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Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone (eBook)

Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres

By Cathy Fleischer, Sarah Andrew-Vaughan
Foreword by Heather Lattimer

By teaching with the Unfamiliar Genre Project, you’ll discover  that immersing students in one genre that they aren’t familiar with helps them understand the concept of genre in general, and strengthens their reading and writing overall.


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Full Description

2010 James N. Britton Award winner from the Conference on English Education (CEE) of the National Council of Teachers of English.

This work is an important contribution to the field of writing instruction, but it is also a great read. The advice is practical, the resources helpful, and the discussion thought provoking. Fleischer and Andrew-Vaughan are wonderful guides on the journey through the Unfamiliar Genre Project…they invite us in, earn our trust, and then support us as we take on a new and unfamiliar challenge. Enjoy the journey! Heather Lattimer
Author of Thinking Through Genre

If genre study isn’t in your curriculum and standards documents, it’s likely to be soon. But which genres are the most useful for students to study? And how do you find time to cover them all? Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone answers these questions. It shows how immersing students in one genre that they aren’t familiar with helps them understand the concept of genre in general and strengthens their reading and writing.

In Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan present the Unfamiliar Genre Project. Through this extended reading and writing sequence, your students will discover the skills to be savvy in any genre, and you’ll find ways to support them. The Unfamiliar Genre Project helps you:

  • develop students‘ thinking about writing fundamentals such as purpose, audience, form, topic selection, and word choice
  • support adolescents’ test-taking abilities by increasing their awareness of the genre characteristics of test writing
  • fully engage students by connecting school writing to their outside interests
  • truly integrate the English curriculum by studying genre from the points of view of both readers and writers.

Fleischer and Andrew-Vaughan give you highly detailed, specific ideas for teaching the Unfamiliar Genre Project. Their organizational structures, lessons, and variations for classrooms in different settings will help you plan and implement the project with ease.

Read Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone and teach the Unfamiliar Genre Project. You’ll soon discover how to boost students’ achievement in every genre as they study just one.



Preface: Teaching and Learning the Unfamiliar

  1. Why a Focus on Genre?
  2. What Is Genre Study?
  3. Building a Concept of Genre (and Unfamiliar Genre) in the Classroom: Whole-Class Studies
  4. Unpacking the Unfamiliar Genre Project
  5. Learning by Example: A Sample UGP
  6. Variations on the UGP



Companion Resources

One of the best ways to introduce the Unfamiliar Genre Project to your students is to share examples of other students' projects. While you're still gathering some of your own, we invite you to share these UGPs that our students have produced over the past few years from a variety of classes.

You'll notice these projects include most of the sections we describe in Chapter 4 of our book—but not all. (We left out, for example, the multiple pages of drafts, parent letters, and peer group responses.) In addition, these projects, produced at various times over the past few years, represent the evolution of this project, and so some of the sections might look a little different from the complete project we present in Chapter 5. You might use these differences as a springboard for your own variations.

Elspeth Hayden
Elspeth, a journalism student, is passionate about science and decided to blend the two disciplines by writing a science feature article for her UGP. A tenth grader, Elspeth was working on a project about Mars for the regional science fair and realized that she could represent her newfound knowledge as a feature article. In turn, the news articles she read to prepare her UGP helped her in the science fair project. Here's what Elspeth says she learned:

    "I started out slowly, not quite understanding what I was supposed to be learning. I ended up surfing the New York Times website almost every day, just reading through all of their science articles. At first I didn't see the benefit, but as I read more and more, I found myself planning my own article in my head."

View Elspeth Hayden's project

Roxanne Kieme
Roxanne was a ninth grader the first time Sarah ever taught the UGP. An enthusiastic writer, she decided it wasn't enough to challenge herself with one genre, instead she blended science fiction and vignette. The result is a massive project that went through numerous revisions-sharing her writing with Sarah before school, after school, and during lunch. All those meetings helped Roxanne move her final piece from unrelated snapshots to a fluid narrative. Here's what Roxanne says she learned:

    "I went into this project not knowing if I will [sic] be able to get out. . . . I feel that I have learned a lot. . . [b]ut most importantly, I have created something that in the beginning, I thought was impossible."

View Roxanne Kieme's project

Robert Teixeria
Robert is a Renaissance man: at the time he created this UGP as a high school senior, he set his sights on becoming both a concert violinist and brain surgeon. Choosing a genre that wasn't totally familiar to Sarah or to himself—the sestina—Robert's work demonstrates how even a "short" project can be complex and full. After reading many sestinas and writing numerous drafts, Robert explains the impact of this project on his newfound understanding of reading:

    "I realized that reading is understanding. . . .When I was reading my samples, I thought one read through would be sufficient, but it wasn't. I did not understand what the poem was about or the author's usage of end words. After three or four read-throughs, I understood how the author manipulated the meaning of end words."

View Robert Teixeria's project

Norman Zeng
When Norman, a junior in Sarah's accelerated English class, first selected haiku as his unfamiliar genre, Sarah responded in the way we usually do when someone suggests this form: "It's not as easy as you may think it is." Sarah knew Norman was deep in his research when he brought to her his findings about a Japanese punctuation mark that does not translate into English. He explains what he discovered about the requirements of haiku:

    "I found that a season word was one of the requirements and so was a ki which has no English translation, so most English haiku writers use punctuation instead even though it is not as effective."

View Norman Zeng's project

Ethan Konett
Ethan, now a high school social studies teacher, was a junior in college when he took Cathy's Writing for Writing Teachers class. An English minor, Ethan searched for ways to connect what he learned in the class to his history major. In writing his UGP—an epic poem—he found a way to both connect English and history and demonstrate some of his own political leanings. By the end of the project, Ethan anticipated the benefits he could imagine to using the UGP in his future teaching:

    "This is the point, is it not; to get kids involved and interested so they put their own heart into their work? Maybe this will encourage them to read, read, read and write, write, write, and to gain a better command of language. This would be a good thing, no doubt."

View Ethan Konett's project


Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone is the winner of the 2010 James N. Britton Award from the Conference on English Education (CEE) of the National Council of Teachers of English. The award is given to encourage English Language teacher development by promoting reflective inquiry in which teachers raise questions about teaching and learning in their own teaching/learning settings.

Sarah Andrew Vaughan and Cathy Fleischer have a fan in the blogosphere. Read about it here.