National Writing Project

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone: Helping Students Navigate Unfamiliar Genres

By: Cathy Fleischer, Sarah Andrew-Vaughan
Date: January 13, 2011

Summary: Cathy Fleischer and Sarah Andrew-Vaughan, teacher-consultants with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project, show how immersing students in one genre that they aren't familiar with helps them understand the concept of genre in general and strengthens their reading and writing.


Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone was the 2010 James N. Britton Award winner from the Conference on English Education (CEE) of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Excerpt: "Unpacking the Unfamiliar Genre Project"

In your experience as a reader and writer, you've likely encountered more genres than you even realize, but it's also likely that you are drawn to some while you shy away from others. Because we each have distinctive experiences with the many genres we encounter, it's also true that we have our own comfort levels with each genre. (Perhaps you prefer to write fictional stories, or perhaps making up whole stories from scratch seems impossible to you.) In this project, I will ask you to identify the genres that are personally challenging—genres you are not particularly familiar with, that may intimidate you, or that you tend to avoid. From these, I would like you to honestly select one genre that you do not ordinarily choose to write in but would like to learn more about.

About the Authors Cathy Fleischer is a professor of English at Eastern Michigan University. She has edited NCTE's English Education and co-directs the Eastern Michigan Writing Project, coordinating the teacher research group and the Family Literacy Initiative.

Sarah Andrew-Vaughan teaches English at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a teacher consultant for the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and a long-standing member of its teacher research group. Her article "Researching Writing: The Unfamiliar Genre Research Project" (with Cathy Fleischer) won English Journal's Edwin M. Hopkins Award in 2006.

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