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Creative Uses for Textbooks

Dear Abby

While newspaper advice columns are not new, their popularity remains undiminished.  In this activity, your students study real advice columns for their technique, tone and style, then put what they've learned into practice using information gleaned from their textbook.  You'll probably be surprised at the results.  Click here for examples written by high school students I've taught.

  1. Begin by asking your students how many read (or have read) a newspaper advice column.
  2. Have them name as many of the current columnists as they can.  Write the list they come up with on the board.
  3. Discuss what they like and dislike about these types of columns, and why they always seem to be popular.
  4. If students are not familiar with the Dear Abby column, explain that she is (or was, depending on when it is that you are reading this page) the premier advice columnist of her time.  (Although her twin sister Ann Landers might disagree.)
  5. Have students read and discuss sample columns you have them bring in, or that you provide for them.  

If you need samples, you can examine the online archives for:

  1. The points you want your students to take away from this discussion are:
  1. They begin with a salutation (Dear Abby, Dear Ann Landers, etc.).
  2. The writer provides a brief background to set up his/her problem.
  3. The writer briefly describes the dilemma s/he faces.
  4. The writer asks a question of the columnist.
  5. The letter is often signed with some sort of anonymous, catchy phrase rather than the person's name.
  1. concise
  2. motherly
  3. upbeat
  1. For the following assignment, you can have students work individually or in pairs.  If you have them work in pairs, you can have them select their own partner; or you can make the selection for them.
  2. Have each individual/pair select a person with whom to work.  It should be somebody that your class has read about in your textbook during  the current unit, or the entire course to date if you wish.  If you are uncomfortable allowing the students to make their own selections, assign the characters yourself.
  3. Based on what they've read about their assigned character, students are to imagine what this person would write to Dear Abby.  They are then to draft that letter, and Dear Abby's response to it.  If they work in pairs, you might want one to write the letter and the other the response.
  4. After you've read the submissions, pick some of the better ones.  One at a time, read a letter to the class and ask students to come up with a class response.  Once they have one, compare it to the response the author of the letter (or his/her partner) wrote.

I am indebted to Leland W. Howe and Mary Martha Howe for their book Personalizing Education: Values Clarification and Beyond (Hart Publishing Company Inc., 1975).  The activity they created based on Dear Abby (pages 279-289) stimulated me to write this one. Sadly, the book is no longer in print.  However if you can find a copy in your local library or used book store, you will find it filled to bursting with absolutely marvelous ideas and tactics.

For a different approach to engaging your students with ethical dilemmas, see Tough Choices.

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original web posting: Friday, August 25, 2000
last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008