“What We Fear” Student Writing Lesson

What is one thing you fear about your future? How can you lessen that fear?

Students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.”

In this story, Julie M. Elman shares how she created The Fear Project to help her cope with her own fears. That project soon grew to help others, too. Elman takes people’s stories—their actual words—about what they fear, and uses art to visually interpret those fears. Her vibrant, multi-media collages articulate what we’re afraid of or dread, and make them acceptable, tangible, and part of everyday life.

Download lesson as a PDF.

YES! Magazine Article and Writing Prompt

Read the YES! Magazine article by Alexa Strabuk, This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.

Writing Prompt: 

Even though it is normal to have fears, we’re often taught to hide them, or feel bad for being scared. To Julie M. Elman, creator of The Fear Project, naming our fear is part of the journey to confronting it—and possibly overcoming it.

Students are asked to respond to these two questions for their essays:

What is one thing you fear about your future? How can you lessen that fear?

Writing Guidelines

The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.

  • Provide an original essay title
  • Reference the article
  • Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
  • Pay attention to grammar and organization
  • Be original. provide personal examples and insights
  • Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas

This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W. 9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI. 9-10 and RI. 9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*

*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an examples.

Evaluation Rubric

Sample Essays 

The essays below were selected as winners for the Fall 2015 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students’ writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion.

How Do You Spell: Afriad, Dislexsa, Faer” by Deedee Jansen, grade 6

Read Deedee’s essay about about how people’s biases toward dyslexia can lock her in a cage, but having dyslexia can also be a blessing for seeing things differently.

A Different Kind of Relapse” by Clair Williamson, grade 11

Read Clair’s essay about how her struggle with depression has motivated her to accept the love and kindness of those around her.

Chronic Pain” by Dion Medina, university student

Read Dion’s essay about sacrificing an active lifestyle—and inheriting an unthinkable future—to manage avascular necrosis, a disease that causes bone to slowly die.

A Serf in the Midst of Feudalism” by Jazmyn Bryant, grade 11

Read Jazmyn’s essay about personally confronting racial injustice, and how necessary it is to act collectively for a reformed system.

A Future Me” by Jonah Gold, grade 6

Read Jonah’s essay about the challenge in balancing two different parts of himself, and his efforts toward becoming proud of the part he’s less comfortable with.

The Monster Within” by Nicole Reiber, university student

Read Nicole’s essay about relationships and career opportunities in her life that have been lost because of her self-sabotaging behaviors, and how self-respect has helped her fight this monster.

We Want to Hear From You! 

How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Tell us—and other teachers—how the lesson worked for you and your students

Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.

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