Why Writing with Purpose?

By Michael Corsiglia, Writing with Purpose Peer Assistant and former student

Can college students gain real world experience from a course?  A question that is asked constantly throughout the academic world.  For one class at the University of Iowa, the answer is yes.  Each semester 15 students are able to enroll in Writing with Purpose, a class that uniquely works hand-in-hand with a non-profit organization based in Iowa City.  The Iowa Youth Writing Project is an organization that provides free in-school and after-school writing workshops for students in hopes of empowering children with language, literature, and creative thinking.

Students who take this course have the opportunity to work at one of three different sites in the Iowa City area.  The sites range from high school students at Tate High School, younger elementary students at Longfellow Elementary, and 5th and 6th graders at Mark Twain elementary school.   As part of the course curriculum students create their own lesson plans to be used once weekly at their schools.  During class time students brainstorm different ideas and strategies to best create an imaginative, creative, and fun environment for students.

The course is perfect for college students with aspirations in teaching or any career working with children.  Unlike other education courses at the University this course involves hands on experience in an actual classroom, with real students, and a real lesson plan.  The course even gives students the opportunity to publish their own anthology of works that are written by the students at their site.

The X-Files: Longfellow Edition

By IYWP Mentor Taryen Lannutti

This week at Longfellow students stepped onto our writing club spaceship and took off into the fantasy genre! Students grouped together to create creatures from wacky planets, and created interesting facts about planet around them! Before we landed back on Earth, groups shared their crazy creations!

Meet Billy McForton

Created by: Freda, Fergie, Ben, and Sully.


Billy Mcforton is an alien from the planet Zorpacalla! (A planet composed of floating rock.) His planet is cluttered with endless space junk, so he spends his free time in the burger realm. His favorite meal of choice is a fresh bowl of hot kittens!

Meet Pondra (Ondra-Pay)

Created by: Fiona, Oliva, and Anya


Pondra is a sassy alien from the planet Neptune! Her hometown lies between many Blue Mountains. Throughout her day she snacks on Pinewood. She only speaks Pig Latin or should I say, Ig-pay Atin-lay! She has a pet hellhound that travels with her everywhere. Her latest problem is that the humans are cutting down all her trees!

Interface – Week 4

This is a weekly series written by Emma Dellopoulos, chronicling her work with an interactive workshop between Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School in Iowa City and Hammond High School in Hammond, Indiana. 

I will tell you, I have met some of the most bizarre, immature, caring, hilarious, and twisted souls teaching this class. The kids are so much fun to be around, and have an energy that is genuinely inspiring. But I also feel completely out of my element when I teach.

I don’t know if this is something that everyone who teaches high schoolers feels or experiences ever or always, but it isn’t easy to stand in front of unrelenting sarcasm-machines with a chip on their shoulder that is every high school-aged child that has ever existed. Their headspaces are tumultuous and pliable, which makes for weeks that vary by day and days that vary by hour.

In reality though, I’ve come to have expectations of each of the kids I work with. I know which ones are self-reliant and which ones need more guidance. I found that individual conversations will always pull participation from even the most reluctant of attitudes.

In contrast to knowing my kids, I often have no idea what’s going on in my parallel universe, at Hammond. Sometimes, it feels like I’m talking to a dead line. On the other side of that dead line, though, is 150 other students that are producing work.

These are personalities I’ve never encountered, both in students and teachers. It’s created a sense of longing to know people that I have very little access to. I can read their work, but I’ll only know the very cursory detail. I get that detail from only one teacher, and that’s because she’s my friend and we talk often.

There’s even a sense of jealousy that I’ve found in myself. I’m constantly comparing myself to my co-teachers, while also trying to provide daily encouragement and advice. I’m often asking myself “why aren’t my kids producing the same caliber of work?” Then, I have to remind myself that my colleagues are certified teachers- I’m not.

Co-teaching has a series of obstacles in which I’m still learning to overcome. Learning and teaching is something that has been inseparable for me- they aren’t mutually exclusive concepts as I imagined they were as a student.

There is a dichotomy in me, though, as a student and as a teacher. I will always stand in front of my students and co-teachers, learning about myself and them, feeling split.


InterFace – Week 3

This is a weekly series written by Emma Dellopoulos, chronicling her work with an interactive workshop between Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School in Iowa City and Hammond High School in Hammond, Indiana. 

After a brief break- I’m back to blogging! InterFace is now entering its fourth week.

We’ve all clamored over communication struggles, been strangled by buffers, encountered 404 errors of all kinds, and heard the phrase “how is this even educational?” a few too many times.

Last week, the kids wrote Twitter stories; this essentially became microfiction in the form of Tweets. Most students found themselves connecting to the work more than classic exercises and texts, but others wondered about the efficacy of writing tweets over writing traditional stories.

I didn’t really know how to respond at the time, so I mostly just gave side-eye.

If I were smarter or more quick-witted, I would have said something much more salient. In reality, I came up with this exercise because it sounded cool to me. I thought it would be a more fun way to write a story using Twitter than it would be for our students to sit down and write about their ~*feelings*~ or some other schmaltzy subject.

And looking at the results, it was so much cooler.

I’ll admit, not all the stories were gems. Some weren’t much more than a sub-par list of memes that both mystified me and made me feel like I needed to take a really, really hot shower. Others were an attempt at being a bada** that tripped over itself and feel 100% flat. In contrast, there was an overwhelming amount of great work from kids who really took the prompt and ran with it. Emotionally ridden breakup stories, stories about inanimate objects, emotionally ridden breakup stories about inanimate objects, apocalypse diaries, and mystery adventures led by Cheech-and-Chong–style wizards are just some of the examples.

While doing this, I’ve found something out that should have been glaringly obvious from the start. I think in the past I’ve been told this, but it’s just one of those things that has to be learned the hard way. Students WILL reflect the mood and tone of their teachers. I didn’t think that my bad moods and my frustrations would translate into the classroom, as long as I didn’t mention administrative problems explicitly. I didn’t know that the inherent tone of my voice or the nuanced way I approached questions asked of me could truly influence the work of my students.

Knowing that now, I have to hold on to the glimmer and gleam of this project. It may sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but I feel like that’s what I have to do to keep this thing going. I have to keep reminding myself that this project is really, really cool. In my daily notes my mantra has to be “if I got the chance to do this in high school, I would have been stoked.”

If I would have been stoked then, I can be stoked now. I can then transmit that energy into my students, and hopefully they’ll be excited about it, too.


InterFace – Week 1

This is a weekly series written by Emma Dellopoulos, chronicling her work with an interactive workshop between Elizabeth Tate Alternative High School in Iowa City and Hammond High School in Hammond, Indiana. 

It started how most things in my life have started, from a wrestling match with my anxiety.

This past December, I was stuck in the usual horror-scape of final exams, wondering what on earth I was going to do for my final project for a creative writing class I’d taken that semester. The class was a hybrid creative-writing-and-technology-course in which we were supposed to be navigating “new media”. My professor said that I could simply revise something that I’d written already in the class, but I don’t tend to settle for cop-out projects. This is one of my major sources of self-inflicted panic.

A good friend and IYWP laureate Audrey Smith is one of many confidants that I’ve looked to for solace in similar times. I asked her:

Continue reading “InterFace – Week 1”

October Student Showcase- Colton Nicks

As part of a new student showcase series, we’ll be posting an IYWP student’s featured work on the blog each month. We are excited to kick off the monthly showcase with The Staff, a short story written by Colton Nicks at the junior high writing conference last April. This year’s junior high writing conference will be held on Wednesday, April 20th. Stay tuned for more information and make sure you check back next month for a new student showcase!

Click here to read Colton’s story.