In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jane Currell describes how she immersed her 9-10-year-old students in the details of a fictional island for three weeks – its geography, natural resources, forested area, and economy. She then presented them with the following scenario: Dear Residents of Alchemy Island, I am writing to inform you that a decision has been made to sell the eastern part of our island to a large development company. They plan to use the land to build a vast new resort for people to come on holiday here. It will provide a lot of jobs for people living on the island as well as countless other economic benefits. Part of the Enchanted Forest will be cut down to provide adequate space for this state-of-the-art complex.
Students then went to work composing speeches, letters, and other persuasive pieces on the question of whether the development should proceed. Currell shifted from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” providing anchor charts, mini-lessons, and individual support as groups of students immersed themselves in the simulation.
A “campaign” like this – fictional or real – is a powerful way to engage students in an authentic project, get them thinking about important issues, foster collaboration, and develop persuasive writing and presentation skills. Currell suggests the following steps to plan and implement this kind of unit:
• Look for a suitable spot in the curriculum. There are probably natural openings for a project on climate change, race, poverty, gender, and other hot topics.
• Let students choose a focus from a short list of possibilities. Choice heightens students’ engagement and enthusiasm.
• Gather resources to support students’ work. With her Alchemy Island project, Currell showed video clips about deforestation and other aspects of the scenario, generated a word bank, and discussed the components of successful advocacy.
• Identify the types of writing students will be doing. This might include letters, songs, placards, posters, interviews, speeches, and leaflets, along with anchor charts and rubrics to analyze and enhance quality.
• Get students working in groups. With the Alchemy Island project, Currell let students form groups around each type of writing, capping groups at five members.
• Plan lessons, each focused on one aspect of the project. The final lessons consisted of editing, revising, and publishing.
• Differentiate. Some students and groups will need more support than others; adult and student assistants can provide that.
• Arrange for preview presentations so students can get formative feedback and pick up ideas from other groups.
• Have groups present their completed work and celebrate the completion of the unit with group photos, displays, and other evidence of good work.
“Fire Up Your Students with a Campaign Project” by Jane Currell in Cult of Pedagogy, December 6, 2020