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Check the Level 2
activities too ...

and WV history...
and Other Arts.


  Level  3    

Level 3 
activities are created for advanced writers.


Advanced Activities
This page is for anybody who wants to learn something from these writers. 
It was set up so teachers can easily use it.

These three core creative writing units make writing fun! They equip any writer with important writing tools that help

with these activities. Students like them!

Word movies: 
storytelling tools

Free writing:

a valuable

writing tool.

The activities below work for individuals or groups.  Adapt them for your needs.

Click on the subject below that interests you.
   ("Advice about Writing" and "Growing Up in WV")
Loaner sets of books from the WV Library Commission
Need a set of books? Check with
your library about loaner sets, available through interlibrary loan.
Introducing the site

Here's an easy way to do it:  Choose a writer you think will appeal to your group, and tour through that writer's Home Page, pointing out features, letting the group hear the writer talk. Then flip through most of the rest. Let the group hear a couple more voices, so they hear a variety of writers. Show them the "Listen" tab for the first writer, so they know where to look if they want to play the programs and find the transcript.

Ask group members to look through all 14 writer pages and pick the one or two that appeal most to them.

If you do nothing else, that one demo will have an impact on West Virginia students who assume real writers don’t come from West Virginia

The Writer Home Pages are full of information and glimpses. Explore them all yourself first and decide which writers you want to emphasize. The format is the same for all. Here's what's on them:

  • At three points on each home page, you can click a triangle and hear the writer's voice. We chose passages that lend themselves to discussion.

  • The audio quote at the top of the page usually has to do with the writer’s life or opinions. 

  • There's a little bio of the writer in the “glimpses” section, and the writer’s book jackets decorate the page.

  • Under the bio, there's a sample reading, usually read by the writer.

  • You'll find a related activity under the reading.

  • There are several links to the “Listen” page.

  • Near the bottom of the page, you’ll find four research links about that writer.

  • The quote at the bottom of the page is usually advice about writing,

Introducin the site
Getting to know some writers
Getting to know some writers

  • Activity 1: Choose three quotes. Read the top and bottom quotes on all 14 writer home pages, listening to each writer’s voice. In the process, you will start to get to know the writers.

    • Choose three quotes you find meaningful. Type them on the top of your paper. Then, under each quote, tell why you chose that quote.

    • Next class session, have a “show and tell,” where students read their favorite quote and talk about it. While they do, somebody writes the quotes on the board. 

    • Make an art project of the favorite quotes. Hang them in the room or hall.

  • Activity 2. Choose a writer:

    • Choose a writer and download the writer’s transcript. Read it while you listen to the program, marking passages that appeal to you. 

    • Write a paper about that writer, as if you were introducing the writer to a friend, citing passages you found most compelling, explaining why you chose that writer.

    • Listen to the writer read the sample passage on the writer’s home page, then do the activity that follows that passage.

    • Write your own activity related to that writer, then do it.


  • Activity 3: Look at the writer pages and choose a top-of-page quote to use as a springboard for a first-person essay.  First listen that writer’s program (on the writer’s Listen page). Download the transcript to a computer, and mark useful passages while you listen. Then write: Give examples from the program that illustrate what the writer said in his or her quote.  Example: Richard Currey’s quote says ordinary people are the heroes. How does his writing illustrate that belief? You can include ordinary people you consider heroes, if it fits your essay.  This is first person.


  • Activity 4: Write an essay that connects a bottom-of-page quote on a writers home page with the writer's work.  What do you think the writer is saying in the quote? Give at least one example from that writer’s readings (or other writing) that shows that the writer takes his or her own advice. How do you see that reflected in what he or she writes?


  • Activity 5. Research skills:  At the bottom of each writer page are four research links about that writer.

    • Beginning researchers: For research purposes, the writers’ programs are first-hand accounts because they’re telling their own life experience. Students choose a writer, listen to/read the program and combine the first-hand interview with second-hand sources to write a research paper on that writer. Extra points for finding a good source that isn’t listed.

    • More experienced researchers: Do a deeper dive. Listen to the program, marking passages you might use.  Choose your own topic or thesis about this writer. Lay it out in a research paper that supports or contrasts with your own points. Footnote your sources.  (Teacher may show students how to create footnotes.)

   Learning from individual writers


     Another smorgasbord. Choose, adapt, get inspired and create your own activities.


  • Richard Currey: Ordinary people are the heroes. At the top of Richard Currey’s home page, there is a quote from him that says: “Ordinary people are the heroes in stories and in life. Everybody struggles to live their life. They try to put the pieces together, try to make it work.  And I think that, in ordinariness is often seated a great deal of dignity.”  Listen to him read that quote.

    • Activity 1: Write a first-person composition that starts and ends with comments on Richard Currey’s quote and, in the middle, introduces us to at least two ordinary people you feel are heroes, who faced problems with dignity. Use “Word movie” techniques to paint a brief glimpse of that person. For example, “Every day, I was glad to see the school bus coming because I knew Mr. Boone would give me a big smile and tell me how glad he was that I was on his bus…” Go on to tell about Mr. Boone, why he is “ordinary.”  Another example: “In 2005, I fell down in the street just as the light was changing, and a skinny little elderly woman stood in front of me, facing the cars while …”  Go on to tell about that woman. Refer back to Currey’s quote at the end.

    • Activity 2: Choose another quote from another writer and use it to develop your own writing challenge.

  • Mary Lee Settle: Researching historical fiction

    • Any student interested in writing about history – or setting fiction in history – will probably want to listen the Mary Lee Settle program. She talks a lot about her historical research, which included getting in a bear pit and examining scalps of early American settlers in the British Museum.

      • Activity: Listen to the Mary Lee Settle program. Then write. What did you take away from hearing Mary Lee talk about research? Did she say things that help you get ready for writing about history? You may never have a reason to feel a bear, but how does her example apply to you?

  • Irene McKinney: Symbolism:  “Deep Mining,” Irene McKinney (Tracks 6-9). In these tracks, Irene reads her poem “Deep Mining,” then discusses the layers of symbolism in her poem about coal mining, looking at the people on the surface and underground. She discusses the symbolism, then reads it again. These tracks are an excellent way to lead students into an understanding of symbolism in writing.

    • Activity 1: Irene says there are at least three layers of symbolism in her poem. What do you think they are?  Use details from the poem to support your view.

    • Activity 2: Think of a place or activity you know, indoors or out. Now think of that place or activity as a symbol of something deeper. Write a story poem that includes actual detail and detail that makes the symbolism clear.


  • Irene McKinney: One great poem / two great activities: Irene McKinney’s discussion of her poem, “Stained,” (Tracks 10 – 11) gives us valuable insights and tools:

    • Activity 1: The writer’s image. Irene says “I no longer care to come out wonderful in a poem, come out smelling like a rose.” What does she mean? She’s talking about the way she wants readers to see her and her own willingness to write about her imperfections. How important is that to a writer? How might it limit a writer to want to smell like a rose? If Irene wanted to “come out smelling like a rose,” how might her poem, “Stained,” be different?  Mix her quotes with your own thoughts. Use first person if you like

    • Activity 2: Concrete details and abstractions. Irene says that “If you name three real things, you may have earned the right to use an abstraction.”  That statement is like a Nashville songwriting rule of thumb: “Give your ideas furniture to sit on.”  Read Tracks 10 – 11 until you think you know what Irene means, in the context of her poem, “Stained.” Then write a scene that has a lot of emotion beneath the surface, conveyed by concrete objects, expressed only once.

      • A tip: Picture concrete objects that mean something to you, that you could put in your scene. That line of thought can lead to the start of a story. Another tip: Think of concrete objects that mean nothing to you or frighten you. That line of thinking can start a story too.


  • Plotting a children’s book: Cynthia Rylant / Marc Harshman. Because they are short and relatively simple, children’s books can offer a way to practice shaping a plot that keeps the reader turning pages.

    • The three-part bell-shaped plot. Cynthia Rylant’s The Relatives Came (Track 4) provides a great example of a bell-shaped curve for a three part plot: Part 1: The Virginia family drives to see their West Virginia relatives; Part 2: They do many things while they are there, then (Part 3), they drive back to Virginia. 

    • Another example: Marc Harshman’s A Little Excitement (Tracks 5 -7) moves along with three parts: (1) the calm period before the excitement; (2) the excitement (a chimney fire, neighbors helping); and (3) the relief of disaster averted, lessons learned.

      • Activity: Read/listen to passages relating to The Relatives Came and A Little Excitement. Sketch out a story that follows the basic bell-shaped plot pattern: three sections, the longest in the middle. Your assignment: Write the first part of the story, setting up the second part. Turn it in along with your 3-part sketch for your story.


  • Maggie Anderson. Painting a picture in words. Maggie Anderson had a unique, loving relationship with her Aunt Nida. She tells about it in Track 10 of her program. Her poem, “Sonnet for her Labor” paints a picture of Nida in a situation that told us a lot about Nida's life, without editorializing. Maggie doesn’t really say what she thinks till the last line.

    • Activity 1: Write a prose poem (or a structured poem) that does the same thing. Choose a person people in the class will not know. Model your poem on Maggie’s poem. Show us that person in a situation when other people are present. Let us know what you think in the last line.

    • Activity 2: Ask an older person you know to tell you a story from their childhood.  Take good notes on the story. Then write it as if it was a children's book, a few sentences on each page. You can change a few details if you need to and if you change the name of the character. Draw a picture(s) to go with it.

      • Group discussion to get ready: What questions would it be good to ask somebody when you ask about their childhood? What questions might get them remembering stories?

    • Group practice to get ready: If the teacher has a story to tell, ask students to take notes as it is told. Show them how they can write just a few words to remind them of a part of the story


  • Jayne Anne Phillips. “What is home?”  In Machine Dreams, Jayne Anne Phillips gives us a compelling scene between a daughter and her invalid father, in which the father asks the question: What is home?  (Track 19)

    • Activity 1: Students read the passage, then write a third-person paper that examines the question and both answers: the father’s and the daughter’s. Write what the father and daughter said, then summarize the case for both points of view, with a detached narrator.

    • Activity 2: Now try to write the same paper in first person, including anything from your own life that might be relevant. Which person do you prefer? Why?


  • Jayne Anne Phillips. Setting a fictional story during an event in local history: Jayne Anne Phillips learned that, in the 1800s, when the railroad company was laying tracks past Buckhannon, a Chinese worker developed leprosy and the railroad company confined him in an isolated area to die.  Jayne Anne brought that incident to life in her novel, Machine Dreams. She made up a woman who was hired to feed him and created a moving scene between the leper and that woman. (Tracks 4 – 6)

    • Activity 1: Write an essay about the scene with the leper and Jayne Anne’s comments about it. Tracks 4 – 6. 

    • Activity 2. Write a fictional follow-up that takes place after the scene in Track 6 ends. Give us glimpses of what the leper did that night and what the woman did. You can jump from one to the other with “hinge phrases” such as “at the same time” or “an hour earlier” (jumping in time) and “two miles away” (jumping in space). But they do not interact.

    • Activity 2: Find a piece of local WV history and write a scene set in that time and place. Locate old newspapers from any part of West Virginia. Look for a story that catches your attention. Make up two characters and put them in that situation. Write a scene that happens between them, using Jayne Anne’s passage for inspiration.


               For more exercises in historical fiction, see the West Virginia History page.

  • Pinckney Benedict: Writing emphathetically.  Reviews of Pinckney's work often focus on his use of violence, overt and implied.  Yet the main characters of "Odom" (Tracks 32 - 33) and "The Sutton Pie Safe (Tracks 10-14)"  are portrayed with great empathy.  He focuses with great insight on the emotions hopes and reactions of people who are fighting the odds. In this case, a man who dynamites stumps and a struggling farmer and his son confronted with a predatory, patronizing town woman.

    • Activity 1: Listen to Pinckney's entire program. ​Contrast the overt violence in Odom to the psychological violence of "The Sutton Pie Safe."  Provide examples of Benedict's ability to get inside his characters in both stories. 

  • Breece Pancake. Turning to the woods. Poet Irene McKinney said Breece Pancake’s characters always go to the woods to find comfort when things get rough, hunting, swimming, hiking.  She says that is typical of rural West Virginia people. She also fears that many people are getting disconnected from the land as they connect more with the Internet.

    • Activity 1: What do you think? A discussion: In your experience, do you think the Internet has lowered the number of people who find comfort in the woods?

    • Activity 2: Read Irene McKinney’s prose poem, 


  • Rewriting / Revision. Breece Pancake’s students say he often told them to “Look upon your stories as a fine wine, one aged and well-made, not as a cup of instant coffee. Rewriting is the key to refined fiction.”  Marc Harshman compares rewriting to polishing stones till they shine. But students often hate to rewrite. “It ruins my spontaneity,” they say. Writing teachers may reply that that’s like saying “I want to win the Boston marathon, but don’t want to do daily runs.” Or "I want to play the guitar like Jimi Hendricks, but I don't want to learn any new chords." If you want the fine wine, they would say, rewriting is your daily run. 

  • Activity: Make rewriting easier: Take Keith Maillard's advice: become an ear writer. Listen to the sound of your writing. That means reading it aloud.

    • Find a piece of your writing that you know could be better. You’re going to rewrite it and make it better, but first, try this:

      • Think of a friend you like to talk with. When you and that person talk, you are articulate and funny, relaxed.

      • Imagine you are saying your piece to your friend, telling them a story, talking. Read it out loud, with one change: Put your friend’s first name at the beginning of each sentence.

      • Say that sentence out loud with your friend’s name first, as if you were saying it to that person. If it sounds weird or doesn’t come out easily, you probably need to rewrite it.

      • How? Ask yourself: How would I say this to (your friend’s name)? If you like the way your answer sounds, write it that way and tweak it. See if you like it better.

      • Do that with each sentence. Put your friend’s name first, then say it out loud. It will change the way you write. It forces you to hear what you wrote, not just see it: to be an ear writer as well as an eye writer.

    • Activity 3: Find a copy of Rocks in My Pocket, by Marc Harshman and Bonnie Collins, and read it. Explain how that story can be seen as an allegory for revision and rewriting - and a parallel to Breece Pancake's comments about fine wine and instant coffee.

  • Put yourself in the brain of somebody who differs from you Keith Maillard wrote Gloria from the perspective of a teenage girl growing into adulthood in Wheeling. See his Writer Home page for a sample and an activity.  This is a risky approach. How did he pull it off, with such detail? His wife and girls answered a lot of questions, for one thing. See Tracks 3-6 for a detailed description and a reading.

    • Activity: Do what Keith did. Try to write an ordinary scene from the perspective of somebody who is very different from you, in age, nationality, whatever.​

  • Varying sentence length to enhance action: Richard Currey knows how to use his sentence length to speed things up or slow things down in a story. The general rule of thumb is: Longer sentences slow the action down. Short sentences speed the action up: They say "Something is happening or is about to happen." If a short sentence follows longer sentences, it says, "Look at this. It's important." Below is a passage Richard Currey wrote (from Track 11). A striking coal miner beat up a mine guard, and he's sitting on his bed with a shotgun, waiting for them to come after him. 

    • The passage: Upstairs I pulled off my boots and socks, loaded the gun with two shells full of number six buckshot and sat in my bedroom in the dark, shotgun in my lap, terrified of every little sound I heard. I had the time, sitting there, to think about my situation, to consider the plight of a man who dispatches his family to innocent country and sits afraid for his own life in his own home simply because he wants to trade his labor for a decent wage, and the Baldwin men stepped up on the front porch. Knocked politely at the front door. I kept my seat. I heard them speak to each other, quietly. Then one said my name, calling me Mister, still polite as Sunday morning. He tried the front door, rattled it gently against the latch, then walked sideways along the porch, a heavy pair of boots under the room I was sitting in.

    • Activity: Study the sentence length here. Richard is conscious of what he's doing.  The sentence length is longer while he's just sitting there. Look what happens after "the Baldwin men stepped up on the front porch."  Then write a 3-5 paragraph scene in which the level of action changes suddenly. Play with your sentence length, modeling on Currey.

Learning from individual writers
Comparing writers
Comparing writers: Writing/discussion topics:

These are topics for group discussion or composition, using specific writers as examples.


  • Reaction to Appalachian stereotypes: Many of the writers mentioned the way Appalachian stereotypes had affected them and made them expect less of themselves. Here is a worksheet to make it easy for students to review five writers’ comments: Denise Giardina (Tracks 3-6), Cynthia Rylant (Track 33), Breece Pancake (Track 24) Maggie Anderson (17), Irene McKinney (23,26).

    • Activity: Read the worksheet. Then react in writing. Just write what comes into your mind. It can be general. It can be your personal experience. This is the "Kitchen Sink version" where you throw everything in the sink.  Mix the writers’ reactions to stereotypes with your own. Choose one writer to start with. Include as many writers as you need to make your points. What stereotypes of  Appalachian people are you aware of? How have you been affected?  How have others been affected

    • Activity:  Read through your Kitchen Sink draft, with an eye to taking out anything that’s not needed, any words, any whole paragraphs. Picture gold miners panning for gold. What do you need to keep? What can go? Take out everything that can go. Then build up the parts that are left, rearranging and/or adding a few details where you need them.

    • Discussion: As a group, listen to Denise Giardina’s scene from The Unquiet Earth, set at a coalfield grade school during the War on Poverty (Track 3). Listen to her comments afterward. Discuss. How would you react if you had been one of those children? Would this happen now?

    • Discussion: Listen to Tracks 15-16 of the Pinckney Benedict program. A Chicago reviewer called the people in his writing "flinty characters." A Richmond reviewer caslled the same characters "harsh white trash."  Listen to the entire program, then answer this question in writing or discussion: What do the differing views of the reviewers say about the reviewers themselves?

  • Writing about what you know. When poet Maggie Anderson was in high school, she was lucky enough to get to hear Louise MacNeill, a legendary West Virginia poet, reading powerful poems set in Pocahontas County.  It changed the way Maggie wrote. She decided to write about what she saw around her.  "Hearing Louise MacNeill read made me realize it's a good thing to write about what you know," Maggie said. "She gave me permission."

    • Activity 1: Read/listen to Track 17 of Maggie's program. 

    • Activity 2: If you decided to write about the life around you, what would you write about? Think of three possibilities. You can start with something as simple as a store, a place you love, an animal, a person you see working in a store. List at least 15 details about each of the three subjects. They can be true or you can make some up.

      • Choose one of the three possibilities and expand it into the beginning scene of a story. Mix 10 of the 15 details in with a fictional scene. 

      • If you enjoy it, do a second one! Make a second scene that includes eight of the second set of 15 details.​​​

  • Place description: A good description of a place draws your reader into your story.  Here is a worksheet with four detailed place descriptions by:

    • Jayne Anne Phillips, central WV in winter. Detached description. No characters. (Track 26)

    • Denise Giardina, southern WV in summer. One person, interacting with the place. (Track 12)

    • Keith Maillard, the northern panhandle National Road in the 1800s:  One person, detached from the place, observing. (Track 7)

    • Breece Pancake,  Teays Valley (Track 3): Outside and inside a country diner, Teays Valley. Jumping back and forth in time. 

      • Activity 1:  Learn from these four descriptions.  Read the descriptions on the worksheet. They are all different. All convey a sense of the place. Write about them. First, tell how they are different. What are the strong points of each? What is each writer doing? Which of your five senses are stirred by each? 

      • Activity 2. Write your own description. Choose a place where you like to go when you feel down, a place that makes you feel better. Write three descritions of it, 2-3 paragraphs, using these four models: (1) Describe it detail after detail as Jayne Anne did, (2) Describe it in first person, as Denise did, or (3) Include at least three characters who interact, as Keith did or (4) dip back into descriptive details from the past, as Breece did. Use as many of the five senses as you can, to show us (not tell us) what it’s like.

      • Activity 3. Draw details for a story poem from your descritions in Activity 2. Choose details carefully, make your line breaks where they mean most to you. You don't have to rhyme.  If you haven’t written open-form poems before, take a look at this unit.

  •  Violence in Writing: Pinckney Benedict, Davis Grubb, Stephen Coonts and Richard Currey all include considerable violence in their writing.  They do it for different reasons.

    • Stephen Coonts says he gives the public the techno-thriller entertainment they’re looking for.  (Track 1-2)

    • Richard Currey says he didn't write about Vietnam for therapeutic reasons. See Tracks 14-20 for vivid passages, with Richard's reflections about his Vietnam writing.  Then see Tracks 9-12 for samples of his writing about a miner trapped in the West Virginia mine wars.

    • Davis Grubb said he writes about the darkness because it provides such a clear contrast with the light. His passage about a murderous con man, followed by reflections on the children who escaped him (Tracks 9 - 11).

    • Pinckney Benedict tells students to write about things that scare them. He says his characters do things he is not able to do himself. (Tracks 18-19).

  • Activity 1: Read what all four writers had to say. Scan through examples of violent writing in their programs. Write a paper comparing and contrasting their approaches to violence.

  • Activity 2: Write your own take on how you would treat violence as a writer, telling us what your personal rules about it might be. Cite examples from at least two of the four writers.

  • Activity 2: Try the Davis Grubb approach.  Listen to his scene in which a murderous con man, pretending to be a preacher, chases two children down a hillside at night (the dark). They get away in a rowboat, followed by a beautiful scene of them drifting down the Ohio River (the light).  Extreme dark, followed by light - or the reverse.

  • Writing about the death of someone you love: Irene McKinney wrote about the death of her father (Tracks 30 – 33) and Maggie Anderson wrote about the death of her mother (Tracks 25-28).

    • Activity 1: Neither poet wrote about the actual moment of death. Irene wrote about the time before her dad died. Maggie wrote about the impact afterward, with memorable portraits of depression. Describe the way each of them approached their loss. Compare the similarities and contrast the differences between the approach the two writers took to the subject.

    • Activity 2: If a student has lost a loved one and wants to write about it, these poems are good ways to get them started.


  • Writing about sensuality:   There are many ways to include sensuality in fiction. We have chosen three passages by three writers who approached their subject from different vantage points.

    • Jayne Anne's narrator is an observer (Track 23).

    • Maggie Anderson's couple is thinking about their observers. (Tracks 29-30)

    • Denise Giardina writes a lovely passage about a first time, without any thoughts of observers.  (Track 16)

      • Activity: Write about your reaction to these three sceneseo, from people who are on the edges of sensuality to people who are completely involved.

  • Writing about War. Richard Currey wrote about Vietnam in an almost poetic style. His stories about the West Virginia mine wars are hard-driving narrative. All his characters and stories are up close and very personal. Stephen Coonts writes thrillers set in actual and imaginary war situations. His scenes are often wide in scope, and his characters do not reveal much about themselves, compared with Currey's characters.

    • Activity 1: Listen to the two programs, taking notes as you do.  Compare and contrast. Write a first-person composition, comparing the two writers and your reaction to both, bringing in any details you want that help us understand your reaction.  Include at least two paragraphs telling us what approach you might take to a story set during a war.  Who would be your characters (soldiers, civilians, generals, etc.)? How would you want to portray them?


  • Writing from photos: Photos are great jump-starters for stories and poems. As it happens, both Cynthia Rylant and Maggie Anderson wrote from photos by Walker Evans, the famous Depression-era photographer. Your students can too.​

    • Cynthia Rylant and Walker Evans  (Tracks 28 - 32). Cynthia Rylant took a free-writing approach. (Look at the free writing unit for more about free writing.)  Cynthia said she looked at each photo for about 15 seconds, then started free-writing, writing whatever came into her mind. Have students listen to Cynthia’s Tracks 28 - 32: Here are the titles of the Walker Evans photos she used: "Floyd Burroughs' Work Shoes" and "Barefoot Boy in Chair in Coal Miner's House, Vicinity Morgantown, West Virginia." You can easily find them on the Internet.

    • Maggie Anderson and Walker Evans  (Tracks 12 - 16). Maggie Anderson had a very different approach. She did not free-write. He had photographed her family graveyard, and she felt uneasy about it. .  In her poems, she said she felt invaded and wondered how the people he photographed felt about it.

      • Activity 1:  Write a comparison of the way the two writers reacted to the Evans photos. First, read/ listen to the tracks for each. They took very different approaches. Cynthia took more of a freewrite approach. She looked at a photo around 15 seconds, then started writing in the voice of the person in the photo.  Maggie ruminated over it and considered her feelings and the meaning of the photo before writing. Both approaches work. Cynthia's poems are fictional. Maggie's are personal to her, focused on the photographer as much as the photo.  

      • Activity 2: Try it yourself. Look at a picture of somebody or some place you don't know. Write about it, free write, imagine a story, write without stopping.

      • Activity 3: Discussion: In Track 16, Maggie says most artists struggle with the question is  appropriation. Was Walker Evans appropriating her family history by photographing the graveyard?  Am I appropriating when  write about other people or somebody else's history?

      • Activity 4: Make up a story about someone you don't know, who appears in a historical photo.  Suggestion: Go to the WVU Library’s collection of old photos. Pick one. Write a story or poem that includes details from that picture and what you imagine might be going on between those people. Do a little research about that time period and throw it in.


  • Political writing: Maggie Anderson’s poems about injustice include “Closed Mill” (Tracks 42-43) and poems about mine disaster (Track 32). Mary Lee Settle wrote six books about the history of West Virginia, starting with said “I have, as a result of all this work, literally fallen in love with democracy.”

    • Activity: Read Maggie Anderson’s poems referenced above. Listen to her read them. Think of a current situation you feel is unjust. Try your hand at writing a non-rhyming poem about it.  First, read through the Open Form poem file.

    • Extended Activity: Write a paper describing the steps and adventures Mary Lee Settle went through on her way to falling in love with democracy. Your challenge will be: organizing it. There’s lots of material. Which do you use? First, listen to Mary Lee’s entire program, reading a downloaded transcript and taking notes on it as you go. Write it in first person, first telling if you’ve ever heard of her before. If so, how?


  • Pressure to be a “brand” of writer.  Both Davis Grubb (Track 19) and Stephen Coonts (Track 27) got pressure from their publishers (and the public) to keep writing the same kind of story. They reacted very differently. Every book Davis Grubb wrote was different. Stephen Coonts had one best-seller after another with a similar format. Quote from the passages that describe each man’s reaction. What do you think?

Heading 6
Two very useful "14-writer" files

The "Reflections/Advice on Writing" file lets you compare all 14 writers' advice/thoughts about writing alone. You can focus on writing alone, without the other material that is part of each writer's program. 


The "Growing Up in West Virginia" file brings all the writers' childhood memories into one file that makes it easy to compare their stories. Thirteen of the 14 grew up in West Virginia, in a wide variety of family and economic situations. Marc Harshman's childhood was spent in Indiana, but in his 50+  years living in West Virginia, he never stopped growing, so he grew up here too!


          Reflections/Advice on Writing      

          Growing Up in West Virginia   (coming soon)           ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here are activities that introduce the all-writer files and give you an overview of the writers:

  •  Download one of the all-writer files to your computer. Your choice. Read what all the writers say, highlighting passages that strike you for whatever reason.

  •  Read back through the passages you highlighted, marking those that struck home with you.

    • Activity 1: Write a first-person piece, citing at least three passages, identifying the writers and telling why those passages appeal to you. 

    •  Activity 2: Choose one passage to pass on to other students in a discussion format, telling why you chose it.   Someone writes the quotes on the board.

      •  Students discuss passages listed on the board that they like or take issue with.

      •  Students make an art project from the passages, to hang in the room or the hall. 

  •  At a later time, repeat the same sequence with the second file.


Other activities: 

  • Scavenger hunt.  Divide a group into teams. Give everyone 10 quotes from different writers within the “Writing Advice” file or the “Growing Up in WV” file.  See which team can find all the quotes first.  

  • Pick a piece of advice you'd like to use in your own writing.  Rewrite something you have already written, using that advice.

Two 14-write files:
A unit of activities that can be
A unit of activities that can be distributed through a whole semester:

  • Activity 1. Ask each student to browse through all 14 writer home pages, clicking on all three triangles, listening to each writer speak. Ask them to write a few notes on each. Tell them that, after taking notes on all 14, each student will pick four writers he or she would like to explore further.

  • Activity 2: Listen to the programs of those four writers. Download the script first, so you can take notes on it as you listen, and mark passages you want to look at again.

    • Write a paper: What attracted you to each of these four?  In your passage about each writer, quote at least two things the writer said about writing that inspired you or made you think.

      • In the last part of your paper, choose one of the four writers and explain why you chose that writer for your “deeper dive.”

  • Activity 3.  Get ready for a “deeper dive” study of the writer you chose. First, download the transcript for the writer you chose. Listen to the whole program with the transcript in front of you, taking notes and highlighting things the writer says (and wrote) that particularly appeal to you.

  • Activity 4: Do the deeper dive. Teacher: Give them an assignment that challenges them and fits what you’re teaching.  Note: research references on each writer on their home page. Possible assignments:

    • Read at least one book this writer published, looking for ways that book illustrates some of that writer’s advice or observations about writing. Does he or she take his or her own advice?

    • Class discussion.  Each student gives a two-minute talk, quoting from their writer and telling why that writer appealed to them, using their paper to prepare their remarks.

    • Create an activity. Ask each student to create an activity for high school or middle-school students that would help them study your writer. Make it an activity you'd like to do.

  • Activity 7: Do it again? Choose a second writer and take another deep dive. Through the semester, teachers may want to return to the same activities for each of the four writers. Ask students to save their stories in a folder, so you’ll have a small collection at the end.

  • Last activity: If you had it to do over, would you choose the same writer(s)? If not, who would you choose? Why? Who surprised you? How?

~ This unit is based on a unit created by Dr. Anna Elfenbein, associate professor of English at West Virginia University. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Elfenbein!

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