Essay of the Week is built around the idea that for students to write better, deeper, and more lively essays, they need to have regular exposure to the essay form in its many shapes and styles. This is why each week, in the tradition of Kelly Gallahger’s Article of the Week, I share an Essay of the Week with my students that I post here.
The essays come from a wide range of places and the only criteria is that each must in some sort of way embody the classic Montaigne definition that an essay is an attempt to try on or test out an idea. Beyond that the use of ‘I’ and contractions are just fine, if not preferred, and having five paragraphs is an option, but it certainly is not the only one. I also try to pick essays that still impart some sort of knowledge about the world in the same way an Article of the Week does.
To learn more about my Essay of the Week, here is an in-depth post. And here are are my Essays of the week for 2021-2022:
November 15-November 19:
- One of my favorite places for EOTW is The Ringer, which regularly has really great essays on topics like sports and pop culture that can get kids talking for hours. Today’s piece, Red Notice’ Is Yet Another Poor Attempt at a Netflix Movie Franchise, is about the new Netflix movie Red Notice and the limits of using algorithms to write and cast movies. What I like about it for this week though is that it is a great example of evidence-driven analysis to help prove an argument, something we are fully embarking upon with my freshman this week. Plus, my guess is that many, despite the middling reviews, have seen it and have some thoughts!
November 8-November 12:
- We are starting a new essay unit this week, so to introduce how one can add emotion to essays, I am going to share some excerpts from one of my favorite modern essay collections, Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. In The Book of Delights, Gay shares a series of daily essays on the concept of delight, and, given his background as a poet, the result is just right for helping to show how one can use emotion to make essays on anything better. I don’t have a digital copy of the book I can share, but here is a video of Gay reading a few excerpts, including one I am using today, “Tomato on Board.”
November 1-November 5:
- We are on Fall Break for the first part of the week, so there is no official EotW this week. If I had to choose an essay to capture the feel of the first part of the week for my students, I might choose the classic essay “On Laziness” by Christopher Morley though :).
October 25-October 29:
- This week’s EotW is a column called “Nobody Trusts Anybody Now, and We’re All Very Tired.” In it, New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes an essay about one of his favorite horror films, the cult 1982 classic The Thing by John Carpenter. Besides the Halloween tie-in, this essay is such a perfect example of how one can use literary analysis of something from decades earlier to make a bigger and much more important point about the current moment.
October 18-October 22:
- This week’s essay, Farhad Manjoo’s “The Moral Panic Engulfing Instagram,” offers a contrasting perspective to last week’s essay on TikTok. I like the two essay in concert because they can act as a model for productive and civil debate, and Manjoo’s essay is particularly striking in that his central thesis is in many ways “I don’t know,” which is a novel and powerful conceit for a columnist!
October 11-October 15:
- This week’s EotW is “1 Billion TikTok Users Understand What Congress Doesn’t.” What drew my eye to this one is that we are talking about the importance of choosing the right evidence when one is arguing, and that is something that this piece does impressively well. Also, it feels like a good piece for introducing a discussion about social media and TikTok in a way that doesn’t feel like another lecture from another adult on the subject.
October 4-October 8:
- We start our study of grammar this week, so my EotW is an old standby that has helped me introduce my grammar unit for years. It is a 2012 op-ed by linguists Geneva Smitherman and H. Sam Alim called “Obama’s English” that introduces the idea of code-meshing (see here for a review of Other People’s English, which outlines what code-meshing is, if you want to learn more) and argues that Obama (and Bush and Clinton) became president in part because of their ability to mesh different dialects from their pasts and linguistic markers in a way that spoke to more people. It is also a wonderful mentor text for how one can take a topic (linguistics) that some could view as boring and make it lively through one’s approach, examples, and structure.
September 27-October 1:
- This week’s EotW, “Da Art of Storytelling’ (A Prequel)” by Kiese Laymon, is one I have taught for a few years, and it is always a hit with my students. I don’t read the entire thing with students because it is really long, but it is such a great example of how narrative and essay writing can blend together, which makes it a great piece for nudging students to put more of their voice into their essays or more argument into their narratives. For those looking for an alternative, a reader sent an essay called “The Fictional Complexities of Omar,” which looks at Michael K. Williams iconic character from The Wire. I could only read a little bit (paywall for the WaPo), but from what I could read, it looks like a great example of literary analysis in the wild.
September 20-september 24:
- Go for a Walk by Arthur C. Brooks: I’ve really enjoyed Arthur C. Brook’s columns on “How to Build a Life” for the Atlantic throughout the pandemic, but his piece this week about how walking can ameliorate many modern/pandemic issues is not only great advice, it is a great essay–combining really thoughtful blending of sources and genres to make an argument that is deeper and more compelling than the other articles I’ve seen about the positive effects of walking. I plan to focus at least some of our discussion on how artfully he uses and converses with his sources.
September 13-september 17:
- The Summer After 9/11, A Photographer Documents A City’s Healing by Lucas Foglia and Michele Abercrombie: I’ve been thinking about how to talk about the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a room full of children who weren’t even alive when the towers fell. This multi-genre piece of photos mixed with a personal essay and an appeal for empathy in this current moment seems like a great place to start, especially because it also serves as a mentor text for what a multi-genre essay can look like before some of my students do the multi-genre Coming of Age contest for the New York Times.
September 7-september 10:
- Gordon Lewis’ “The Man Box“: This week we will be starting our first unit on storytelling. This winning essay from the New York Times Narrative Contest (which will be an option for students to do in this unit) is a wonderful example of how the line between narrative and essay can be thin and fuzzy and how a story or essay can benefit when that line gets blurred. Further, it is a student (and a former student from my school), which helps my students to see that they can do this too.
August 30-September 2:
- John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed: John Green is best known for his novels (followed closely by his Crash Courses), but his new collection of essays (the link is to the podcast version; there is also a book) are compelling, entertaining, timely in their topics, at times heart-wrenching, and generally awesome examples of essay writing. They are also John Green, which means there is a high likelihood they will be a hit with my students.
- Malala Yousafzai’s “I Survived the Taliban. I Fear for My Afghan Sisters”
- John Lewis’ “Together You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”