Professional Writing in Action! Publishing Student Reviews Online
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In this lesson, students will develop their reading, critical thinking, and persuasive writing skills by writing reviews for publication on Amazon.com. Using Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper to write a review as an in-class exercise, this lesson prepares students to write their own reviews of other texts by following online guidelines for producing and publishing. The lesson emphasizes the writing process and develops students' writing skills to include both academic and professional writing. It may also be expanded to include video reviews as well as reviews of products, technology, movies, and other items (all of which are featured on Amazon.com).
From Theory to Practice
Knowledge of multiple literacies is a must in today’s reading and writing classrooms. When teachers incorporate lessons using blogs, wikis, websites, videos, and social networking sites, they are teaching reading and writing in our modern age, and in the process maintaining student interest. As Cathy Fleischer writes, “Students seem more connected to literacy activities when they can find things to read and write that connect to the issues and concerns that are part of their larger lives” (Fleischer 6). This lesson uses writing for online publication to engage students in the process of reading texts critically for plot and meaning, analyzing its audience, writing a review about it, and following the formatting conventions needed to publish that review in an online medium. The result is context-specific writing in the classroom that “provides an awareness of genres that is transferable to genre understanding outside of the classroom” (Dean 29).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Computers with Internet Access
- Document Camera, Overhead Projector, or LCD Projector
- Copy of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Selection of other books/novels students may read to review
- Large sticky note sheets
Writing with Writers, namely the “Write a Book Review with Rodman Philbrick” page, provides a comprehensive guide for beginning writers of book reviews.
This site shares reviews written by and for teens.
This site offers books reviews by and for teenagers as well as information on news and events, homework help, and preparing for college and careers.
This site provides reviews of several genres of books.
This is a monthly online book review publication offering reviews of fiction, history, science fiction, children’s books, and others.
Enotes is an educational resource available for teachers and students providing literature study guides, lesson plans, and literary criticism.
Project Gutenberg is a free site where readers may view over 33,000 e-books. This site provides a complete copy of The Yellow Wallpaper for teachers and students.
This site provides reviewers with the guidelines for writing and publishing a review on amazon.com.
- Teachers should select one text that all students will read (such as Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the example used for this lesson).
- Teachers should also have a selection of other books on hand, or have generated a suitable list, for students to choose from to do their own reviews in the second part of this lesson.
- Teachers need access to computers with Internet capabilities for the days needed to work through the lesson.
- Make copies of all handouts (one copy for each student):
- learn to read a text critically for basic elements including plot, characters, setting, etc.
- develop advanced reading skills by reading for themes, patterns, meaning, and connections to the past and present.
- become critical reviewers by offering a personal critique of the text.
- analyze a text for various intended and unintended audiences.
- analyze existing reviews to determine what makes an effective/ineffective review.
- write professional reviews by following publication guidelines.
- Introduce the lesson by asking students what was the last book or article they read that they thought was “good.” Then ask them about one they read that they would consider “bad.” Ask students to make a list of those texts and then explain what they think made them good or bad.
- Introduce the idea of Audience and what makes a certain book more appealing to some than to others. Take this a step further by asking students to consider the various audiences for the list of texts they created. For example, if they liked the book Twilight, who else would like it and who would possibly not like it? Use age, religion, race, sex, education, location, etc. as potential limiters for the audiences being considered. Students will use the Audience Brainstorming Worksheet to make their own notes during the discussion. (Students will also use this worksheet in later sessions when preparing to write their own professional reviews. Doing it as a class here will help familiarize students with how to fill it out so they are more successful on their own later.)
- As a class, discuss what makes texts liked by some and not by others and how these perceptions might affect what someone says about the book. Questions for discussion:
- Why is it important to consider who the reader is?
- Why is it important to think about who the reader is sharing their opinion with?
- What might the reader say to different audiences about the book? (for example, children, teenagers, adults, elderly people)
- What kind of information would different audiences want to know about the book? (length, level of difficulty, size of text, cost, genre, etc.)
- Assign students to read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman for the next session. (Teachers may choose to review the context of the story either before or after the students read it. Some teachers may want their students to have the context before reading so they may better understand it. Other teachers may not want to discuss too much context before reading so as to evaluate students’ ability to read and understand the text on their own. Similarly, teachers may wish to provide students with a reading guide to improve their understanding while they read. See The Yellow Wallpaper Reading Guide. Teachers should base this decision on their assessment of the students and the class as a whole.)
- Students will get into groups and write a very basic plot summary of the assigned reading. They should also make a list of the characters, setting, action, and other elements of the book (see Analyzing a Text Worksheet).
- Return as a whole class and share students’ plot summaries. Guide the class to a general understanding of the plot, including the speaker’s mental condition, how she feels about her situation and the other characters in the book, what is happening to her, and what happens at the end. Also introduce some of the history behind the text. For additional information about the text, teachers may choose to consult The Yellow Wallpaper, Bedford Critical Edition, edited by Dale M. Bauer, or for a more brief account of the text, an online summary on enotes.com.
- Students will then individually reflect in writing about their reading/understanding of the text. See questions for guiding understanding on the Analyzing a Text Worksheet.
- Continue discussion about The Yellow Wallpaper by discussing the audience for the story. In groups or as a class, make a list of possible audiences for the text. Questions to consider:
- Who would like it?
- Who would not like it?
- What would people like/dislike about it?
- Is it a book meant for children, young adults, teenagers, or people in different age categories?
- Assign students to write a 3 paragraph mini review: 1-paragraph summary of the book, 1-paragraph personal reaction to it, and 1-paragraph encouraging others to either read or not read it. Ask them to identify who they are writing to in the last paragraph (their audience). If time, students may begin drafting this in class. A draft of this will be due in the next session.
- Begin a discussion about book reviews by comparing/contrasting them to book reports (something students may be more familiar with). Share an example of a book report and then an example of a book review. Ask students to label which is the report and which is the review.
- Discuss why people create reviews of books and how they use them. Discuss how reviews are different from book reports. Ask students to brainstorm ways the two are different. Sample topics for discussion may include the following:
- Book reports are usually written for school assignments. Teachers want to see that the student has read/understood the book.
- Reviews are usually written for a professional audience. The writer is trying to promote certain information to the reader.
- Book reports are very factual, usually describing only what happened in the book, themes, characters, etc.
- Reviews blend facts about the item with the writer’s opinion.
- Ask students to identify characteristics of reviews and then discuss any additional points that make a good review. Additional elements may include the following:
- Provides a brief summary that does not reveal too much.
- Shares critical comments on what the book is trying to do and if it is successful.
- Responds to who would like it or who would not and why.
- Shares whether the review writer would recommend it to others or not.
- Ask students to take out their 3-paragraph assignment from the previous session. Talk about this as a working draft of a professional review
- Next, students can work on revising their 3-paragraph assignment to incorporate the characteristics as discussed above. (Teachers may choose to collect students’ reviews and return in later sessions. This may dissuade students from looking up and copying information about the story from the Internet. Teachers may also choose to assess/offer points on the paragraphs assignment.)
- Discuss different genres of reviews: informal reviews shared by people with each other; reviews of books for class reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; movie reviews; restaurant reviews; etc. Sample ideas for discussion may include:
- Length of the review
- Language that may/may not be used
- Type of item that can be reviewed
- How much information can be included (is the writer allowed to give away the ending of a book or movie, for example)
- Explore how each of these is different and what goals or purposes a writer has when doing each of those. Sample purposes may include:
- Writer wants to persuade someone to see the movie, eat at the restaurant, buy the book, etc.
- Likewise, the writer may be trying to dissuade someone from doing any of the above.
- Writer may be trying to show similarities and differences between the item being reviewed and other similar things.
- Writer may be trying to sell more magazines or newspapers.
- Share the information from the website Writing with Writers, “Write a Book Review with Rodman Philbrick”. (If internet access is not available, the teacher may print this information along with the sample reviews in Session 6 and share paper copies with the students.) Discuss Rodman Philbrick’s suggestions for writing a good review.
- Continue the discussion about reviews by sharing sample professional reviews with the class. Sample book reviews can be found on the following websites:
- Individually, in small groups, or as a class, respond to the following questions:
- How do reviews from each of these sites differ?
- Are some reviews more “professional” than others? Why or why not? If so, how?
- What do we know about the writer of the review?
- Who is the audience for each review? How can you tell?
- Assign students to write a review for The Yellow Wallpaper. They will need to select their audience—for example, children, high school students, parents, teachers, grandparents, administrators, or others as determined by teacher and students. (At this time, students should not look at any sample reviews of The Yellow Wallpaper because the class will look at those after students have drafted their own reviews; as a result, it may be useful to provide time in class for writing these reviews and then collect them at the end of class. They may use their 3-paragraph assignment to complete this review.)
- Show students the Writing a Review Checklist which the teacher will use to assess their review. Allow time for student questions.
- Students may choose to use ReadWriteThink’s Notetaker to focus and organize the main points for their review.
- Give students time to brainstorm/begin drafting their reviews. Collect students’ drafts at the end of class. The teacher may choose to comment on these early drafts or not, depending on his/her time/goals for the assignment.
- Return students’ early drafts of reviews and give them time to complete their reviews.
- In small groups, students will exchange drafts of their reviews of The Yellow Wallpaper to see how others approached the text.
- Using large sheets of sticky paper, in their groups, students will make a list of the different audiences suggested by their peers for the story and any audiences mentioned as those who would not like/appreciate the book. They will also list how many people recommended it and did not recommend it as well as different reasons why. Post these in their group stations around the room. (This also allows students to record their notes and the teacher to save them for future classes, if needed.)
- Discuss their findings as a class, noting each of the above elements.
- Students may need to continue working on their drafts in class (depending on time). They will turn these in at the end of the class.
- Assign students to locate two different online reviews of The Yellow Wallpaper and bring them to the next session.
- Return students’ reviews to them with the Writing a Review Checklist and comments. (If this will count as a final grade for this assignment, include a grade. If the teacher would like to encourage revision, he/she may wish to write revision notes in the grade categories and include an “If this was graded now” assessment.) Students will compare the reviews they brought to class with the reviews they wrote. They should note similarities, differences, what worked well, what did not, and what, if anything, they would do differently in their own review.
- As a class, make a list of common things students saw happening in the published reviews they found online.
- Discuss the Writing Your Own Professional Review Assignment, which asks students to select their own book to write a publishable review for a real source. Share the list of possible books the teacher has compiled. (This may be based on curriculum standards/requirements, availability at the school, length, level of difficulty, etc. The list of choices should reflect the needs and abilities of the students.)
- Assign students to select and locate one of the texts they will use to write their reviews. Review the Audience Brainstorming Worksheet and Analyzing a Text Worksheet with students again to prepare them for completing them for their books.
- As they read, students will fill out the Audience Brainstorming Worksheet and Analyzing a Text Worksheet for their book selection as they did when reviewing The Yellow Wallpaper.
(The remaining activities will take place once students have read their books. This portion of the lesson involves more in-class writing, peer reviewing, and conferencing time.)
- Begin a discussion of turning book reviews into published reviews. The teacher will discuss what the website Amazon.com is and what it does (if students are unfamiliar) and then review the Amazon.com General Review Creation Guidelines from the website.
- As a class, note which of those items are particularly important for them to be aware of when writing a review of their book and considering it for publication.
- Assign students to use these guidelines to write a first draft of their review and allow class time for students to begin writing. Students should use their Audience Brainstorming Worksheet and Analyzing a Text Worksheet to help them with this. The first draft of the review needs to be completed before the next session.
- Have students get into small groups and exchange their first drafts of their review. Each group will summarize for the class what they discovered by reading each other’s reviews.
- Spend time conferencing with each student to read and respond to their drafts while other students continue to work on revising/improving theirs.
- If students to not finish revising their review in class, they will need to finish it outside of class before the next session.
- Collect the final copies of their reviews. The teacher will grade the reviews using the Writing a Review Checklist, and return to students at the next class.
- Students will receive their assessed reviews. (Teachers may choose to assign students to revise reviews as needed.)
- Once both teacher and students are satisfied with the reviews, students will go to Amazon.com and type/submit their book review. (This may be done in class if computers with internet access are available. Otherwise the teacher might model how to do this with written directions and students can complete it at home or in the library.)
- Once this review appears on Amazon.com, students should print off their final copy. Teachers may elect for students to showcase these around the room, prepare a printed collection of book reviews by the class for future use when having other students select books to read, or have students include these in a portfolio of their work for the course.
- Teachers/Students may also choose for students to create Video Reviews using available technology such as webcams or digital recording devices (digital cameras, cell phones, Flip, etc.) to create and upload. Amazon.com offers video reviews as an alternative to written reviews.
- Students may use ReadWriteThink’s Profile Publisher to create profiles for themselves as professional writers/reviewers.
- ReadWriteThink Printing Press may be used for students to create their own class or school newspaper showcasing their reviews.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Students will be assessed on how well they follow the assignment directions for writing a review along with the publication guidelines as found on amazon.com.
- Students will also be assessed on how well they address the elements of a review as discussed in class: brief summary, critical commentary on topic and success of book, desired audience, overall assessment of book for its audience.
- A Writing a Review Checklist is provided for teachers to assess student reviews.