Cartoon representation of e-mail, smartphone, and business communication.
Image by talha khalil from Pixabay 

English 9.4: Newsletter Writing

Course Overview

Overview of English 9.4


In English 9.4, you'll be learning how to make the most of Google Docs, Slides, and other Google Tools.  You already have many of the necessary skills for this course, but we're going to make sure you're all up-to-date on the core professional features offered by Google  Suite.

After completing this course, you'll be able to do the following:

Teaching Note: ISBE Secondary Standards

With the updated standards from the Illinois State Board of Education, all high school students in Illinois are required to take one year (1.0 credits) of courses that satisfy digital literacy requirements.  English 9.4 is designed to introduce students to core collaborative and compositional skills with Google Drive.  English 10.4 will develop more advanced skills through Yearbook Publishing, and English 10.5 will apply those skills to Vocational Writing.

Course Outline

ELA 9.4 Worksheet

Google Docs

  • 8 Sessions
  • Focus on Composing and Formatting Paragraphs
  • Readings on Style, Audience Expectations, and Genre
  • 4 Outside Sources
  • 2,000 Words (8 pages) of Newsletter Writing

Google Slides

  • 6 Sessions
  • Focus on Finding, Arranging, and Citing Images
  • Emphasis on Aesthetics in Graphical Design
  • 3 Outside Sources
  • 500 Words Plus Images for Slides
  • 10-Minute Presentation

Google Sites

  • 6 Sessions
  • Focus on Finding, Sorting, and Linking to Online Resources
  • Bridges Textual and Graphical Composition
  • 3 Outside Sources
  • 1,500 Words of Website Writing

Navigating the Course

To help with navigation, I've put together a course map to visually illustrate the sessions.  The course has twenty total sessions split up between learning Google Docs, Slides, and Sites.  Each individual session has its own page.  You'll find a simplified navigation map at the top of each session page, and then a complete course map at the bottom.

For my YBMC students, the course is designed so that you can take sessions out of order, if needed — we'll be going through each session in person, so the most important thing is just that you learn all the skills.  If you're a visitor to this page from outside YBMC, you might find it helpful to skip to the skills you're most interested in. 

Please note that I've designed the navigation map to work well on both laptop screens and smartphones.  I know that many students use their phones to navigate coursework, and Google Sites optimizes the layout to easily adjust the page based on screen size.  Ideally, I can use this in the future to develop an app for the site using Thunkable.

Course Policies: Attendance and Integrity

Session Attendance: 20 Sessions Total

To do well in the this course, you'll need to master a wide variety of topics.  Although you don't need to attend every session in order, you will need to attend enough sessions to demonstrate your understanding of the digital skills.

For this course, each session provides an amount of work approximating one week of high school coursework.

Thanks to technology, you'll be able to work together with your team members even if you're attending different sessions on different days.  Just keep the following in mind:

Naturally, life events do come up.  There will be field trips and doctor's appointments, and we'll work around those.  However, success in the course requires you to be present so you can work with your classmates and demonstrate your personal knowledge of the course materials.

Teaching Note: Attendance

YouthBuild's curriculum requires that most courses are somewhat asynchrononous — many YBMC students might miss meetings due to service activities, shifting vocational schedules, or issues outside school.

This attendance policy is not meant to penalize students who miss class due to legitimate conflicts — I'm certainly not going to roll someone back simply because of a couple doctor's appointments.

However, some students regularly miss school without a valid reason, and that simply won't work for a class with group projects.  The "rolling back" is to maintain course quality for those students who are putting in the time and effort to be present.

Plagiarism: Copying and ChatGPT Are Not Accepted

Every word you submit from this course must come from you and you alone — you may use a keyboard, voice-to-text, or handwritten materials that you upload to your project.

But you might be wondering, "why does it matter if it's my own work?  As long as I turn something in, isn't that what matters?"  Well, here's why it matters:

If I catch a student committing plagiarism, I will remove the student from the course.  All progress will be lost, and you'll be rolled back to restart the course with another group.

Here are examples of plagiarism that will result in a course restart:

Teaching Note: Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a major issue in today's digitally augmented classroom.  Copying someone else's works from outside sources is easier than ever, and it's important that students learn why it's important to use their own words in the classroom.

But simply teaching students why something is right or wrong isn't enough.  There need to be appropriate consequences for students who do copy outside work and turn it in as their own:

It's a difficult balance.  As an English teacher, I think that forcing a student to retake a course is a significant consequence.  At the very least, a plagiarized assigment must be redone to remove the plagiarized elements so that only the student's own writing remains.  In many cases I've seen, so much material is plagiarized that the student might not even know which parts are original and which are copied — and in cases like that, the student will likely need to start from scratch anyway.

Collaboration: Grading and Group Work

Why Does Group Work Matter?

People often say that "in the real world, you have to work with others."  This is true, but only to a degree — there are actually many jobs where you can work alone and earn a good living.  But the ability work in a group does have some practical benefits:

Grading, Assessment, and Group Projects

For this course, you'll be working together in a group to write a newsletter on the topic of your choice.   Now, we often see tension in group projects because not every student works at the same rate, but that's okay.  Here are some key things to bear in mind:

Healthy Collaboration: Working Together Through Thick and Thin

For this course, don't worry about what your classmates write — every student will be graded individually.  There is no curve, and there's no need to compete against anyone — the only challenge is to write better than you thought you could.

Working together on a single project can be challenging — that's why I require it.  Mistakes will happen, and I urge you to let me know in case any of your writing is missing.  If you accidentally delete someone else's work, we should be able to easily recover it — let me know immediately if that happens.

Bear in mind that you do not need to agree with your classmates on everything.  You don't even have to like your classmates.  Thanks to digital tools, you don't even have to be in the same room with them in order to work together.  Just be respectful and — if needed — bite your tongue.

Unhealthy Collaboration: Accidents Versus Sabotage

In the past, I've had a few students who've purposely rewritten materials that their classmates wrote because "it didn't sound right," or they've deleted paragraphs written by their classmates because "I didn't like it."

If your revise, rewrite, or purposely delete work by another student, you will be kicked out of the class, and your progress will be lost.  To earn your digital literacy credit, you'll have to start the class over with another section.  And yes, you do need the digital literacy credit to graduate high school in Illinois.

Teaching Note: Group Work

Here are some reasons why students hate group work:

So, how do we deal with this?