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Back to School

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

Welcome to August.

For many of you, that means thinking about back-to-school.

For many of your students, it means thinking about college entrance. Campus visits. Program selection.

Application essays.

New to them, to us those darned essays can sometimes seem like such a been-there-done-that process, one that, as English teachers, we often help them navigate as they struggle through identity-searching and personal writing that doesn't end up sounding hackneyed or picked-over by Mom or Dad a college application coach an editor.

Enter the New York Times' recent special feature called "Education Life".

Particularly interesting has been the section called "Your Story" -- personal stories from college students about their own on-campus experiences. Nothing could better demonstrate to your Grade 11 and 12 students the diversity of experience that university life has to offer than these pieces from students from all walks of life, attending all kinds of schools and such a variety of programs, and ultimately finding themselves enough to write about it.

Some that I found especially engaging:

More than just giving your students insight into what it's like on campus from a been-there-done-that point of view (and another section actually titled "Advice from those who have been there, done that" includes pointers to freshmen from those who were just there), this anthology of personal accounts provides them models for their own personal writing... and perhaps some inspiration for those dreaded college application essays.

Another place to start is NPR's "This I Believe" (Google it for some interesting alternative sites and projects -- from the Canadian version of the show to YouTube videos by students). NPR's site includes essays from the original 1950s show as conceived by Edward R. Murrow, the modern submissions covering every imaginable topic by contributors from celebrities to children, discussion guides and a teacher's guide.

I've had my AP® Language students write "This I Believe" essays with great success, and, although they're in Grade 11 at the time, I encourage them either to use the essay or the idea as a foundation for their applications. It's a good way to start the year, helping you to get to know your students and giving them an authentic exercise in developing their voices.

®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.