If you want to get your students excited about writing, give them something to argue about, and make sure their informed opinions come from qualified sources. There are plenty of textbooks that attempt to introduce relevant topics from an academic point of view, but they generally are out-of-date by the time they come to print. I was a contributor to one such text, and today it sits on a shelf collecting dust.
Opposing Views: Issues, Experts, Answers is a web site that attempts to keep us all up-to-date on issues that matter to our lives:
Each section of www.opposingviews.com is a channel, including politics, society, health, money, and religion. Our point/counter-point format gives each expert a chance to state their information and opinions on an issue. Meanwhile, the other side objects by calling out the flaws in that information, and then states their own side. Opposing Views brings together the information on the issue, the evidence on each side and their counter-points.
One of my favorite teaching sections was working in tandem with a science teacher on the topic of using animals for medical research. The students loved debating and writing on this issue; there was great passion in their views, whether they supported medical research or animal support groups. My English class wrote an essay, while the science class responded to an essay question on a midterm exam about what they had learned. Together, the students from both classes explored the issue and collaborated with their findings for the debate and essay responses. I used the internet to find relevant articles, pro and con, but the opposing views site would have been most helpful, with its point-counterpoint arguments written by field experts, all in one place.
The diablog this week centers around cross-curricular collaboration, such as the English/science section on animal testing just discussed. JustRead has an excellent, detailed post on putting together an English/history collaborative effort, in preparation for Natural History Day.