As a substitute teacher, I occasionally find myself in the awkward situation of filling in where there are no lesson plans. Sometimes, the teacher is absent more than one day, and it is up to me, the TOC (Teacher On Call), to create relevant lessons. I often take notice of what the class is working on, and come up with something to match.
Recently, I TOC'ed in a Grade 6 class just before the US election. I came up with a quick plan on NAFTA, explaining and demonstrating (using fictitious widgets) to help the students understand the general idea of trade and tariffs. From there, we drafted letters to Mr. Trump, pleading him to honor the Free Trade agreement. The students loved it.
So was born the idea of creating a newspaper that would allow students to have a venue for their published written work. The newspaper concept would give voice to creative writing, current events, cartoons, poetry, and more. At first, I thought I would do one version for any time of the year, but I saw lots of those online. Then I thought I would do something for each month. I had a great time coming up with titles using alliteration or rhyme. I also had terribly much fun creating my own clipart and vectorizing the images.
As I thought further about the project, I thought I would provide teachers with exciting things to write about, so I did some research on various international and national days. In December there is Crossword Puzzle Day, Sock Day, Abolition of Slavery Day, Monkey Day, and more. What fun it could be, as a student, to be given choices of what to write, to be given a chance to draw a cartoon or to design a crossword puzzle or to craft a poem.
For the teacher, the newspaper format gives lots of fodder for assessment, both formative and summative. To boot, the paper becomes part of a visual portfolio and can be posted on sites like Fresh Grade. With nine sections to fill, students can be guided through the writing process with as much or little assistance as is appropriate. The newspaper could even be an extension activity for those students who are habitually done early. Or even an extra credit activity.
The December Dispatch is in tabloid format with three different versions to suit the various stages of middle school students. For the coordinated, prolific writer, there is a version with lots of lines close together. For the student who isn't crazy about writing (yet) or has big printing, the lines are further apart. The third version has no lines at all. Opened in Acrobat, the student can use the 'Edit' mode to enter their own text. It's not perfect, but it provides a way for those with computer adaptations. The student can save and submit the electronic version to the teacher who can print it out for the final hand-drawn touches.
This project mushroomed in size. I have also provided a Powerpoint document that teachers can use to introduce each section and discuss expectations. The slideshow can be shown in one sitting for an overview, or one slide per lesson. The document is editable so that changes can be made, or slides added, to suit the class.
I will continue to work on a template for each month, including July until all twelve are complete. Then I will bundle it. Meanwhile, I welcome feedback.