All posts by Jonathan Castro

College Essay Writing Workshop

Workshop Description

Students will learn how to turn everyday experiences into compelling stories that will help them catch the attention of  counselors to their admission essays. This workshop takes students through Steps 1-4 of the ten-step Wow Method.

Objectives

At the conclusion of the three-hour workshop, students will:

  • Understand the concept of “knowing your audience
  • Understand the concept that “an admission essay is a story about you
  • Understand that every writer has a unique writing voice
  • Explore experiences to write an admission essay, and choose a topic
  • Understand the importance of details
  • Have a theme for one essay and understand that a theme has two parts: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter?
  • Understand that they are not writing about a static topic; rather, they are writing about an experience (what happened?) and what they learned/gained from it (why does it matter?)

Time Commitment

  • 3 hours

Student Materials

  • Students should come to the workshop prepared to write. They will need paper and a pen. A laptop or tablet is optional.

Instructor Preparation

Review all instructions and handouts. Please note that instructions include suggested language. Make the key points using your own words.

  • The purpose of this workshop is to teach young people to tell their own stories in their own voices, and to do so as clearly and effectively as possible.
  • For this reason, the curriculum intentionally does not include any full sample essays. If students are interested in sample essays, they can find them online or in books. However, we discourage them from using any samples they find as models for their own work. Everyone’s voice is unique. There is no formula for writing the “right” type of essay.

Bring These Items to the Workshop

  • Enough copies of all handouts for your students
  • Pens
  • Lined paper
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Write an Excellent College Recommendation. Step 2.

STEP 2: STRUCTURE YOUR LETTER

Introduction: Mention how long you have known the student and in which classes you have taught him/her. Also include the clubs/sports/other activities in which you have worked with the
student outside the classroom. Demonstrate that you know this student well. Your feelings for him/her should be reflected in your word choice. If there are any circumstances that may have affected the student’s performance in your class, mention them. Above all, be genuine.

Body: Give concrete, detailed examples of the student’s work in your class and extra-curricular activities. Be sure to refer to academics, activities and character. Colleges are looking for diverse
students who will excel academically as well as contribute actively to student life. Your job is to convince the school what the student can offer, based on his/her performance in your class and extra-curricular activities. Mention not only strengths but also how the student dealt with setbacks or challenges.

Conclusion: Sum up the student’s overall impression on you. Reiterate the qualities that will convince the admissions officer that this student is ready to embrace the rigors of academic work and the joys of college life.

SAMPLE INTRODUCTIONS

SAMPLE A

______ _______ is an outstanding member of a class that fairly brims with excellent students. Over the past three years, she has consistently ranked among the top 5% of the class of 20__,
having first come to my attention when she won a school-wide Shakespearean Sonnet Contest as a ninth grader. I have had the pleasure of teaching her in Honors English 10 and in AP English
Language and Composition as well as working with her on the literary magazine in her junior year. An extremely well-rounded student, ______ excels in all academic areas. While her first
love is science and her future plans include medicine, she is just as committed to the arts, and she is one of the strongest writers I have taught in over 30 years. Dedicated to community service,
_______ heads the Orphanage Division of our chapter of Roots & Shoots. Modest almost to a fault, _______ attributes her outstanding performance to assiduousness and perseverance. She sets goals each semester and does everything humanly possible to achieve them. While her junior year was especially hard because her father died of cancer, she soldiered on.

SAMPLE B

I have taught ______ _______ for two years, in Honors English 10 and in AP English Language and Composition. A quiet, even-tempered young man, _______ has worked very hard to maintain a B average in these demanding English courses. His writing is still occasionally
plagued by syntax, diction, and subject-verb agreement problems; however, this is not surprising, for even as an adolescent, ______ was taking Extra English classes to perfect his language skills.
His progress over the past two years has been rapid because he is highly intelligent, very diligent and eager to improve his performance. In my long experience of teaching students for whom
English is a second or third language, I have observed that lingering EFL issues generally tend to disappear once students begin university work. Outside class, I worked with _______ mainly in his capacity as Business Manager of our award-winning literary magazine, which I sponsor.

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Write an Excellent College Recommendation. Step 1.

STEP 1: PRELIMINARIES

When you have agreed to write a recommendation letter for a student, direct the student to fill out the information form (see below) and to email the responses to you. I attach this form to my course website and tell students to download it. From the beginning, they must take a certain amount of responsibility in the recommendation process. They may also print out their responses, but a digital version is required. Students must also supply you with samples of graded work that they would like you to mention in the letter.

Done right, responding to these questions requires a substantial investment of time and thought. Ultimately, everyone wins: the teacher has concrete material to work with (and much more detailed “reminders” of the student’s performance than relying on memory alone) and the students have articulated their strengths and challenges as learners.

NOTE: I tell students that I expect them to tick the box on the application forms that waives their right to see my letter before it is submitted. I tell them that if I have agreed to recommend them, that I am therefore going to advocate for them!

COLLEGE RECOMMENDATION INFORMATION FORM

DIRECTIONS: Email me a digital copy of your responses to the questions below. Then deliver the HARD copies of the marked-up papers to which you would like me to refer (see #4). The more detail
you provide, the better. Be realistic, be honest and be specific! I must have BOTH the responses and the papers before I write the letter.

DATE the letter is due to the college counselor:_____________________

University/College(s)to which you are applying:

Are you applying for early decision or early action? If so, to which school?

Probable major (indicate subject area or “undecided”):

QUESTIONS

1. What do you plan to do with your life, and how will the schools to which you are applying help you achieve your goals? Why do you consider yourself a strong candidate or a good match for the schools to which you are applying? (1-3 pghs.)

2. Why am I a good choice of teacher to write a recommendation letter for YOU? (1-3 sentences)

3. What FIVE (5) adjectives describe you best? (5 words)

4. VERY IMPORTANT: What projects or papers done in my classes are you most proud of? Give me the assessed hard copies of two or three of them and write a paragraph about each piece of work explaining WHAT it reveals about your work ethic and yourself as a writer/presenter/team member (etc.).

5. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a student, a writer (if not mentioned in #4) and an individual? (2-4 pghs.)

6. What contributions do you make to the life of the school and/or the community? Have you distinguished yourself in ways I may not be aware of? Is there anything else you would like me to know or include, something about you that is not requested on any of your application forms, something that will make YOU stand out from the crowd? (2-4 pghs.)

7. CLUBS: If you are or were a member of any of the clubs/activities I sponsor, discuss your participation and explain how you have grown as a result. (1-2 pghs.)

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How to Write an Excellent College Recommendation

I have spent most of my teaching career outside the United States teaching in private American International schools. For the most part, my students have represented very high achievers, the cream of the crop. You might think it easy to write recommendation letters for top students, but in reality it can be quite daunting.

Top students apply to top schools. Once their GPAs and scores on standardized tests qualify them for their dream school, it is left to the students’ personal statements and teacher recommendation letters to distinguish them from the thousands of others who are just like them.

While my method will not guarantee an acceptance, I know that my letters contain the kind of information the college admissions officers want to see. They are specific and carefully written. College
counselors and college recruiters who have seen my letters have told me so and held my letters up as exemplars for my colleagues. I have even received a letter from an admissions officer (Princeton) thanking me for the way I presented an individual student (who got only as far as the wait list), reassuring me that teacher letters of recommendation are read very carefully. I have saved that letter and have never forgotten how important my letters can be.

Over the years I have devised a system of information gathering and writing that works well for me. I am an English teacher, but the procedure I discuss in these pages is effective no matter what subject you teach.

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ACTUAL ESSAY QUESTION FROM A UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS PACKET

Chicago Professor W.J.T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book “What Do Pictures Want?”   According to Professor Mitchell, “we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own” – including wanting the viewer to feel or think something specific.  Choose a picture and explain what that picture wants you to feel.” (“What Do Pictures Want?” University of Chicago Press.)

Answer the following questions about this picture:

 What is your immediate and instinctive reaction to this picture?

WHY do you think you reacted to it in that way?

Relate this picture to a personal experience.

Relate that personal experience to a universal theme.

ON A SEPARATE SHEET OF PAPER

Use your responses above as a guideline to WRITE A 500-WORD ESSAY answering this question:

What needs and demands does this picture have?  Ultimately, what does this picture want you to feel?

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ACE the COLLEGE ADMISSION ESSAY

An ESSAY is a short work written from the author’s point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, and may seem very similar to a commentary or blog.  What distinguishes the essay is its deeply personal tone, and a theme that unfolds largely through personal observations, recollections, and reflections on his or her life and experience.

According to an admissions trend study conducted by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, over 62% of colleges said that the college admission essay or writing sample was either “considerably important” or “moderately important” in the admissions decision.  (See the whole survey at http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/articles/Pages/Factors-in-the-Admission-Decision.aspx)

College admission essay questions are generally broad, and epic in what they want you to convey.  They are intended to help you reveal your personal philosophies and your personality.  They are meant to test your critical and your creative thinking skills, as well as your ability to make abstract connections.

Here are some examples of actual college essay topics:

  • What is a mission you are accomplishing on this earth?
  • Describe a significant event that changed the course of your life.
  • How would your friends characterize you? Look at yourself from the outside and describe what you see.

When it comes to writing your response to such a broad and abstract question, where do you begin!??!?

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Portraits of Guilt by Jeanne Boylan

Boylan relied on us to give her the foundation for her work and my predecessor’s findings of three decades now, but those of us doing the empirical research have to rely on people like her to deliver our findings to the point of practical application in the police world. She can be the go-between from our world to inside real life criminal investigations. So, I decided to write my admission essay for you to reveal the features of the book.

Overall, Portraits of Guilt is a great book, great ‘on the mark’ insights into crime victim memory and some lessons in Boylan’s stories that had better be paid attention to before we lose more lives such as Polly Klaas. (Her book is dedicated to the Klaas girl’s memory.)

I give this book a five star rating for it’s general level of readability and for her stunning insights into trauma victim memory malleability, but Miss Boylan, if you write a second book, and I hope you do, next time, take the gloves off and try to come out swinging.

Book Review: O Magazine was right

Rating: 5 stars

Oprah was right. This is a story of a strong woman in a corrupt world who still possesses the idealism to fight back. I found the book to be well written and a very enlightening read. I am ordering several copies for my nieces to read. I think Jeanne Boylan is an excellent role model for teenagers.

So, that is it for today’s article. Thank you so much for reading! I hope you liked it. If you did, and even if you did not, please share your opinion the the comments section below. I am very interested in what you have to say, it helps me to make my blog a bit better every day. I also hope you are interested in this information and will find it useful. If you have any suggestions or questions please also leave them in the comments section below. I am reading all of your  comments and taking them into consideration. Thank you and have an great day!

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All You Need to Know About Speaker for the Dead Part 3

Unlike what some other authors do when using the theory of relativity in their stories, this author doesn’t use it as a crutch, but rather uses it as a means to pass time between events. He uses common reference points to allow the reader to understand how it applies to the characters.

Ender’s special ‘package’ is somewhat of a mystery as you are reading, and where he got it does cross your mind more often than you might think, especially once you understand the package. It seems to us like we need to go back and read the previous novel in the series, “Ender’s Game”, to get our answers.

Overall, this is a good read with a unique perspective into how many might cope with other intelligent species of beings once we finally encounter them…

Pros

The environments that are depicted in the novel are described well, and you are able to easily envision and relate to them.

The core characters are dealt with very realistically and are given personalities by the author’s use of interactions with other components of the storyline.

The piggies are a sentient race, and although you clearly ‘see’ them as piglets in your mind’s eye, you are able to give them the intelligence that the author is trying to convey without any difficulty.

The author dips into the theory of relativity and applies it in several of the plotlines. He does a good job explaining how it affects the people and passage of time within the character’s frame of reference.

Cons

Where or how Ender obtained the ‘package’ that he has with him wherever he travels is not explained to us leaving a question mark about it as you are reading. We must assume he must have somehow ‘rescued’ it in a previous novel, but some sort of reference to the ‘rescue’ would have certainly been helpful.

There is some disconnect when trying to picture an organic life form that dies, and then resurrects as a tree. It was explained as one of three stages of life, but it was still not all that convincing. We’re still not sure that an animal can morph into a plant after death.

A marriage occurs in the novel, on a colony that has a Catholic charter. The marriage isn’t so odd, but the woman that is getting married had been cheating on her husband for over ten years, had children by her lover, and was recently widowed. Oh, and did we mention it seems that no one really cared about it. ‘Nuf said.

 

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All You Need to Know About Speaker for the Dead Part 2

It wasn’t until afterward that it was discovered that the Buggers weren’t trying to kill off mankind. That caused the man responsible for the xenocide to be chastised and scorned throughout the known galaxy.

A book was subsequently written on behalf of the lost race and it served as a lesson when a new species of sentients were discovered. Man isolated the pig-like beings away from the human settlement with electric fences and forbade any prolonged contacts and limited exchanges of knowledge.

Pipo, the original lead investigator, befriended several of the ‘piggies’ and they learned from each other. One day that was no different than any other day, he went out for a meeting with the piggies and didn’t return. His body was found hours later by searchers, splayed out and staked on the ground, dissected and apparently murdered.

News went out from the planet via an instantaneous communications network to all of the colonized worlds, and an uproar ensued. Why did it happen? What did he do?

No answers were uncovered, and meetings between the two species were even further restricted.

And through all of this, it was still unclear as to why on that planet there were so few species of anything. A couple flying creatures, a couple on land, and a couple varieties of plants… It was as big a mystery as the piggies were.

Years go by and Pipo’s son comes up missing as well, and is found dead, killed the same way his father had been. Even more restrictions went down and revenge was called for.

A call went out eventually, asking for a ‘Speaker’ to come to the planet and speak for the deceased researcher. Ender received the call and went forth to answer it. He also took with him a special ‘package’. That package was always with him wherever he went. He was looking for the right place to leave it.

“Will this new place be right for me?”

“I don’t know,” responded Ender. “But we’ll find out together…”

Appraisal

The premise that someone that speaks for the dead and clears up any confusion in the deceased person’s life, makes for an interesting topic that caught the reviewer’s attention, and thus led to this review.

To see how profound an impact that the truth of one’s life can have on an entire community as well as the family and friends that were directly touched by the dead person, was enlightening and all too believable.

The storyline flowed smoothly, and built on the concept effectively with concise, well-thought writing. At times, you are inclined to postpone other obligations to get to one of the rare stopping points in the ebb and tide of the main plot.

 

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All You Need to Know About Speaker for the Dead Part 1

 

Title: Speaker for the Dead

Author: Orson Scott Card

Publish Date: 1986

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates

Type: Novel

Genre: Science Fiction

Sub-Genre: Space Travel, Spaceships, Mutations, Genetics, Alien Encounters, Genocide, Alien Worlds, Romance, Advanced Technology, Relativity, Religion, Xenobiology, Communications, Artificial Intelligence, Computers

Plot Summary:

Ender Wiggin ended a war with mankind’s only other known enemy, the Buggers. It wasn’t so much that he ended it that made him famous, but the way he did it. And then he vanished from the sight of humanity, most believing it was because he was so distraught over what he had done.

As the years have passed, the details have become a bit foggy, but the effect is still quite clear. He exterminated the entire race of intelligent beings – pure xenocide.

After an act such as that, where would one go?

For Ender, it was taking up a new way of life. Going from planet to planet, seeking out other dead to speak of their lives. He speaks only the truth about them, good or bad. It clears up any doubts or wonder for the living. And because of that, others have taken up the cause and it has become an order; Speakers for the Dead.

Ender has a secret goal that guides his travels between worlds, and his sister that is his staunchest supporter, is his constant companion. With an earpiece, he is able to communicate with another of his supporters, an intelligence embedded in computer programming that guides him in his travels at, or faster than, the speed of light.

In his over three hundred years of life, due to relativity of course, he has met many people, only to have them die of old age as he only ages a scant few months.

And now a new race of beings has been discovered on a backwater planet. They’re being studied by the humans and contact is severely limited between the two species. Then, without any kind of warning, a cry goes up through the myriad of occupied planets that one of the researchers has been murdered by the little aliens.

And now Ender has been called to speak for the dead man…

Description:

Three hundred years ago, mankind completely obliterated an entire species of sentient life called ‘Buggers’. The Buggers, as their name implies, were a race of creatures that looked like bugs.

By sheer accident, a conflict arose when man thought that the Buggers were attacking and had begun a war. One man took control of the battle and devised a way to end it… permanently. He exterminated the entire species completely.

 

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