In my classroom, we gave thanks one week before Thanksgiving.

Last Thursday, thirteen students gave twelve local non-profits $2500. It was a way for my students to say ‘thank you’ to those hard working organizations who try to make our community and the world a better place.

Here’s how it happened!

The idea came from a conversation with my National Writing Project coordinator who encouraged me on my path to find more and more authentic audiences. She had done something just like this in a nearby community and said the rewards for students, organizations, and community alike were all extraordinary.

Once I had the idea, I needed the money. I went to the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. I know the work of this organization well and thought this would be a perfect blend. They were willing to hear and ready to be involved.

(Quick note: I’m incredibly proud to live in a community where people are willing to listen to unique ideas and encourage them if they see the value.)

Then, three weeks ago, my students went to work. This was an MLA research paper–a staple in our curriculum–with a whole lot of power behind it.

The basic premise of the Words Have Power MLA argumentative essay contest were as follows:

  • Each student picked a local non-profit for which to argue.
  • Then, each student engaged in gathering research on that non-profit by working online and by contacting the director of the organization.
  • After the essay received its revisions and edits, we went through a class-determined democratic process to reach the final three essays.
  • Those three essays allowed the students of each class (four total classes, with one tie in one class) to award $350 for 1st place, $150 for 2nd, and $100 for 3rd.

So, what exactly, are the positive outcomes from this project? There are a slew of them, some of which are listed below:

  • It brings the schools and community closer together
  • It gives a real audience to my students who, in turn, work harder and better
  • It produces the same MLA research skills as have always been required in my class
  • It gives the students a sense of philanthropy
  • It makes the community aware that teenagers do not always fit the stereotype
  • It allows students to see the power of a vote
  • It taught students the value of formatting as some essays were voted out purely based on it
  • It requires students to find and interview the director of the organization
  • It gives parents a chance to feel what is happening in the classroom
  • It shows students that WORDS HAVE POWER
One student, in a reflection, said, “It benefits the students, it benefits the nonprofits, and everyone within the community.”

Another stated, “As a community member I think I have grown. I didn’t even know that some of these organizations existed and now I’ve learned of some amazing organizations that do truly amazing work for the world and this area.”

I believe in this project. And I want to encourage YOU (if you’re a teacher) to do it, too. I try to avoid being demanding in this blog, only offering up my experiences to be taken as you like.  

But, this one? This one you should try.

Because students don’t have to wait to make a difference in our community. They can learn, right now, that WORDS HAVE POWER.

The students and the representatives of the local non-profits at an award ceremony last Thursday.

The organizations who benefited:
  • The NOAH Project
  • Center for Women in Transition
  • Michele’s Rescue
  • Spring Lake High School Choir
  • West Michigan Hospice
  • Bethany Christian Services
  • Alliance for the Great Lakes
  • Children’s Advocacy Center
  • GoodTemps
  • Children’s Hair Loss
  • Spring Lake High School’s Be Nice.
  • Habitat for Humanity

4 thoughts on “WORDS HAVE POWER

  1. David, I am so, so, so, happy and inspired by your take-up and run-with-it work! I can't wait to talk to you further this coming summer, to see how you would tweak the unit next year.


  2. David, I love that their writing resulted in generosity and giving. How empowering and wonderful for students to present those checks to the winning charities. Your students might enjoy extending their papers and recasting them as short videos for the Project for Awesome.


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