Thursday, August 16, 2012

Online Teaching Resources: Finding Good Sample Essay

It's not that I have anything against composition books. Really, it's not.

They often have very good sample essays, and they certainly do a good job of capturing whatever the theme of that particular chapter is.

But I'm a rebel, you know. I'm often not teaching the theme of that particular chapter. I'm often teaching somewhere around its edges. So here's a chapter on "Observation Essays" and I'm teaching about how to describe a place. There will be great essays about how to make science laboratory observations, how to observe someone on a job shadow. These are practical things, no doubt. Important.

But they don't quite do what I need them to do.

So I'm always on the hunt for good sample essays, and I know that there is excellent writing all over the internet.

But I can never find it when I need it.

Writing

Maybe someone else knows the secret, but when I try to find an essay with a particular theme, my search results lead nowhere but pay-to-view plagiarism sites. Hundreds of them flood the top search results whenever I type in something like "my favorite place essay." (This makes me really wonder what our students see if they go online to try to get some guidance with their writing, but I digress.)

So, I've finally gotten wise and started bookmarking things as potential sample essays as I find them, creating my own database that I can draw from later.

Doing this has lead me to a couple of sites that have some really great writing, writing that I enjoy as a teacher trying to find good examples but also writing that I enjoy just as a reader. In case it might help someone else, here's a list:

  • Numero Cinq- This is an online magazine that features poetry, essays, short fiction, art, and interviews. I'm particularly fond of their "What It's Like Living Here" series. 
  • Fresh Yarn- This site has an amazing collection of essays in a wide array of styles and topics. My only complaint is that it's not very searchable, so I've just been randomly skimming them and seeing if I find something I like. One essay I've used in a class before with great success is "The Truth About Peeps." Students really like it, and we used it to talk about both dialogue and perspective. 
  • Hippocampus Magazine- Another great collection of creative writing. I'm planning to use "Toothbrush" in a lesson on using small details to convey larger meaning. 
  • Narrative- (Requires free registration, some material pay access) This has a lot of great writing. I'm watching for the results of the Six Word Story submissions, which I think will hold some potential for talking about style and sentence structure (not to mention punctuation). Here's a submitted story made up of five six word stories. 
  • Backhand Stories- The creator of this site explains it like this:  "I did want to create a place for new writers where short fiction was the norm, where writers could grow and learn and where you could read work in a couple of minutes that would stay with you the rest of the day." The navigation is a bit difficult, but if you have some spare time to just browse some essays, there's a lot of interesting stuff there. I've been pondering "Avocation Calling." 
Finally, I have to share this suggestion (thanks, Rhiannon!) for Jo Ann Beard's "The Fourth State of Matter," which is a beautiful story that had me completely absorbed and forgetting that I was supposed to be writing a syllabus. 

Alright, that's what I have. What about you? If you teach, where do you go to find example essays for your students? And where do you go when you want to just find some inspiring writing?

Photo: J. Paxon Reyes

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