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Flipping the Script on the College Essay With Help From The New York Times


To show you how this works, here are three essays written by students. They all chose the narratives they wrote in response to Tillena Trebon’s mentor text “I Live on the Edge” about balancing between two worlds. But they revised their essays to respond to three different Common App essay prompts.

Naseeb Oluwafisiayomi Bello chose the first Common App prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

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Naseeb writes about how growing up straddling two cultures shaped his identity as someone who is Black, African and American. Naseeb’s essay begins:

I was made in one country and born in another. I am the end of an original generation and still the start of a new one. My parents left with history and my life begins with mystery. It was planned that I would become the nexus of both.

I live in a home mostly dominated by one culture and leave the home exposed to a new one. I ask my mom “What’s for dinner?” expecting the same flavors. I suggest dinner ideas hoping to taste the melting pot. The distinct aroma of my home reminds me of the scent in the home of my parents in Nigeria. When we cook, we open the doors and windows, initiating the invasion of the air outside. The aroma of my house melts into the outside.

Read the rest of Naseeb’s essay.

Harshil Chidura decided to respond to the fifth prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Harshil’s essay tackles that phase between childhood and adulthood, and how treasuring his younger self has helped him confront a daunting future. Harshil writes:

I still feel like someone who watches Minecraft “Let’s Play” episodes in his free time, who plays football in his backyard, and whose greatest source of excitement is a GameStop gift card on his birthday. I still feel like I should be nervous about starting the fifth grade, eating Popsicles after a long day of playing outside with super soakers, and celebrating my half birthday. And yet, it has been years since I have done any one of those things, nor am I particularly interested in them now. My interests and hobbies have matured along with me and the rest of my peers. But still, I feel like no time has passed at all.

Read Harshil’s full essay.

Zachary Flink responded to the last prompt: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Zachary writes about feeling like there are two versions of himself. His essay begins:

I live each day as two different people. The daily swallowing of a pill takes out my brain and replaces it with another. This statement seems so ridiculous. A tiny 50 milligram pill doesn’t seem like it has the power to change who you are for seven hours. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., I live life as an overly determined robot.

Read the rest of Zachary’s essay.

For the summative unit assessment, I had students follow the model of The Learning Network’s Annotated by the Author series, in which student writers reveal their writing process through annotations and a short video interview. I asked students to create their own videos in Flipgrid, explaining which essay they chose for their Common App and why, and outlining the author choices and moves they made.

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