One of the most important goals of any English class should be to help students learn how to express themselves to an audience — how to tell their own stories, how to provide much-needed information, and how to convince others to see things from a different perspective.
Below are some essays students can read, not only to help them see how such writing is done in the real world, but also to learn more about the world around them.
Need a #mentortext for student essays? Check out these exemplars for personal narrative, argumentative, and expository essay writing. Click To Tweet
Note: This is a living list. I will continue adding to it as I find important essays and articles, and as my readers make suggestions.
If You Think Racism Doesn’t Exist by Jordan Womack | Lesson Plan
A 17-year-old Oklahoma author details incidents of discrimination he has faced within his own community. Brief, yet impactful, the author’s authenticity strikes readers at their core and naturally leads the audience to consider other perspectives.
Letter from a Vietnamese to an Iraqi Refugee by Andrew Lam
Vietnamese lecturer, journalist, and author Andrew Lam offers advice in this letter to a young Iraqi refugee he sees in a photograph on the Internet.
Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends by Jan Hoffman
Learn why early and lifelong friendships are as vital for boys as they are for girls and what happens when those friendships are fractured.
Chris Cecil: Plagiarism Gets You Fired by Leonard Pitts Jr
The Miami Herald columnist and 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner castigates a Georgia newspaper editor for plagiarizing his work. This column would go great with this followup article from The Boston Globe: Ga. Editor is Fired for Lifting Columns.
Class Dismissed by Walter Kirn
The author of Lost in the Meritocracy postulates that getting rid of the high school senior year might be good for students.
Complaint Box | Packaging by Dylan Quinn
A high school junior complains about the impossible-to-open packaging faced by consumers of everything “from action figures to zip drives.”
Drowning in Dishes, but Finding a Home by Danial Adkison
In this 2014 essay, a teenager learns important lessons from his boss at Pizza Hut.
How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua
An American scholar of Chicana cultural theory discusses how she maintained her identity by refusing to submit to linguistic terrorism.
Humble Beast: Samaje Perine by John Rohde
The five-time Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year features the University of Oklahoma’s running back.
In Praise of the F Word by Mary Sherry
An adult literacy program teacher argues that allowing students to fail will actually help them.
The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie
A Native American novelist recounts his experience loving reading and finally writing in spite of a culture that expected him to fail in the “non-Indian world” in order to be accepted.
Lane’s Legacy: One Final Ride by Keith Ryan Cartwright
A heartbreaking look back at the hours before and the circumstances surrounding Lane Frost’s untimely death, followed by reflections on his rise to fame — before and after death.
Learning to Read by Malcolm X
The 1960s Civil Rights leader writes about how educating himself in prison opened his mind and lead him to become one of the leading spokesmen for black separatism.
Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass
A former slave born in 1818 discusses how he learned to read in spite of laws against teaching slaves and how reading opened his eyes to his “wretched condition, without remedy.”
Learning From Animal Friendships by Erica Goode
Scientists consider studying the phenomenon of cross-species animal friendships like the ones you see on YouTube.
Losing Everything, Except What Really Matters by Dan Barry
After a 2011 tornado destroys a house, but spares the family, a reporter writes about what’s important.
The Marked Woman by David Grann
How an Osage Indian family in Oklahoma became the prime target of one of the most sinister crimes in American history.
Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List by Lizette Alvarez
Read about what happens if you happen to share a name of a “suspicious person” on the U.S. No-Fly List.
Newly Homeless in Japan Re-Establish Order Amid Chaos by Michael Wines
After the tsunami that resulted in nuclear disaster in 2011, a reporter writes about the “quiet bravery in the face of tragedy” of the Japanese people.
No Ordinary Joe by Rick Reilly
Why in creation did American Football Conference’s 1981 best young running back Joe Delaney jump into that pit full of water that day, even though he couldn’t swim?
Politics and the English Language By George Orwell
Animal Farm and 1984 author, Orwell correlates the degradation of the English language into multi-syllabic drivel and the corruption of the American political process.
Serving in Florida by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America author tells about her experiences attempting to survive on income of low-paying jobs.
Starvation Under the Orange Trees by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck, who later authored the fictionalized account of Okies in California, The Grapes of Wrath, first wrote this essay documenting the starvation of migrant workers in California during the Great Depression.
To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This by Mandy Len Catron
Is falling in love really a random event, or can two people “love smarter?”
We’ll Go Forward from this Moment by Leonard Pitts
The 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner pens a column chronicling the toughness of the American family’s spirit in the face of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He wrote the column one day after the attacks.
What’s Wrong with Black English? by Rachel L. Jones
Jones, a student at Southern Illinois University in the 1980s, wrote this piece for Newsweek. In her essay, Jones adds her story and perspective to the debate over Black English.
Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood by Sherman Alexie
Alexie speaks on the importance of Young Adult literature in the lives of students struggling to survive abuse, racism, poverty, depression, gang warfare, negligent parents, drugs, and poverty.
Explore highly relevant issues & practice reading comprehension through short essays written for authentic audiences. #litchat Click To Tweet
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma graduate student, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students’ voices and choices.
Filed Under: PedagogyTagged With: Model Essays
What They Need To Know:
In high-school English Language Arts, students read works of literature and informational texts with a critical eye.
They will read classic and contemporary works from various eras, cultures, and world views.
Literary texts in Grades 9 and 10 might include such novels as “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck or such poems as “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.
In grades 11 and 12, novels might include “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald or “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes and such poems as “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats.
Students in Grades 9 and 10 also study historical documents such as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. or the “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln.
In grades 11 and 12, they might tackle “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine or such social commentary as “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell.
In writing and class discussions, students will be asked to interpret and analyze what they read, citing examples and evidence from the text. They will sharpen the skills needed to produce high-quality writing, learning to edit and revise their work over multiple drafts.
Here’s a snapshot of what students will do:
- Make fuller use of written materials, using a wider range of evidence to support an analysis
- Make more connections about how complex ideas interact and develop in a book, essay, or article
- Evaluate arguments; assess whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is sufficient; detect inconsistencies and ambiguities
- Analyze the meaning of foundational US documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights)
- Make an argument that is logical, well reasoned, and supported by evidence
- Write a literary analysis, report, or summary that develops a central idea and a coherent focus, supported with examples, facts, and details
- Conduct research projects that address different aspects of the same topic.
Speaking and listening
- Respond to diverse perspectives, synthesizing comments, claims, and evidence on all sides of an issue and resolving contradictions when possible
- Share research, findings, and evidence clearly and concisely
- Use digital media (animations, video, Web sites, podcasts) to enhance understanding and add interest
- Find or clarify the meaning of words and phrases, using multiple strategies, such as context, Greek and Latin roots (bene as in benefactor or benevolent), and patterns (conceive, conception, conceivable).
- Interpret figures of speech (hyperbole, paradox), and analyze their role in the literature or text
Classroom Task, Literature, Grade 9
Romeo and Juliet
In an eight- week unit on the Shakespeare tragedy, students read and discuss the play, read and analyze critical essays, and watch a performance on film. Students will then be asked to argue the question: Who is to blame for the deaths of the young lovers?
“Argue in support of two factors, ranking them by importance; develop a counterclaim to your argument, and present evidence for it; cite evidence from the play, a critical essay and at least one other source.”
Classroom Task, Literacy, Grades 9-10
The Power of New Media
In a 2- to 3-week unit, students read such articles as “Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains,” by Nicholas Carr and “Growing Up Digital, wired for distraction” by Matt Richtel.
“Write a 750-word essay in which you:
- Explain what’s at stake: Why does this issue matter?
- Develop and state your own position.
- Defend your position with a range of different types of evidence (interviews, observations, research data, and newspaper reports, etc.).
- Include research you may have conducted.
- Draw your own conclusions about the effects of media on young people and the world.”
Classroom Task, Literacy in Science, Grades 9-10
This Living Environment unit explores the role of photosynthesis in creating the world’s food supply and how methods of growing impact the environment. The unit covers metabolism, the cell process, homeostasis and ecology. Students research vertical farming, or agriculture in urban high-rises.
“You are an aide to US Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Your task is to write a policy brief about whether or not New York City should begin to pursue vertical farming on at least some of the city’s vacant lots (almost 9,000 acres).”
Classroom Task, Literature, Grade 11
In a nine-week unit, students analyze the theme of jazz in Ralph Ellison’s novel, “The Invisible Man.” The narrator states : “Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he’s made poetry out of being invisible…my own grasp of invisibility aids me to understand his music.”
Assignment Part 1:
“Write an informative paper that analyzes how Ellison develops the theme of invisibility across the course of the text, and how he uses the motif of jazz music to develop this.”
Assignment Part 2:
Create a 5-10 minute podcast on the two most important points from your essay. Collect a 30-second sample of jazz music for each of the key quotations you cite. Write a script, record and edit your podcast.
Classroom Task: Literacy in Social Studies, Grade 11
10-page US History Research Project
Students do in-depth paper on any topic in American history from 1600 to 1990. They choose the subject — and are told to look beyond the subjects studied in class. Examples:
- How did coffeehouses in colonial New York City affect business and politics?
- How did dances and music that developed during the 1920s impact relations between the races in New York?
- How did the Space Race impact the medical technology in America?
- Why were so many Americans antiwar during the Vietnam War?
“You start by posing a question that you want to answer — your thesis question. Then you do research — search for, evaluate and take organized notes on evidence that supports an answer to your thesis. As you learn more about your topic, you will narrow, broaden, or shift the focus of your paper. Finally, you will organize your evidence, using an outline structure and write a formal essay, with footnotes, that clearly explains your answers . . . and demonstrates your understanding of the topic. You will research and write the way that professional historians do. Your final paper will be a piece of formal research writing that adds to the scholarship on your topic.”
Classroom Task, Literature, Grades 11-12
Are Humans Good or Evil?
Students will read political writings “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes and “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then masterpiece poem “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.
According to T.S. Eliot, are humans good or evil? In your essay, argue which side you think Eliot takes. Explain whether Eliot’s thesis is supported by the ideas of either Hobbes or Rousseau. Please also address the counterclaim — i.e., why the other Enlightenment thinker’s ideas do not support Eliot’s thesis.
Students are given a list of elements the essay must include with respect to argument, evidence, reasoning and structure.
Classroom Task, Economics, Grade 12
Students read “America – The Real Lord of War” and “Defending Defense.”
1) According to each author, what is the right fiscal policy position for the US to take?
2) What values does each author see as important in shaping decisions?
3) Is his reasoning valid?
4) Is his evidence relevant and sufficient?
“Write a position paper in which you argue which defense budget you support. Be sure to acknowledge competing views and cite the texts. Recognize the possible biases that the writers of each budgetary document may hold.”
Regents Common Core ELA Exam
The exam includes reading passages with multiple-choice questions and essay-writing requirements. Here is one sample item:
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tir’d;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
—William Shakespeare, 1609
A. The narrator’s use of the phrase “zealous pilgrimage”(line 6) emphasizes:
1. an emotional attachment
2. a fatiguing journey
3. a religious conversion
4. an unpleasant memory
B. As used in line 10, “shadow” most likely refers to the narrator’s:
C. The poet’s use of figurative language in line 11 emphasizes his:
D. The couplet in lines 13 and 14 of the sonnet serves as:
1. an exaggeration
2. a clarification
3. a summation
4. an allusion
A: 1. The adjective “zealous” denotes “fervor,” and use of the noun “pilgrimage,” a journey to a shrine or a sacred place, gives more import to the poet’s thoughts of his friend.
B: 4. The pronoun “thy” informs the reader that the reference being made is to a person other than the narrator
C: 3. The poet’s choice to compare his friend’s image to a jewel highlights the precariousness and value of this relationship.
D: 3. The sonnet form ends with two rhymed lines of iambic pentameter. This standard couplet … supplies a recap of the poem’s central idea.