We are kicking off a new unit of study in the War Eagle Writing Studio as we begin to explore different kinds of informational writing. I decided that zines would be an appealing point of access for my writers; students will be making and crafting their own zines on a topic on which they are experts. Our zine making will be the first “bend” in this unit of study and is my modification I’m making to a Calkins Units of Study for Writing Workshop. Our focus will be on crafting informational/descriptive zines or “how to” zines. I have never crafted zines before with students, but this choice was inspired by the work my friend and fellow English teacher Kyle Jones has done with his high school students. Thanks to DonorsChoose and the generous donations from friends and colleagues, we now have the crafting supplies we need to do our zine making!
Two of the most inspiring professional resources I’ve discovered in 2016 are Writing with Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, as well as their blog, Moving Writers ( a blog that should be on anyone’s “must read” list). The blog posts by Marchetti and O’Dell, as well as their team of classroom teachers sharing their innovative and insightful ideas for teaching writing, provide me a near daily menu of ideas to contemplate and strategies to try in the War Eagle Writing Studio. One post from earlier this fall, “3 Simple Exercises to Help Your Students Read Like Writers,” inspired an activity I did with students this past week to introduce zines to my middle school writers.
I set up 9 “stations” around the room with excerpts of zines or mini-version of zines I found on the web. Finding zines with age-appropriate content was especially difficult; I hope more middle school colleagues will share examples of student work and that students will have more opportunities to publish their zines through the web whether it be a PDF version or a web-based zine. Using post-it notes chart paper, I labeled each station and taped on the pieces of zines or mini-versions of zines for students for our “noticings” gallery walk.
Students first received a copy of a graphic organizer: this simple handout identified each station and gave students space to record:
- Two noticings
- An interesting fact (content) the student learned through the zine at each station
After showing students some pictures of zine collections, I introduced the gallery walk by orienting the students to the locations of each “station” and explained to them that we would be moving around quietly in a random order to examine the zines or pieces of zines and capturing our noticings (we’ve done noticings activities before, so I did not need to review that concept again). I also reminded them that they needed to channel their energy into writing and thinking and to keep only 2-3 students per station so that everyone would have plenty of room to work. I also reviewed a list of questions to prompt noticings and kept these posted during the gallery walk.
Students then took their graphic organizers and began visiting the stations. Some classes needed the one class period to capture the noticings while my sixth graders needed a day and a half of class time to do this activity. Every single class was focused on their inquiry work and engaged; even my classes that sometimes struggle with these kinds of learning activities were really into the activity!
I followed up this activity by giving students to share their noticings with a Turn and Talk activity; students worked in small groups to share their noticings with a focus on four categories: fonts/typography, use of visuals and text together, types of writing in the zines, and materials used to create the zines. We then finished up with individual reflections in a Writer’s Notebook prompt that asked students to contemplate these four questions:
1. How would you define a zine?
2. What qualities did you notice about the zines today?
3. What questions do you have about zines right now?
4. If you could create a zine on any topic, what topic would you choose? Think about something you know a lot about or feel passionately about in your life.
Next week we’ll begin brainstorming what we know about our topics and begin thinking about how we might organize and “chunk” our ideas for specific pages in our zines. We’ll then sketch out our own heart maps on our topics (inspired by the new book from Georgia Heard and this post in the Heart Maps Facebook group). I then hope to try Angela Stockman’s wonderful strategy for identifying craft moves in mentor texts (for us, informational and how to writing in zines) to help students really be intentional and purposeful in crafting their zine compositions. Angela Stockman calls this “making the study of mentor texts more actionable.”
If you have crafted zines with middle school writers, what advice would you and your students give? What strategies did you try? I’d love to hear specific strategies you used to help students craft authentic zines with effective use of text and visuals.