I have long been a fan of the elevator pitch. When I was president of the Kentucky Romance Writers we spent a lot of time discussing and crafting our pitches – for ourselves and our book projects – for our query letters and chance (or orchestrated) meetings with prospective agents and editors. I have also found that crafting an elevator pitch can be an useful writing prompt and personal exploration exercise. For several years I have used elevator pitches with my professional writing classes and more recently with the Morehead Writing Project’s Power Your Story journalism camp. The elevator pitch process we used with PYS was inspired by Liz Prather’s Project-Based Writing and I was determined to use this process with my students this semester. Then all of our teaching plans were derailed by COVID-19. How do you engage your students in an interactive elevator pitch process when you can’t meet in person and synchronous class meetings are problematic? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you, but first a brief introduction to the elevator pitch development process I used with my students. Note: All this work was supported by the magic of HyperDocs!
Preparation For The Pitch
In the weeks before the pitch, we first explored definitions and descriptions for arguments (and counterarguments) including this fun video and more serious readings from Writing Commons and the OWL at Purdue. Then we spent some serious time considering the various topics we had brainstormed while compiling a class reading list and interacting with those texts. My criteria for their argument topic was that it must be a social justice issue of global consequence (for example), but urged students to choose a topic of personal importance. Then students engaged in a research (and review) process that includes building conversation tables to present and discuss that research with their peers. Finally, students were given an introduction to elevator pitches that included some videos and reading. Keeping in mind the specific rhetorical context for our class and assignment, students were instructed to prepare a message that focused on the problem they had identified, the solution they wanted to explore through their argument, and the strengths that they personally brought to this examination. They were also instructed to keep their message as brief as possible – definitely under two minutes.
Delivering The Pitch
I contemplated a lot of options for delivering and responding to student pitches. Allowing the community a question-and-answer period after the pitch delivery is a key part of Prather’s method that I did not want to lose. Then, as is often the case, my PLN came through for me again and I decided to give FlipGrid a try. As my students were already using HyperDocs they all have Google accounts which made integrating FlipGrid very easy. We are in the midst of the process and so far I’m very impressed with the pitches they have crafted. I’m also impressed with how seriously they have taken the process (signaled in many ways from the care they take with their physical appearance and the location for their video). I also love that FlipGrid makes it very easy for students to question and respond to each other. It is not exactly the same give-and-take you see in a traditional question/answer session, but I think it is good facsimile and sometimes asynchronous responses are more thoughtful and thought-provoking than those made in real time. I don’t know how my students feel about it yet, but I also love seeing their faces and hearing their voices.
Students will wrap up the pitch process by summarizing the pitch and responses for one of their peers and then voting on whether the pitch should be approved, approved with reservations, or sent to me for review and coaching. Each student will summarize only one elevator pitch, but will need to vote on five. Then students will be ready to move on to preparing their argument essay drafts for our writing workshop.
Do you use elevator pitches with your students? I like how elevator pitches require students to focus on the core elements of their argument and think through both the problem and the solution involved as well as the personal contributions they can make to the conversation surrounding it. I want their arguments to be both personal and well grounded in facts and I think the elevator pitch process is an ideal crucible. My students are a mix of first-year college students and seniors in high school, but I think a version of this process could work well in middle and upper elementary school as well as high school and college.