Lesson Plan: Letters to the President

To celebrate I Want You To Know Something About Me hitting the shelves of local bookstores, we decided to share a lesson plan to help your students write letters to the president, or other political leaders.

Pick up a copy of the book today at Maple Street Bookshop, The Stacks, Octavia Books, Blue Cypress Books, and Defend New Orleans, or buy one from our online store.




Letters to the President Lesson Plan (1st-5th grade)

Do you want to write a letter to Donald Trump? What would you like to say to him? The following steps could help you craft a strong letter to the president.

Think about what you’re feeling, and why. Create a bubble map.
In the center of the bubble, put what you’re feeling the most. Around the bubble, add the reasons why you feel that way.

Use the bubble map to develop your writing.
Write a little bit more about each of your reasons. That helps explain why you’re feeling that way. Each of these reasons can be a paragraph in your letter.

Organize your thoughts in a letter format.
Letters have a special format. Use the body to organize your paragraphs. You may want to include an introduction of yourself as a first paragraph! Add a heading, greeting, closing, and a signature.

Send your letter to the president.
You have a voice that deserves to be heard! Send your letter to the president at the address below:

The President of the USA (Or write the President's name)
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Volunteer of the Month: March 2017

Congrats to Willmarine Hurst, our March Volunteer of the Month! Willmarine started volunteering with Big Class during the 2015-2016 school year, helping with in-school projects at Sylvanie Williams and Akili. This year, she's been working with 11th graders at Carver to write personal histories about the connection between a moment in their lives and a moment in history. Thanks for all your hard work, Willmarine!

What first brought you to Big Class?
For the four and a half years that I was displaced to Plano, TX post Hurricane Katrina, I worked as a substitute teacher in the Plano Independent School District (PISD). I also worked as a tutor in a tutoring club in Plano. I saw many of the students that I worked with here in New Orleans at some of the schools around the PISD. I have always enjoyed working with young people and learning from them. So, when I returned to New Orleans, I saw a sign on the library bulletin board for Big Class. I was interested in seeing if this was something that I could do and it was. It gave me an opportunity to, once again, engage with the young people in our city. It also feels good knowing that as a part of my life's legacy I have instilled in these kids the necessary tools to perfect one of the most important and effective vehicles of human expression ever created... the written language.
What keeps you coming back?
I am the consummate teacher and the consummate student. And as I grow older and into the role of elder in my own family, I feel that one of my duties is to extend myself to the larger community and, in turn, help those who will one day step into my shoes as an elder themselves.  I feel a sense of obligation to this generation of youth because they are at a turning point in world history and need our guidance so much. I enjoy imparting knowledge, helping others and learning from them, as well. I think that I learn as much from the students as they learn from me. I love to see the ideas, imagination, and creativity of the young people. It keeps me coming back with a “what next” sort of expectation!
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
I have been able to utilize my skills as a journalist/writer/copy editor from my undergraduate degree in Print Journalism; as well as my research skills acquired while working on my master’s degree in History. However, more than the academic skills, I think my ability to connect with and relate to the kids is just as important. I am a part of their community. I know their streets, the places in their city and their language. I think that connection with the students and the city is a big part of my skill set.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
The biggest challenge I have faced is the time constraints. It’s hard to get a lot done in 45 to 60 minutes. It seems like we don’t always spend enough time with the students to get their full input. I also feel that we are infringing on the teacher’s time in some instances; but in other instances, the teachers are very welcoming.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind one of them if you can.
I have worked with the students at Sylvanie Williams school, but there was a lot of rearranging of schedules, so I could not continue with that project; but I enjoyed the time that I did have working with Ashley and the students at that school. There was one project, the Super Hero project at Akili Academy, which I enjoyed very much. A call went out for additional help with this project. I was paired up with a very impressive young man (3rd or 4th grader, I think) named Preston, who had come up with a whole story about the purple hero he was writing about. He had a lot of good ideas, and we brainstormed together in the hallway to bring his hero to life. It was fun and I was so impressed by Preston’s imaginative genius!
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
I am also an Evacuteer with the city and a member of OPEN/PLTI, (Orleans Parish Education Network/Parent Leadership Training Institute).  And I do some freelance writing. I am also in the process of editing a book. I assist my son, who is wheelchair bound, and my 18-year-old grandson, who keeps me on my toes! In my spare time (which is rare), I write poetry.

Pizza Poetry Blog Post #1: Limericks

Teachers: Want to incorporate Pizza Poetry into your classroom, but not sure where to get started? From now until April 7th, we'll be posting bi-weekly poetry writing prompts here on our blog! Remember, anyone ages 6-18 in Greater New Orleans can submit poetry to be published on a pizza box. And don't forget: the deadline to submit poetry is April 7th.


Limericks are funny humorous that are structured into five lines. The first and second lines rhyme and contain the same number of syllables, as do the third and fourth. The fifth line yields a surprise ending or humorous statement and rhymes with the first two lines. Typically, limericks are written in the past tense. They were made famous by Edward Lear, a famous poet who wrote the “Book of Nonsense” in the 1800s.

Limericks often start with the line "There once was a..." or "There was a..."

Some examples of Limericks:

There once was a wonderful star
Who thought she would go very far
Until she fell down
And looked like a clown
She knew she would never go far.

-Kaitlyn Guenther

There was an Old Person of Chili,
Whose conduct was painful and silly,
He sat on the stairs,
Eating apples and pears,
That imprudent Old Person of Chili.

-From the “Book of Nonsense”

Now, Write Your Own!

The first, second and fifth lines rhyme with each other and have the same number of syllables (typically 8 or 9).
The third and fourth lines rhyme with each other and have the same number of syllables (typically 5 or 6)
Templates are below for those that need it!

Template A
There once was a ______________ from __________________.
All the while s/he hoped _______________________________. So s/he _______________________________. And _________________________________. That ___________________ from ___________________.

Template B
I once met a _________________ from ___________________.
Every day s/he _________________
______________________. But whenever s/he ______________________.
The _________________________________. That strange ___________________ from ___________________.

Email us at pizzapoetry@bigclass.org to let us know how the workshop went, and submit your students' poems. Are you especially proud of any of the limericks? Let us know and we'll feature them on this blog! Click here to learn more about the Pizza Poetry Project.

Code Your Story Mini Camp

On the occasion of the 2017 NBA All Star Game in New Orleans, Big Class, the 826 Network, and Cartoon Network collaborated on a special Mini Camp for 24 New Orleans elementary school students, focused on the intersections between coding and storytelling. Using 21st Century learning skills, students created original stories that they transformed into interactive animations using Scratch. Final animations were shared during a special presentation to the NBA community on February 16, right before All Star Weekend 2017 in New Orleans.

Welcome New Program Director!

We are thrilled to announce that longtime Big Class board member and partner teacher Kyley Pulphus has officially joined the staff as the full time Program Director!

Kyley Pulphus was born and raised in New Orleans. She received her BA in Communications from UNO, and her MFA in Film Making from Florida State. She is an award-winning children's film writer/director. Though she went off for a bit to work in children's television, she returned to New Orleans eight years ago to pursue a career in education. She spent most of that time as a classroom teacher stressing the importance of providing children with opportunities to have their voices heard. She still continues to write, and was most recently honored as a featured reader and writer in New Orleans's inaugural production of Listen To Your Mother. Her favorite writers are Maya Angelou and Mo Willems.

Volunteer of the Month: February 2017

Congrats to Cynthia Via, our February Volunteer of the Month! Cynthia began volunteering with Open Studio in the 2015-2016 school year, and helped out with Big Class in Residence at Akili Academy's superhero project. Most recently, she volunteered with our letter writing workshops at ARISE Academy and Cohen College Prep after the 2016 presidential election, culminating in the book I Want You to Know Something About Me: Letters About The Election of Donald Trump by New Orleans Youth. Thanks for all your hard work, Cynthia!

What first brought you to Big Class?
I saw [Big Class] at a book fair, and being new to this city, I wanted to get back to teaching. I missed working alongside students and being part of a writing program. And what better way to learn about a community, than through stories told by kids.
What keeps you coming back?
I’m inspired to keep writing when I see that students are imagining interesting characters and dreaming up lovely poems. Also Big Class projects are intuitive and non-conventional. I see [Big Class's] philosophy as not being one sided; they want feedback, and allow students and volunteers to find their own rhythm. I like that Big Class also pushes volunteers to be more vocal in bigger groups.
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
As someone who writes and often gets distracted, I understand frustration. I’m also not easily disappointed, and I know one small pebble is part of a big mountain. Allowing kids to find their own style of writing and cognitive process, is important, rather than forcing them to finish a task without engaging with the ideas.  
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
Since we work with many different schools, the chances that I see the same student is rare except for in Open Studio. It makes it harder to build trust when you only see them one time, and many students are overwhelmed with school projects to take on extra tasks. I think you have to be understanding and flexible, and let them know these projects are something new, outside their classwork. 
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind one of them if you can.
I worked on Open Studio, superhero stories at Akili Academy, and I Want You to Know Something About Me: Letters About The Election of Donald Trump by New Orleans Youth. Helping students write letters about relevant social issues was rare for me. I was surprised to see that many of them were savvy in the political discussion that we hear in the media, and in our own circles. They wrote letters to the new president or other elected officials, giving them suggestions, explaining their own fears and aspirations. The students had a chance to grasp how their lives can be impacted by the decisions of government, and that they do have the power to speak up. This made me hopeful about the next four years. I especially felt close to the experience of many Latin American students, who wrote letters in Spanish, about their journey to the U.S.  
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
I’m an AmeriCorps member and I was serving my term in New Orleans for No Kid Hungry, a non-profit, which provides grant funding for after school and summer camp programs that provide free meals to the community. Before that I worked as a reporter and freelancer in NYC. I write about hiking, nature and random life episodes on my blog and other publications. 

Kiese Laymon visits Big Class's in-school project at G.W. Carver Collegiate Academy

We are so excited to have the brilliant essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon as the lead mentor for our personal histories book project with G. W. Carver Collegiate Academy.

Kiese spent several hours today working with students on writing with specificity, connecting with memory, and using writing as a way to slow down and understand.
Going forward he'll be working closely with students as they complete multiple drafts.

He'll also mentor the Student Editorial Board and write the forward to their book, which will be out at the beginning of summer.

We're grateful to Kiese for being such an inspiring part of this project, and approaching it with generosity, candor, and humor. If you haven't read his amazing work, we urge you to check it out at kieselaymon.com.

Big Class students share their work at Writers' Resist New Orleans

On Sunday, January 15th, Big Class students shared their work at Writers Resist New Orleans, an event in collaboration with with PEN America, as part of a international day of readings championing freedom of speech, and the power of expression to change the world.

Quincy (Grade 8), Alekesis (Grade 8),  and Sanii (Grade 3) shared their work from our latest book, I Want You To Know Something About Me: Letters About The Election of Donald Trump by New Orleans Youth, available now to purchase here on our web site and at your local New Orleans book store.

Dear Obama,
You leaving the office makes me angry. I am
mad and angry because you were the first black president and you were president half my life. When you were president I felt safe. When I woke up and found out that D. Trump was president, my heart dropped.
But then, I realized that he isn’t my president. Barack Obama is forever going to be my president. Until another black president comes along like you, I’m going to pray that he doesn’t do anything stupid. He can’t send the majority of us to Africa because I was born in New Orleans. I’m going to start a rebellion against Trump and be a civil rights leader. I’m going to start an underground railroad and everything.
P.S. You forever are my president. 

Dear Donald Trump,
I’m not angry you’re president; I’m even more motivated to prove you wrong about the Black community.
I would like you to change your opinion of Blacks. All Black people aren’t criminals. For example, I am very ambitious about becoming the very first African American to become a doctor and model to make it out of New Orleans. I love where I came from because it gives me a different way of seeing the world.
I wake up and look at this day as another chance to prove myself to the world that I’m not just another kid from the hood living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve overcome a lot of things to become the person that I am today. You are a very disrespectful person, but you encourage me to do better.

Dear Donald Trump,
I think you should fix the holes in the streets because it feels like our cars are going to break, and people would not like that.
Also, Donald Trump, I think you need to help with the environment. In our neighborhood it’s bad because our drains are bad, and when storms come, it floods because the drains are not fixed.
Also, Donald Trump, I would like to write about trees because if we don’t have trees, we will not have oxygen or paper, and so our animals will have freedom.
P.S. Please read my note, and please make this change. 





Dear Viviana,
I know you’re really mad about Donald Trump being president, but don’t worry, it’ll all get better. I remember you telling me that when you were at school you talked about the election with your teacher and that she told you to just keep your head up high and not be afraid. I want you to take her advice and keep moving forward no matter what happens, okay?Today in school my teacher had us use the hashtags #iamthefuture and #icanchangetheworld, and he made us think about how we can change the world and how we are the future.
I realized that we are the future because we can change the world.
By just using the power of youth, we can make this earth better than it’s ever been, all it takes is young minds like yours and mine. Long story short, don’t be afraid because sooner or later you will be that voice that everyone looks up to.
Your Auntie,

Volunteer of the Month: January 2017

Congrats to Chris Staudinger, our January Volunteer of the Month! Chris started volunteering with Big Class two years ago on the bilingual book project, Lo Inolvidable, at Grace King High School. Since then, Chris is been a steady force in Big Class's Writers' Room at Sylvanie Williams. In the past month, Chris diligently helped students write letters in response to the 2016 election for our upcoming book. Thanks for all your hard work, Chris!

What first brought you to Big Class?
One of my friends, and then my mom, both heard about Big Class and told me I should look into volunteering since I was struggling to keep up with my writing. I liked how it was a double community of kid writers and adult writers.
What keeps you coming back?
I come back because I want to see what the kids will write. I'm pretty envious of how kids can be like firehoses with their creativity and very random. I also like the challenge of encouraging kids who aren't as free flowing with their writing to realize they've got valuable things to say.
What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
On a different level, prompts often elicit painful or traumatic memories in students' lives, and those are delicate moments. It can be difficult to imagine what kids sometimes go through at really young ages here in New Orleans. It's also difficult to know how to guide those moments into writing, but when it works, I think writing can be an invaluable outlet. One of my skills is that I understand how difficult it can be to put even the simplest thought onto paper, so I am hopefully a patient teacher for that reason.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
The biggest challenge for me is letting myself be led by the kids' natural material, rather than trying to lead them towards my own conclusions of what good writing might be. It's fun to watch Ashley work with the kids in the Writers' Room for that reason. She can take some of the kids' most random-seeming responses and engage with them to spark more and more weird material.
What are some great projects you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind one of them if you can.
My first project with big class was the superhero comic book Lo Inolvidable with high school students at Grace King. The students wrote about a time in their lives when they had gone above and beyond and shown some kind of super power, which I think is a brilliant and empowering prompt that we all could probably use. Most of these kids had recently moved to New Orleans from Central America, and they had amazing stories. Many of their drawings were incredible too. One young woman cried when she read her story at the book release, if I remember correctly. It's a good book!
What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
Outside of Big Class, I work at the Contemporary Arts Center, guide kayak trips in the swamp, write, and march with a color guard team called the Flaming Flagettes. 

In the News: Pizza Poetry project adds new events to menu/The Advocate

The Advocate
December 28, 2016

If Pizza Poetry is the voice of the children, those kids are about to get louder.
Big Class, the New Orleans nonprofit that encourages kids to write, in part by attaching their poems to pizza boxes at restaurants across the city for one day each spring, is helping to develop a New Orleans Youth Poetry Festival and working with 826 National on initiatives to get more kids writing to get those works out to a much larger crowd.

Read more: http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/communities/crescent_city/article_393637e2-c311-11e6-a2e7-2b40bd2701dd.html?sr_source=lift_amplify