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Writing and Experiential Education: Practical Activities and Lesson Plans to Enrich Learning

reviewed by Linda J. Clifton - October 12, 2012

coverTitle: Writing and Experiential Education: Practical Activities and Lesson Plans to Enrich Learning
Author(s): Leslie Rapparlie
Publisher: Wood N Barnes,
ISBN: 1885473702, Pages: 160, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Since Richard Braddock asked how writers go about their work (Braddock, 1963), a large body of theory and practical strategies has been developed for teaching writing effectively to students at all levels, from kindergartens to universities. In the past few years, “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top” and new emphasis on STEM subjects are crowding writing from the school day in favor of reading, mathematics and science instruction. Writing is essential, however, and to make room for it, writing experience and instruction must be embedded across the curriculum. Leslie Rapparlie seeks, with some success, to provide in Writing and Experiential Education a much-needed resource for this endeavor.

Writing and Experiential Education demonstrates ways of incorporating writing into experiential learning and blending active experiences from a variety of disciplines into writing instruction. Rapperlie designed her book both for teachers in academic disciplines and for instructors of experiential education in a variety of areas, such as outdoor education, adventure education, environmental education, and service learning. However, since she does not clearly distinguish between her very different audiences, she muddies the clarity of her voice for either one.

Rapperlie begins by defining experiential education, then lays a foundation for using writing in such a setting, and argues for connections between the two. Relying on Dewey, she briefly presents some theory describing the function of active experience in the learning cycle (p. 3) in order to demonstrate the utility of activity in the writing classroom and authentic writing projects with real audiences. She devotes several pages to arguing the usefulness of experiences such as office internships in the writing classroom, claiming that students “majoring in writing or English may not have any experiential education” in an entire academic career (p. 2). Her basic premise is well-taken but her argument may be with a straw man. This section concludes with a useful set of questions and cautions for instructors, including the need to be aware of the real risks, both physical and emotional, these strategies involve.

Rapparlie argued in Section I that tactics from experiential education could be used to help students understand strategies for creating good writing. In Section II, she discusses and defines several kinds of writing activities used as tools to prepare, process and reflect on experience and lays out some basic guidelines for when and how writing activities can be most effective. Journaling, free writing, letter writing, clustering, double entry journals, cubing and workshop writing are defined and some uses for each discussed as reference for the book’s lesson plans. Cubing, however, is never used in those plans, and workshopping is used only once. For double entry journals, used in many lessons, Rapparlie supplies a chart of possible uses from responding to observation of fact to reflection on emotional effects. As the reader seeks to apply the book’s lesson plans and to adapt them in other curricular areas, this chart will prove invaluable.

The last and largest section of the book presents specific activities and lesson plans that incorporate writing for various purposes. A brief set of writing prompts precedes a set of carefully described lesson plans. Rapparlie cautions that the activities were designed for college students and adults but that teachers at other levels can use them with “simple adaptations” (p. xii). Lessons are not sequential but grouped by purpose. The “Lesson Reference Guide” (p. x) at the beginning of the book lists each lesson’s use for teaching essay or creative writing, reading skills, writing process, research writing or for introduction to a class or specific topic. Rapparlie provides very specific descriptions of the activities, the time required, the number of students in each session, the preparation required of both teacher and student and, in some cases, the worksheets or texts to be used with the lesson.  She includes warnings about possible pitfalls, as in Lesson 4, which requires that students be blindfolded.  She also suggests adaptations for other curricular areas, though in most cases these suggestions are quite general and vague.

To her credit, Rapparlie has tackled one of the most difficult kinds of writing imaginable. Lesson plans like these are recipes for action that attempt to anticipate every move teacher and student make to create the desired result. The lessons here, while detailed and usable, do present some problems for teachers putting them into practice. Some instructions are incomplete. The chart outlining uses for the double-entry journal (p. 26) is a good guide, but in the lessons employing this procedure most readers would appreciate more specific guidance for tailoring subject-specific questions and headings to be used as prompts. Some of Rapparlie’s most powerful suggestions in her early chapters, such as basing assigned writing on student-generated questions for authentic audiences (p. 8), do not receive emphasis in these lesson plans.

Most of the lessons seem to have been tested with real students, but adapting them across disciplines and grade levels may prove challenging for many teachers.  For example, many teachers would find the time requirements and the class sizes unrealistic for their own school settings. Some activities are overly elaborate. Two introductory lessons are built around “Shackleton Principles,” (p. 40) using specific texts and even a film, which may or may not fit smoothly into other curricula and which requires class time that might be more effectively spent with matter more closely related to the course at hand. Similarly, the “Full Value Contract” from Project Adventure at the core of the second lesson is an elaboration superfluous to the lesson’s purpose of asking students to generate their own list of class norms and behavioral expectations. Perhaps for the second edition of this book, Rapparlie will test lessons with teachers in multiple settings, like one famous cookbook writer who not only makes each recipe many times herself but also has friends try them out in their home kitchens before finalizing them for publication.

A second edition might also pay more attention to some small details.  The “Lesson Reference Guide” would benefit from page references, and a clear statement that the lessons are not sequential and can each stand alone. The set of writing prompts (pp. 34-39) might be more useful embedded in the lessons where they best fit the outlined goals. Finally, those gremlins known as “typos” can be banished, with “tenant” (p. xi) replaced by “tenet,” “galery” by “gallery,” and “wailing station” (p. 70) by Shackleton’s whaling station.

Rapparlie’s book offers sound practices and interesting approaches, but its use will require training and coaching, especially for teachers new to experiential education or to the teaching of writing. It can, for the teacher willing to think through adaptation rather than using the lessons as scripts, prove a useful guide for approaching the integration of writing into new areas of the curriculum. Despite its shortcomings, its discussion of the fundamentals of using writing to reflect on learning and its descriptions of useful classroom strategies can stimulate teacher innovation and creativity in adapting these practical examples for a wide range of classrooms and students.


Braddock, R., Lloyd-Jones, R. and Schoer, I. (1963). Research in Written Composition. Champaign, IL, National Council of Teachers of English.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 12, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16900, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 6:26:53 PM

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About the Author
  • Linda Clifton
    Clifton Consulting
    E-mail Author
    LINDA J. CLIFTON, Seattle, Washington, served as K-12 Director of the Puget Sound Writing Project at the University of Washington where she earned her PhD in medieval literature in 1989. Clifton taught high school English/ language arts in public schools for over 34 years, and conducted workshops on the teaching of writing for K-12 teachers and for Antioch University, Seattle. She helped develop Washington State’s essential academic learning requirements and has scored its state assessments for writing. Clifton founded Crab Creek Review and her poetry has appeared in a number of literary journals. She now works with clients who seek help developing their ideas into full-fledged manuscripts. Find her website at http://www.clifton-consulting.com/
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