Writing about themselves is easy. Ask students to express their feelings about pets or sports they play or family vacations and you'll hear connections immediately.
Making connections to other books, articles or magazines they've read is a bit easier too. If you ask them to connect two characters in different stories they're usually able to do so. I use character personality trait charts for this connection.
From my experiences, teaching writing for many years, the most difficult of all is making connections to the world. I usually model this connection by selecting a short story or book we've read, as a whole group, and have them think of the problems that had to be solved.
An example I use is the novel Hoot and the middle school kids who decide to fight "city hall" because construction at a restaurant is going to endanger some burrowing owls on the property. I ask if anyone knows what endangered means and if they've read any books about endangered animals and the problems they face. As we brainstorm for connections, I record their responses for everyone to see.
As a culminating activity, we write a good solid paragraph together explaining the connections of two problems from two sources.
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