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The Culminating Project:
Students Put Together
A Book of Their
Best Writing


A year-long writing effort leads up to the culminating project---the creation of a volume of the year's best work. Glori Chaika's students put a lot of time and thought into this effort, and it shows!

At the end of each year, my students produce a writing project, a culmination of their year's best work. Their writing is placed in a sturdy folder, the cover titled and illustrated as if it were a published book. Students add an "About the Author" section trying to make themselves sound so interesting that people will want to read their book, and they dedicate their book to someone, adding an explanation of why they chose that particular person to dedicate their book to. They add a "To the Reader" page which is the students' own page; the student decides what he wants to say to the people who are about to read their books. Students add a table of contents including the titles of each work, the type of poem it is (for example, villanelle), and the page on which it can be found.

The body of the students' writing book includes their poetry and essays. Though the type of required poems vary from year to year, this year the following original poems were required: a triolet, free verse, villanelle, limerick, epitaph, hinky-pinky, parody, Murphy's law, clerihew, acrostic, haiku, tanka, senryu, and Italian, English, and/or Spenserian sonnet. In addition, students add six other original poems in any style for a total of twenty poems. Students also select their best essays and include them. I check but do not grade poetry throughout the year; however, I do grade prose, so I ask students to put more of their poetry into their writing books. I allow students who enjoy essay writing more than writing poetry to include an extra essay instead of two of the optional poems.

To enhance their book, students include at least three illustrations. I tell the students that the illustrations may be computer generated, drawn by hand, or cut out of magazines. This is a writing assignment not an art lesson, but their book still needs to look good, or people will be hesitant to read it. Students decide how to arrange their poems, art, and essays to create the best effect. Most put their best work at the beginning and at the end of the book, the former to create a good impression, and the latter to leave the reader (and the person grading the book) remembering their very finest works. Above each poem students state what type of poem they have written (i.e., an English sonnet) and they provide an explanation of what makes that type of poem what it is. (For example, they might write for an English sonnet that it is a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter in abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme where a topic is introduced in the first quatrain, elaborated on the second, reflected on or resolved in the third, and includes a two-line conclusion based on everything that came before.) I provide students with a body of work including these explanations from which they can pull this information. If a student has more than one poem in a particular style, he does not need to provide a repeated explanation of what makes it that type of poem. He only labels it what type of poem it is.

Students include in their writing booklets a publication page listing the name(s) of their poems or stories that have been accepted for publication, the magazine that accepted it, and the page in their book on which the published work can be found. For the last two years every student I teach has had work accepted for publication, so students are usually very proud of this page. The publication page is at the back of the book on the same sheet of paper as the parents' signature of authenticity attesting to the fact that all of the work is the child's own work and that these poems or stories were accepted for publication in the magazines listed.


The end of the book includes several items. One is a Comments Page. Students add at least two blank pages for comments. One is for teacher's comments and one for their peers' comments. The very back of the book includes at least three and preferably five reviews created by them. Students select famous people or things and try to imagine what that famous person or thing might have said if he/it had read the book. Samples of reviews students created are:

"I give it three billion stars!"

"It cracked me up!"
--Humpty Dumpty

"A real explosive manifesto!"
--Ted Kaczywski

"This book made my day!"
--Clint Eastwood

"It's so good, even I stopped!"
--the Energizer Bunny

I grade the writing books in light, easily erased pencil. When I return the books, students can take their books home to show parents, remove any very personal writing they would rather their peers did not read and my comments if they choose, and then give the book back. The books are placed in a prominent spot in the room. Then classmates read each others' books. After students have read a book, they write their comments in the Comments Page. Prior to this time there was much discussion about what was acceptable as a comment, emphasizing the positive and the specific. If a student could say nothing nice about a book he had just read, I tell him to say nothing, and I regularly monitor the comments pages of all fifty-six students to ensure this is being followed.

The Comments Page has turned out to be one of the most positive parts of the writing project. Students in junior high, who really value what their peers think, come into class and immediately check the comments. One child wrote that though he had known his friend for years, he couldn't believe how much more he had learned about him and how much closer he felt to him after reading his book. Students experiencing first love wrote love sonnets to each other and let their peers read these. Students whose parents had already gone through divorce gave advice to students who described their pain as their parents start to go through the process. A child with siblings with disabilities wrote another that she also had a sibling with a disability, and she understood how he felt. Friendships formed. Students could write each other things they could not seem to say to each other in person. One sixth grader who never really pushed himself wrote to an eighth grader who always did that her writing had been an inspiration to him.

I teach the same students for two to three years and every year they have a writing project. Students are to keep their writing books and compare them from year to year to see change and growth. A product that took a lot of effort to create, looks good, and has comments from ones peers is one students tend to keep. I have students who have learned to love writing, who risk sharing intimate feelings with peers, who reach for paper when they are upset, and who come into class asking if they can write. Writing can become a window into a students' soul, a tool by which a child can be understood. Getting published in a magazine with a national circulation is nice, but there are more benefits to writing than that. If I as a teacher am very careful, I can help my students make writing an important part of their lives.


Compile a book of your original work. Neatly done in ink or typed, it should include:

  1. Cover. Title your book. Illustrate the cover as if this were a published book. Make sure your name is on the cover and that the cover is sturdy.

  2. First page. Include the title, your name, and an illustration.

  3. About the Author section. On a separate page add a short paragraph about yourself. Show how interesting you are. Write this in such a way that people will want to read YOUR book. Include a current picture.

  4. Dedication. Dedicate this book to someone. Explain why you have chosen this person.

  5. To the Reader. This is YOUR page. What do you want to say to the people who are about to/or who have just read your book? What is your personal philosophy? The topic is yours.

  6. Table of Contents. Include the titles of your works, the type of work it is (for example, villanelle), and the page on which each is found.

  7. Resume. (Eighth grade only) Include your resume, so we know how special you are.

  8. Original poems. You must include an original triolet, free verse, villanelle, limerick, epitaph, hinky-pinky, parody, Murphy's law, clerihew, acrostic, haiku, tanka, senryu, and sonnet (Italian, Shakespearean, and/or Spenserian) plus six other original poems in any five or more line style. You should have twenty poems in all.

  9. Original essays or short stories. Of the many essays you have written this year, submit your two best. Label the ones submitted. If you choose to do so, you may submit one extra essay in place of two of the optional poems, or you may submit two extra poems in place of one of the essays.

  10. Illustrations. To enhance your book, besides the cover and the first page add at least three illustrations drawn by hand, computer-generated, or cut out from magazines.

  11. Arrangement. Although students frequently put their best work in the beginning and end of their books in order to create a good first impression and a good final impression just before grading, you decide the actual order in which your work appears. Arrange your poems, artwork, and essays to create the best effect. ABOVE EACH POEM STATE WHAT TYPE OF POEM IT IS (i.e., haiku) and AN EXPLANATION OF THAT TYPE OF POEM. If you have more than one poem in that style, it is still necessary to label the type of poem it is, but a repeated explanation is not necessary. Number your pages.

  12. Publication Page. List the name(s) of the poem or story in this book accepted for publication, the magazine that accepted it, and the page in your book on which the work can be found. This should be at the back of the book on the same sheet of paper as the parent's signature of authenticity.

  13. Signature of authenticity. Include a parent or guardian's signature attesting to the fact that this is your original work and that these poems or stories were accepted by the magazines listed above. This page should be just before the "Comments" pages.

  14. Comments Page. At the very end of the book add two sheets of paper on which people who read your book might add comments. Leave one page for teacher comments and one for peer comments.

  15. Reviews. On the back cover create reviews of your book. Make them good!!

Glori Chaika teaches gifted 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a published author who has won a Distinguished Teaching Award from Duke University. She was awarded a Fulbright Memorial Fund scholarship to study school systems and teacher training programs in Japan during the fall of 1997. Ms. Chaika was named the 1997 Elks Teacher of the year in her Louisiana parish.

Article by Glori Chaika
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Updated 04/02/2009