As I've mentioned before, my sophomores are reading Tuesdays with Morrie. On Tuesday (appropriately), I asked my students to consider the following prompt:
"Morrie bases his philosophy of life on the assumption that at our core, we are really all the same. This suggests that as human beings, we share fears, desires, hopes, needs, etc. that are essentially universal. Do you agree or disagree? Think specifically about those who are 'different' from you."
I set the timer for 10 minutes, and they wrote what they thought about the possibility of a universal human experience. After time was up, I asked them to silently read their journals to themselves. Why? Because I want to reinforce the habit of proofreading their work. Sure enough, I observed many students erasing or editing their writing. I encouraged them to do read their work every time that they write something, whether it be before they turn in a major paper or before they hit send on the email or instant message screen.
After they read their work, I asked them to take an academic risk for me. I asked them to trade journals with someone else in the class. This may not seem like a big deal, but remember -- they are used to writing for my eyes only, and they are used to writing freely and openly. I was pleased to see that at this point in the year, my students willingly traded work like collegues and friends.
They set to task, reading each other's entries, after which I asked them to respond to their peer's work (which many had already begun to do verbally) in writing. Why? It is a very important skill to be able to communicate in writing and give feedback to another person's work in writing.
After they did all that writing, we opened the floor for discussion of the prompt which yield some really great discourse. I consider it a very good day in the classroom when the kids talk more than I do about the topic at hand. Some started off by saying we are all the same because when we come down to it, we are all born, and we all die (much like what Morrie says) while others countered with examples of selfish and evil people like Adolf Hitler and Sadam Hussein.
We had a great day of writing and discussing, and it is so very exciting and rewarding to be able to guide young people in their journey of academic and personal growth!