  • Depression
  • Divorced parents
  • Drama with friends
  • Dress code issues
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, obesity, etc.)
  • Faith being tested
  • Friends with different beliefs (religious, political)
  • Getting a car
  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Getting into a good college
  • Health problems (illness, broken bones, etc.)
  • Height
  • Helicopter parents (swoop in, hover, and don’t cut the metaphorical umbilical cord)
  • Homework
  • Illegal substances (cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  • Impulsiveness
  • Job
  • Money
  • Peer pressure
  • Popularity
  • Poverty
  • Pregnancy
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Procrastination
  • Puberty
  • Rebellion
  • Relationships (family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend)
  • School lunches
  • Self esteem issues
  • Sex
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual identity
  • Shaving
  • Stealing / shoplifting
  • Stress
  • Suicide (When this was mentioned, a student asked if I had heard about the suicide that occurred today at a junior high in our state.)
  • Texting & driving
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