About Student Writing Lessons from YES! Magazine

Use the YES! article, prompt, and sample essays in each writing lesson to bring the real world to your classroom—and to take your students’ writing to a new level.

A Resource For Teaching Writing

Looking for writing lessons that will engage your students? Student Writing Lessons from YES! Magazine may be just what you are looking for. The lessons are based on thought-provoking YES! articles and engaging writing prompts used in the YES! National Student Writing Competition. You can also use the winning student essays as sample essays or as “mentor text” for analysis, discussion, and inspiration. Everything’s here for a powerful writing opportunity.

Three times a year we add a new lesson when we have completed one of our student writing contests.

What you’ll find in each Writing Lesson

    • A non-fiction YES! article
    • A meaningful prompt based on the article
    • Writing guidelines and rubric
    • Student essay example

A way to connect your students with real-world issues

Student Writing Lessons from YES! Magazine offers a way to help middle school through college students think about their lives in relationship to larger societal issues of sustainability, justice, and humanity. Students are invited to reflect on their values and personal experiences, and consider how their actions might change not only their communities but the world.

Writing Lessons 


Is there anyone in your life—you included—who is not comfortable being referred to as “he” or “she”? Write a letter to BrownBoi Project founder, Cole, on how you feel about this expansion of gender pronoun language. How do you deal with this cultural change?

Society is shifting from a binary “he-she” world to a more fluid spectrum of gender identities. Pronouns can help us all learn to see and respect each other’s individuality. In his article, ‘They’ and the Emotional Weight of Words, Cole encourages us to create new approaches to language so we feel freer and more open with each other.


Describe how you would feel if a place that defines you was threatened to be destroyed or taken away. What would you do? Would you fight to save it?

Founder and director of Sacred Stone Camp LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, over 300 Native American tribes, and other allies are protesting construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Allard’s story, Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre, describes how her identity, history and survival are intrinsically connected to the land—and water—that is being threatened by the pipeline.


Is not voting a responsible option in a presidential election? Weigh in with your argument.

Some people said they won’t vote in the 2016 presidential election because there is no one on the ballot who deserves their vote. In her article, Five Reasons to Vote When You Hate Everything on the Ballot, millennial Yessenia Funes points out what’s at stake when you don’t vote, especially for those groups who vote the least. She also gives options if you are dissatisfied with the slate of candidates.


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

In the story, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great” Julie M. Elman takes people’s stories—their actual words—about what they fear, and uses art to visually interpret those fears. After reading the article, students will have the opportunity to write about their own fears and how they cope with them.


Describe how you would feel if you were forcibly banned from going to school tomorrow—and indefinitely. What would you do?

Students will use the interview, “Standing With Malala: Meet the Teenagers Who Survived the Taliban and Kept Going to School” to gain new perspective on the purpose and privilege of education. In this YES! interview with Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, the two friends of Malala who were also shot on the bus, they tell the story of the traumatic experience that emboldened them to stand up for the right of every girl to an education. 


Dig deep to identify and explain how you personally can treat people more justly. Describe what treating people fairly and humanely looks like to you. How might your actions make a difference where you live (school and community)? In greater society?

Students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, “I Can’t Breathe Until Everyone Can Breathe” by author and entrepreneur Gerald Mitchell. He wrestles with the enormity of the situation in Ferguson and the unjust deaths of so many unarmed Black Americans by police. He takes an honest look at himself to see how he’s part of the problem, and commits to joining others in building a better world of justice for all. 


What teacher or a classroom experience has helped make learning joyful and meaningful for you? Conversely, what message do you have for teachers and administrators who make learning tedious, even painful? How could they make learning more interesting and inspiring?

When students study something that they care about, or feel connected with, they often do better in school.

Students will use Curtis Acosta’s interview, “When This Teacher’s Ethnic Studies Classes Were Banned, His Students Took the District to Court—and Won” to write about a teacher or an experience that made learning meaningful and inspirational. 


What is one worry you’d like to throw away? What would you replace your worry with, and what would you—and possibly those around you— gain by not having that worry in your life? 

Worrying never changes the outcome of whatever we worry about. 

Students will use Akaya Windwood’s article, “Life After Worry to write about a worry they would like to throw away, and what they might gain by replacing worry with something more worthwhile.


What are some ways—digital or otherwise—that you get strength and support to fight world suck with awesome?

The Internet isn’t just a hot-bed for cruelty but rather a place where communities mobilize to practice kindness and empathy.

Students will use Christopher Zumski Finke’s story, “How the Real Teens Behind ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Are Bringing Empathy to the Internet” to write about where they get their inspiration and grit when they feel stressed, bullied, or sad.


Do teachers and administrators at your school discipline students with dignity? Or, with disrespect?

Zero-tolerance policies can be unjust and leave students angry.

Students will use Fania Davis’ story, “Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment” to write about how restorative justice can help resolve conflicts and heal those involved.


Whether or not you agree with war, how might you welcome a war veteran home and support his return to community life?

Many veterans return physically and emotionally wounded from war, and they don’t always receive the support they need.

Students will use Dr. Ed Tick’s article, “Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country” to write a letter of support and healing to a veteran who is transitioning from war the combat zone to civilian life.


If you simplified your life, what things would you get rid of or use less?

Living in a land of abundance can sometimes cause us to lose sight of what’s “enough.”

Students will use Simon Okelo’s story, “Growing Up in a Kenyan Slum Taught Me the Real Value of Stuff,” to write about how they might live more simply and what it would mean if society did this too.


Do genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in your food concern you?

Around 70 percent of the processed foods in America contain GMOs.

Students will use April Davila’s story, “A Month Without Monsanto” to write about what matters most to them in the food they eat.


What would happen if you intentionally greeted or smiled at people you might usually ignore—cashiers, the homeless, someone of a different ethnicity?

In your daily life, there are probably people you choose to overlook out of ignorance— or fear.
Students will use Akaya Windwood’s story, “What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other” to write about the risks and rewards of looking into the eyes of those they typically don’t acknowledge. 


If you could design your dream house, what would it look like?

Dee Williams downsized from a three-bedroom house to an 84-square-foot bungalow.
Students will use Dee’s story, “Living Large in a Tiny House” to write about their ideal home—its size and key features.


Does it matter who you eat with and how often you eat together?

Family time at the dinner table is becoming less common.

Students will use Katherine Gustafson’s story, “You Are Who You Eat With” to write about their own family’s daily eating rituals and how these foster a sense of togetherness.


Is hunting moral?

The morality of hunting is complex and can evoke emotional arguments. 

Students will use Alyssa Johnson’s story, “What’s the Harm in Hunting?” to write about the morality of hunting and if hunting can be done in a respectful and humane way.


How do you resolve differences you have with family members and friends?

Close relationships can become distanced, even severed, when there are conflicting points of view.
Students will use Kate Sheppard’s story, “Why My Dad’s Going Green” to write about how they have made peace with someone who has different opinions or beliefs from them.


What is your gift, and how do you share it?

Whether or not we recognize it, all of us have gifts worthy of sharing.

Students will use Puanani Burgess’ story, “Blessings Revealed” to write about their unique gifts—talents and abilities that are not necessarily easy to see.

Looking for more?

If you like these essay writing lessons, then you’ll love the YES! National Student Writing Competition. The quarterly competition offers students a YES! article and a writing prompt that will make them eager to write. It’s also an opportunity for them to write for an audience outside the classroom and to be published by our award-winning magazine.

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