Essay of the Week
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 2022-2023:
January 30-February 3
My EofW this week is a profile of Portland Trailblazer guard Damien Lillard. I chose this EofW because we are talking about character analysis this week, and the piece by Kurt Streeter is a wonderful, deep, well-supported argument about a person. I also have a lot of students who are into basketball in my class, so it also acts as a nod to them and a bridge between the work of class and the work of living in the real world.
We are starting the new semester with a multigenre essay, so to help students wrap their heads around what an essay can be like when the words are accompanied by something else, I plan to share with them two pieces on the role of props in cinema: “Dancing with the Stairs” and “In Praise of Chairs.”
After a hiatus for break and finals, EotW is back. Today’s EotW takes the same approach as my EotW from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day from last year and shares one of Dr. King’s lesser known, but equally important and incredible speeches. This year’s is “Our God Is Marching On,” delivered in 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. Outside of “A Letter from Birmingham Jail,” I find it to be one of Dr. King’s most striking speeches, one in which he explains the history of Jim Crow in a way that I think will connect with students and gives an impassioned argument against those calling for a return to normalcy after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, saying, “The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.”
I feel conflicted about today’s Essay of the Week “ChatGPT is Dumber Than You Think” by Ian Bogost. On the one hand, I think talking with students about OpenAI’s remarkable Chatbot is important, as it will likely change the world, and Bogost’s take is the sharpest I’ve seen yet. Bogost also engages in some cool argumentative moves that are worth digging into. On the other hand, I’m nervous about being the one to introduce students to a tool that could students could use to plagiarize in other classes. By the end of last week, I found about a quarter of my students already knew about ChatGPT. That will undoubtedly rise this week, and I think it is generally best to talk about such issues openly, as not discussing them doesn’t generally mean students won’t use ChatGPT; in fact, a thoughtful discussion and an acknowledgement that I know about it, might be the best firewall to its misuse in my classes. What I’ve settled on is this: I will be using this EofW, but I first discussing it with my administration and fellow English teachers before pulling the trigger.
December 5-December 9
The piece “Father Time Is Chasing Down LeBron James” is a perfect example of how essays can be written about nearly everything, including (in this case) a commercial and a subpar Los Angeles Lakers season. The writing is also really lively and crisp and uses a number of tools we’ve been talking about recently, ranging from dashes to purposeful fragments.
November 28-December 2
I’ve been looking for a good fast fashion EotW for some time now. This one by Rachel Greenley captures many of the tensions without coming across as overly preachy, and it has a nice personal side baked into it as well (which is something I’m striving to help my students with right now).
November 21 – November 23
It will need some trimming, but Clint Smith’s World Cup primer “How to Cheer for America” is about as good of a blend of narrative and essay writing as I’ve seen, and the writing makes it a mentor text that I suspect I will return to again and again over the years.
November 14 – November 18
I have been growing more and more interested in using multiple medias in essay writing. This week’s Essay of the Week “Film Can Help Us Look Disability in the Eye” is a perfect example of an essay where video is used alongside text, not as a gimmick, but as an essential part of the essay–helping the author to make the point in a way that wouldn’t have been possible with text alone.
October 31 – November 4
This week we dive into grammar and language in earnest, and just in time for the conversation is John McWhorter’s wonderful new essay “What Ever Happened to ‘You’?“–a wonderful deep-dive into how and why language does or doesn’t change change. The piece itself is too long and dense for most classes, so I plan to pare it down to something more reasonable, but it is such a great piece for introducing students to the wider discussion of the lives that language and grammar live in the wider world beyond the school’s walls.
This week’s EotW, “William Shatner experienced profound grief in space. It was the ‘overview effect,’” which is about William Shatner’s actual trip to space, doesn’t look like an essay at first or even second glance. But I think that underneath its journalistic veneer, it is actually very much an essay trying to make a case about coming together during a divided time. At the very least, it is a cool read that looks at space travel from a very different angle.
Just in time for an in-depth discussion of character analysis in my classes this week, “The Ballad of Rubeus Hagrid” celebrates Robbie Coltrane’s extraordinary career by looking at how he turned the character of Hagrid into something more than just comic relief that occasionally ventured in from the forest. I also like it is because it is short–about the same length as a 2-3 page essay–and yet it is deep and filled with great video evidence (yeah, multimedia texts!) and insights about a character I have always appreciated.
I like this week’s EOTW, “I Make Video Games. I Won’t Let My Daughters Play Them,” because it takes an important topic–video games–that often lends itself to hyperbole and approaches it what to me feels like a fair and even way. It also comes from the mouth of someone who has been in those rooms for decades, shining light on conversations we don’t often get to hear.
September 26-September 30
This week I wanted to share with you a padlet that was first shared with me this summer by Trevor Aleo of Learning That Transfers of video essays. Aleo’s collection is excellent and once again shows the range and vibrancy of what an essay can be. Trevor has also already put them into categories and color-coded them for age level, making this an even better resource!
September 19-September 23
We are in the heart of our narrative unit, so my two essays of the week are both narrative/essay hybrids to show that often the best way to attempt to make a point is to share a story. The first is from one of my favorite living writers, Ted Chiang. It is called “The Great Silence,” and it is a piece that Chiang wrote for the Arecibo Telescope museum that contrasts the beauty of that work with the loss of species diversity in the forests next to it. The second is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed, which blends his story with a larger point about the pandemic. As an added bonus, both are also multi-genre, which adds another layer of interest and instruction!
September 12-September 16
I had a very different EotW in mind for today, but then over tea I read “How to Argue Well” by Pamela Paul in the New York Times. It has so much that I love to introduce when I introduce what argumentation should be in the classroom, and says it all so well, that I couldn’t help but bump it to the front of the list. I hope you enjoy!
September 6-September 9
I have been thinking a lot about how this fall feels like a tipping point. On the one hand, I worry that if we don’t do something about them now, some of the worst parts of school over the last few years could solidify and become even more difficult to dislodge. At the same time, I feel that this year marks an opportunity for a fresh start–a fresh start that, given how much we’ve learned over the last two years, could actually be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move to something far better than our old normal. Regular readers will know that one of the biggest things that I am striving to reintroduce into my classes right now is joy, which is the topic of this week’s EofW “How to Have Fun Again.” The essay also is a cool combination of a written essay and sketchnoting, which I’m hoping will also provide a nice quiet nudge for students to rethink what is possible with the essay.
August 29-September 2:
My first Essay of the Week is actually a larger series from NPR called “I’m Really Into” where people write short essays on something they are really into. We will be exploring these this week and writing our own short pieces on what we are really into. Students won’t know it is an essay of the week yet (I tend to introduce the concept during week 2), but when I do explain Essay of the Week, I will point back to these to help make the case that essays are all over the place if we are on the lookout for them.
And here are the EotW for 2021-2022:
May 31-June 3:
- Apologies for the no EOTW last week, but the realities of the classroom hit and there wasn’t any time left for EOTW. This wasn’t a big deal, as the focus right now is for students to create their own EOTW–one last final essay that showcases everything they can do. My plan this week is to help them with that endeavor is to share with them all the essays of the week–from John Lewis’ “Together You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation” to “ThE SoNgS THaT GeT Us tHrOuGh iT“–to give them models of style and substance that they already know. So often as educators we look towards the next new thing, but often the best practice is actually to do lots of revisiting old things as well to truly learn them too!
May 16-May 20:
- Once I opened up the multigenre box, I’ve been seeing incredible multigenre essays everywhere. Two that caught my attention this week are Liziqi, a Chinese Youtuber a student introduced me to, whose gorgeous and quiet video about the life of a cucumber in her garden had me captivated last night, and the new cookbook I received, Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ. What I love about both is that they marry a subtle form of argumentation with beauty, both visual and taste, which makes them wonderful examples for my students of the range possibilities when it comes to multigenre essays like the ones they are working with.
May 9-May 13:
- My classes are doing a multimedia projects right now, and so my EOTW come from one of my favorite multimedia genres: film vlogs. Specifically, I have two examples that I think do a wonderful job of taking a text (in this case a film) and making an argument about it, complete with lots of thoughtful evidence and careful analysis. The first is a piece from Lessons From the Screenplay that unpacks why Killmonger from Black Panther is such a great villain. The second is a piece from Every Frame a Painting explaining why Jackie Chan’s blend of action and comedy is so good.
May 2-May 6:
- While researching for an article I’m writing, I stumbled across this treasure trove of letters that Sandra Cisneros wrote to her readers between 2009 to 2021. I’m just beginning to dig into them, but I have already figured out that they are mentor text gold, describing everything from her writing process to what makes for a great party. My classes are beginning an autobiographical multi-genre project this week, and some of these letters will definitely be offered as examples!
April 25-April 29:
- This week our focus is on creating a short piece that showcases the most beautiful form of our own writing. To help inspire that I will be sharing the Brian Doyle piece “Joyas Voladoras,” which is stuffed with the devices and tools (ranging from appositives to purposeful fragments) we’ve been exploring. It is also just a really lovely read for a mid-spring morning!
April 18-April 22:
- With the start of Ramadan a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking for a thoughtful essay to mark the occasion, given that I have a fair number of students fasting this year. Last night I finally found it with Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar’s “On Fasting” from The Paris Review. The essay is an interesting look at the role that fasting during Ramadan plays in Akbar’s otherwise largely secular life. True to Akbar’s style, it is also a beautiful mix of philosophy, poetry, and science that left me thinking about it for rest of the evening.
April 11-April 15:
- The recent beautiful and interactive “ThE SoNgS THaT GeT Us tHrOuGh iT” insert from the New York Times has some of the most vibrant and interesting music reviews I’ve seen in some time. Further, it has some cool multi-genre elements for those who might be playing around with multiple genres at the end of the year and in need of a mentor text. For those with limited time, check out the Wesley Morris review of Bartees Strange or the Sam Anderson musings about “We Don’t Talk about Bruno.”
April 4-April 8:
- I’ve been looking for the right article to discuss the war in Ukraine, and Thomas Friedman’s piece this week about what he calls World War Wired is just the right mix of backstory, evidence, and interesting argumentation. It is a great example of how the right essay can double-dip and engage in the knowledge-building that sat at the heart of the original article of the week while also showcasing interesting argumentation.
March 21-March 25:
- My essay of the week is a short Ta-Nehisi Coates video essay called Dungeons and Dragons in High Culture and Hip Hop as Haiku. We have been talking over the last week about importnat tone and voice is in essay writing, and I think this piece is such a lovely example both. Also it is short and my students love it for whatever reason!
March 14-March 18:
- It was 60 degrees on Sunday, which in Michigan means that we had officially crossed over into spring-time territory. With this in mind, my EOTW is “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” which is George Orwell’s argument that even (or especially) when the world is falling to pieces around us, we need to take time to savor the beauty of the changing seasons. The essay is a bit long and does veer into some topics that might be a bit much for my students, so I will show them an abridged version, but I have been sharing it for years, and it is a wonderful example of how stuffed with feeling, voice, and meaning an essay can be.
March 7-March 11:
- At the semester I changed to a new school, which means that this week I am going to be teaching essays for the first time to a group of reluctant (but hopefully growing less so) freshmen. To help impress upon them the silly joy that can come with essays, I am planning to share with them two essays I found in my Twitter thread about essays from a few weeks back: “Be Cool to the Pizza Dude” and “Stephen King’s Guide to Movie Snacks.” Both are as far away from what students classically view as essays as they could be, and both make a small point about decency and joy that I hope will strike a chord on a chilly Monday morning.
February 28-March 4:
- This weeks EOTW is Thomas Friedman’s column from the day after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started: “We Have Never Been Here Before.” What I like about it is that it has a good blend of background history interwoven with an investigation of a really thoughtful point: We have not seen a conflict this size since the rise smartphones/Google maps/TikTok/etc., and our wired-ness will both impact the war itself and how those outside of the war will experience it. While it is a very good piece, it is also a long piece that drifts by the end, so I’m going to use excerpts, primarily from the first half of it when sharing it with students.
February 21-February 25:
- Today’s EOTW “Arthur Is Ending, But It’s Radical Optimism Will Live On,” is a great example of close and thoughtful literary analysis in the real world. This has me thinking about how much fun it might be to someday assign an essay where students write a take about a favorite childhood show/book/movie.
February 14-February 18:
I was feeling low on EOTW inspiration, so I posed the following question to Twitter on Saturday:
And the response was nearly a hundred comments from fellow teachers recommending incredible essay mentor texts. For today’s EOTW, I would start by checking out that thread, as it has about two years worth of tried and tested EOTW. My recommendation from it so far (as I haven’t had time to go through everything): “Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle absolutely blew me away. I will definitely be sharing that with my students this week!
February 7-February 11:
- In my Composition class, we began the new semester with narrative in the way that we always do. In this unit, one potential option the students have is to write a personal essay, which I define as a personal story that strives to make a point. Today, we are going to be picking what kind of story to write, and to help with this, we are looking at a bevy of examples of storytelling, including a few personal essays. A lot of the essays I’m sharing are old standbys that I’ve already shard here, but one is a forgotten favorite that I just unearthed: A 20 year old one written by Bill Simmons when Tom Brady and the Patriots first won the Super Bowl called “Now I Can Die in Peace.” Seeing as it is Super Bowl week and Tom Brady just retired, it felt right, plus I have a lot of sporty students this semester, so this example is a nice nod to them. The original is pretty long, so I plan to share this abridged one.
January 31-February 1:
- I found this EOTW on Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s Padlet of essays that go with their lovely new book 4 Essential Studies. It a student editorial from last year’s New York Times Student Editorial Contest (this year’s contest also starts in a few weeks) called “Save the Snow Day: Save Teenage Education.” I’m choosing it for a simple reason: We have our first major snow storm of the season in 48 hours and our district will have to make the choice of going online versus Snow Day; thus, I have a feeling this will generate some conversation!
- The EOTW this week comes from a reader named Kate who sent me Amanda Gorman’s “Why I Almost Didn’t Read My Poem at the Inauguration.” Gorman is likely familiar to most thanks to her stunning Inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb,” but this essay recounts how that moment almost never happened due to the fear Gorman had about becoming a public figure in this troubled and divided moment. It also unpacks why she ultimately decided to read it, thinking on the role that fear plays for both bad and good in our lives. For those looking to use this essay with students, the New York Times Learning Network shared a lesson plan just this morning for how you could do that too.
- This week’s EOTW is more of an idea than one essay, although there is one essay in particular that I will be using. The idea is that when it comes to Martin Luther King Jr., most students know “I Have a Dream” and maybe “Letter from Birmingham Jail” but have not read anything else. And while both of those are fantastic texts (“Letter from Birmingham Jail in particular is one of the finest mentor texts other written), I try to use MLK Day as an opportunity to look at other incredible speeches, essays, and books Dr. King wrote, especially because like all of us, his ideas evolved over his career. With this in mind, in previous years I have shared his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, which allows students to unpack how he changed and didn’t change by the late 1960s, and excerpts from his book Strength to Love, in which he talks about a wide range of different topics. This year though I will be sharing his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Dr. King gave this speech in Memphis the day before he died, and it is famous for its haunting and prophetic ending. What has me wanting to revisit it this year though is a spot in the middle where he argues that the world at that moment was “troubled,” “sick,” “confused,” and “messed up,” and that is exactly what he would choose to live in that time over any other in human history. King argues that in hard times there exists an opportunity to grapple with tough questions that societies often don’t feel up for addressing in better times–an idea that feels worth reexamining in this troubled moment that we find ourselves in right now.
- This week’s EOTW is more of an EOTW resource where Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher put together a Padlet full of mentor text essays, sorted by the type of essay, in connection with the release of their new book 4 Essential Studies (more on this book in a bit). I hope you enjoy!
December 13-December 17:
- This week’s EOTW is “A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray,” a George Orwell essay that became the catalyst for the new book I’m reading and very much enjoying, Orwell’s Roses. Reading the book reminded me of what a vibrant and lively essayist Orwell is, so I thought I would bring in the essay, both because it is a really interesting essay about how the plants we plant in our lifetimes can far outlive us and because it allows me to discuss how the book takes one of the “plants” that Orwell left us (in this case his essay) and uses its seeds to grow something new (in this case the book of Rebecca Solnit’s thoughts). I’m hoping the students will see the connection between the plant metaphor and the essay writing they are doing, and even if they don’t, it is a pretty great essay on a timely theme. Also, I wasn’t able to find a good, legal pdf of it (sorry), but “A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray” is in a lot of essay compilations. Apologies if you can’t find it!
December 6-December 10:
- Apparently Jane Coaston is speaking to me right now because my EOTW this week is “Can a Michigan Football Game Make Me Happy Forever?” There is a certain irony to this because while I was once a diehard football fan (and for Michigan no less), I almost never watch games it anymore. Even still, given my hometown team and alma mater’s recent success (they are going to the National Championship Playoffs), I figure this EOTW will speak to a lot of kids, but what I love about it is that the topic underneath–an investigation into what happiness is and what that means for how we live our life–is really artfully discussed and will hopefully speak to those who both do and don’t care for Big Blue or football. Plus, I don’t know about you all, but I am in need of a little talking about happiness!
November 29-December 3:
- This week’s EOTW is “Help! I’m Stuck in a Knowledge Bubble and I Need to Get Out!” by Jane Coaston of the New York Times. What I like best about it is the concept. The first half is a thoughtful and important, but not entirely new, argument about the danger of the bubbles that so many of us live in. Then Coaston does a novel thing though; she spends the second half of the article actually doing the thing that she was arguing for by reaching outside of her bubble to interview college football radio host (and southern icon) Paul Finebaum. The result is an essay that breathes new life into an important topic and one that shows the range of opportunities available for how we use evidence in argumentative writing.
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”