Jim Burke

The Teacher’s Essential Guide Series
Content Area
Writing
How to:

Design Effective Writing Assignments

Teach Students Expository Writing

Assess and Respond to Student Writing
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
Series Editor: Lois Bridges
Development Editor: Dana Truby
Designer: Maria Lilja
Copy Editor: Chris Borris
Cover Photo: Bruce Forrester
Interior Photos: Noah Berger/AP and Jim Burke (where noted)
ISBN 13: 978-0-439-93447-3
ISBN 10: 0-439-93447-8
Scholastic Inc. grants teachers permission to photocopy the activity and stationery
pages from this book for classroom use only. No other part of this publication may
be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding
permission, write to Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
Copyright © 2009 by Jim Burke
All rights reserved. Published by Scholastic Inc.
Printed in the U.S.A.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 23 13 12 11 10 09 08
Dedication:
To America’s newest teachers
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
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Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Writing Instruction Self-Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
1. DesigningEffectiveWriting
Assignments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
2. Teaching StudentstoGenerateIdeas . . . . . . . . . 22
3. TeachingStudentstoWriteAnalytically . . . . . 36
4. TheDraftingandRevisionProcesses . . . . . . . . . 56
5. ThePolishingandPublishingProcesses . . . . . 87
6. AssessingStudentWriting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
Recommended Resources and Readings . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
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The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
. .......... . . . . . . . . . . 11 Bonus Chapter: Troubleshooting 3
4
Introduction
“Writing is the largest orchestra your brain
will ever have to conduct.”
—Mel Levine
W
riting is the most public performance of our
intelligence. Students who struggle with reading
can hide out, pretending they understand
something they never read or choosing simply not to
participate in the discussion of a text. Writing, however, is
present—in black and white—for all to see. And what we
see worries many in both education and business.
Approximately 50 percent of all entering freshmen fail
the English Placement Test at California State University
and end up in remedial writing courses. American
businesses pay out roughly two billion dollars a year for
remedial writing instruction for employees who lack the
skills needed to write reports that are both coherent and
correct. And even adults who don’t need remediation often
feel deep anxiety about formal writing.
With state exit exams and college placement tests such
as the new SAT, we teachers now face increased scrutiny
and pressure in the area of writing instruction. As Graham
and Perin, the authors of Writing Next, note, “Along
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with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of
academic success and a basic requirement for participation
in civic life and the global economy” (2007). Writing is, in
short, essential to students’ success in school, the workplace,
and society at large. This book offers specific strategies to
help us teach the skills and strategies students need if they
are to achieve such success.
There are numerous aspects of writing instruction that
intimidate teachers and often cause them to shy away from
requiring students to write as often as they should. Many cite
the time it takes not only to produce in-class writing but also
to grade it. Others lack a sense of how to teach writing. The
complexity of the writing process, which consists of both
cognitive and emotional
elements, can leave even the
strongest teachers feeling
ineffective, unsure of where
to begin or how to proceed.
Add to these anxieties the
range of academic abilities
represented in every class,
each student with his or her
own obstacles to becoming
an effective writer.
We need to know that there are techniques we can use
to improve student writing and strategies we can employ to
simply get them to write. This book focuses on both of these
aspects of writing— learning to write and writing to learn,
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for they each make different demands on both the student
and the teacher.
Students now enter a world that expects them to be
able to write many types of documents using a range of
media. They enter into an “attention economy” (Lanham
2006) in which their words and ideas must compete with
others’ if they are to succeed in delivering the intended
message. They must be able to craft their message in 3,000
words, 300, 30, or, in some cases, none, using instead
images and sound to say what words cannot capture. Such
textual intelligence (Burke 2001) is the hallmark of modern
literacy, which demands that students know how texts work
so they can produce and read them effectively. One cannot
develop such intelligence by osmosis; instead, it requires
deliberate instruction. Writing is often assigned, but if
students are to master this complex craft, it must be taught.
This book is here to help you do just that.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
Writing Instruction
Self-Assessment
For each of the items below, record an answer between 1 and 5.
1 Never 2 Rarely 3 Sometimes 4 Usually 5 Always
oI design effective writing assignments and prompts.
o My students have no trouble generating ideas and details
when writing.
o I teach my students to evaluate and analyze the effectiveness
of their ideas and details.
o I teach students how to draft and revise their papers.
o I teach students strategies to polish their papers and provide
opportunities for them to publish their papers.
o I effectively assess, respond to, and have students reflect
on their papers.
o I teach students strategies for writing on demand.
o I teach students the elements of effective writing.
o Our school incorporates writing across the curriculum.
o I employ and teach students how to use computers
and other technology to improve their writing.
o I have no trouble handling the paper load.
o I use a variety of strategies to support struggling writers
o I have no trouble with plagiarism in my class.
o I can effectively teach writing to large classes.
o I teach my students how to use writing to learn.
o My students are all motivated writers.
After completing this self-assessment, identify those areas
with most urgent need of attention and improvement. For each
statement to which your response was “never,” “rarely,” or
“sometimes,” go to the corresponding chapter and learn what you
can do to improve in that area.
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7
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
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1.
Designing Effective
Writing Assignments
What students are writing about invariably affects how well
they write. The assignment or prompt is the seed from which
the writing will grow, watered either by tears of frustration or
the sweat of inspired labor. Writing teacher Don Murray (2004)
divides assignments into two categories: open and closed. “The
closed assignment . . . has a clear educational purpose—the
teacher and the students know what the assignment intends to
teach” (94), while the “open” assignment “allows the student to
be an authority on the subject,” giving him or her the opportunity
to create a topic and write in whatever form and style he or
she choose. A closed assignment would be a traditional prompt
that lays out the specific demands for the writer, something like,
“Examine the effect of the Gold Rush on the culture of the West.”
The open assignment, however, would ask students to come up
with their own topic on the Gold Rush, allowing, for example,
the student with a passion for the environment to focus on the
effect of various mining techniques. As Murray himself concedes,
however, the open assignment is “more difficult when there is
GuidingPrinciples
• Makeclearthepurposeofthewritingassignment.
• Maketheassignmentmeaningfulandchallenging.
• Placeeachassignmentwithinthelargercontext
ofyourcurriculum.
• Aligneachassignmentwithyourstateanddistrict
standards.
• Conveyclearlythecriteriaforsuccessonan
assignment.
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content to the course. When writing
is taught as an adjunct to literature or
when writing is used to test a student’s
knowledge of a subject, then the open
assignment is more difficult” (99).
Let’s face it: In some cases, we
ourselves have no choice as to what
our students will write about on
exams for the state or the SAT. Such
institutional topics are inevitable
fixtures in today’s instructional
landscape. More often than not, they
illustrate one or more of the qualities
Edmund Farrell argues are not part of a
good assignment. Farrell (in Connors
& Glenn, 1999) says that
a good assignment does not:
• Lead to an unfocused or too-short answer, such as
“How do you feel about the ozone layer?”
• Pose too many questions in its attempt to elicit a
specific response
• Ask students for too personal an answer, such as
“Has there ever been a time in your life when you just
couldn’t go on?” or “What was the most exciting thing
that ever happened to you?”
What is common to all good writing assignments, according
to Farrell, is that they:
• Are meaningful to the students, though this does not
necessarily mean the assignments are personal
• Are authentic, providing some context for writing that
makes sense to the students; this does not mean they
must always write a useful document such as a letter or
an editorial, but it does mean that the writing should
serve a purpose the students recognize as real
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• Ask for writing about “specific and immediate
situations rather than abstract and theoretical ones”
• Suggest a single major question to which the thesis
statement of the essay is the answer
• Help students practice specific stylistic and
organizational skills
Here, then, are some guidelines for designing writing
assignments and prompts:
Makeclearthepurpose
ofthewritingassignment.
When you have students write, no doubt you do so with a specific
purpose in mind. A social studies teacher might want them to
show how one event led to another, or to contrast two cultures,
leaders, or periods. For English teachers, writing assignments often
involve responding to or interpreting other texts, though if you
are teaching composition, the assignment might well call for a
persuasive essay as part of a larger unit on argument. Whatever
the subject, a good assignment requires clearly stated outcomes,
all of which should be written out (instead of spoken or jotted
down on the board). Here are some suggestions to keep in mind
when designing an assignment:
Determine and clearly state the purpose of the
assignment. Will students: analyze, compare/contrast,
define, describe, evaluate, persuade, explain, and/or
summarize? Take time to have students underline and
discuss these words and their implications for writing.
Focus on just one or a few of these skills with each
assignment.
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Specify the requirements of the assignment in writing.
These might include all or some of the following:
• Genre (e.g., essay, letter, opinion piece)
• Length
• Deadline
• Documentation (e.g., works cited, bibliography)
• Steps (e.g., brainstorm ideas, outline, draft)
• Assessment criteria
• Introduction
• Directions
• Standards addressed by this assignment
• Requirements (e.g., number of texts they must refer
to in their research paper, amount of data they must
include in their analysis)
Identifying the standards for any given assignment is,
in some districts, a requirement; for others, it is simply
a useful part of the planning process, one that assures you
are teaching your students the lessons the state expects
them to learn.
Take time to discuss the assignment with your
students, going over key words that signal which
strategy to use (e.g., analyze, define, persuade, contrast).
In addition to taking time to discuss the assignment, be
sure they know what they must do and what a successful
performance on this assignment will look like.
Here is a sample assignment, one I created for my freshman
class at the end of a unit on our relationship with the natural world.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
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OurRelationshipWiththeNaturalWorld
WritingAssignment
Standards
This assignment addresses California Language Arts
standard 2.3: Write expository compositions that marshal
evidence in support of a thesis and related claims, including
information on all relevant perspectives, and convey
information and ideas from primary and secondary sources
accurately and coherently.
Topic
Compare and contrast the different types of relationships
humans have with the natural world. Include examples
from your own experience and the different texts we have
read or viewed. After comparing and contrasting, make a
claim about what you feel are our rights and responsibilities
toward the natural world in general. Provide reasons and
evidence to support your claim.
Requirements
2- to 3-page typed paper, double-spaced, with appropriate
headings and bibliography. Must include examples and
quotations from at least three texts
Deadline and Evaluation
Rough draft is due Wednesday; final draft is due the
following Wednesday. Your paper will be evaluated according
to the criteria outlined on the attached rubric.
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Maketheassignmentmeaningful
andchallenging.
While common sense suggests that assignments related to students’
interests would inspire hard work and better writing, this is not
always the case. In recent years I have seen the following topics
on district writing assessments, no doubt selected because of their
connection to students’ interests:
• Write a letter to the principal explaining why students
should or should not be allowed to have cell phones at
school.
• Write an essay in which you argue for or against
school uniforms.
• Write an essay for or against video games, explaining
why you think they are or are not beneficial to those
who play them.
Clearly these topics relate to and interest kids. Yet as
someone who had to sit all day in a cold room with other teachers
and read these essays, I found the topics resulted in writing that
tended toward ranting as opposed to effective argument. The fact
that the essays, despite all the emphasis on their importance, had
no consequence and received no grade further undermined any
investment in the writing. What should we do, then, to ensure
that our students are motivated and able to write well on our
assignments? Following are some suggestions:
Consider all the possible forms that might be
appropriate for this writing assignment. Options
might include essays, letters, op-eds, narratives, Web
sites, speeches, summaries, and research papers. Other
possibilities exist, of course, but as our focus here is
academic writing, we will not examine those.
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Ensure the assignment is meaningful by connecting
it to students’ experience. This does not necessarily
imply the assignment has to delve into students’ personal
lives, but it does recognize that students have a limited
range of experiences to draw on based on their age and
circumstances. Often we assume they have learned
about subjects or had experiences they have not and
are thus not prepared to write about. The social studies
teacher can surely ask students to write about a particular
invention from the Industrial Age that revolutionized
the world but may engage her students and get better
writing (and thinking) if she asks them to compare that
Industrial Age invention with one from the present and
then to explain how the modern invention will have a
similar effect on the economy, culture, or people.
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Look for or create authentic opportunities to write
for purposes that motivate students. My students, over
the years, have written biographies of centenarians for a
local hospital, letters to officials, and speeches that they
later delivered before audiences made up not only of
classmates but the mayor, superintendent, and other local
leaders. They cannot always be writing for real audiences
like these, but when they can, they should. After I took
my freshmen to visit the University of California at
Berkeley, for example, they wrote formal letters in which
they reflected on what they learned, discussed what
impressed them, and thanked the program director for
arranging the visit. These letters, which we sent, were
later used by the program director to show the value
of her program and ensure its continued funding.
Make room for students’ own voices in the
assignments whenever possible. They understand
that you have to teach them certain academic forms,
but this does not necessarily mean they cannot write in
ways that express their own ideas. Regardless of what
subject you teach, think of the great writers in your
field and the distinct voices they bring to their writing:
E. O. Wilson (science), Garry Wills (politics), David
McCullough (history), Keith Devlin (math), and many
others, of course. Making room for students’ own voices
means making room for them in the assignment, and this
increases the likelihood of greater engagement.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
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Placeeachassignmentwithin
thelargercontextofyourcurriculum.
Each assignment is, or should be, part of a larger sequence
appropriate to your subject. Such sequencing is crucial, as some
assignments demand much more than others. An assignment
should require skills students already have or those you will be
able to effectively teach within the context of that assignment.
The following are a few recommendations to follow when
planning a sequence or creating an assignment:
Consider the cognitive demands of each assignment
in light of the overall goals of your course. We
traditionally divide writing into four modes: narration,
description, exposition, and argumentation, often
assigning them to different grade levels, though, in truth,
students should be working in these different modes
constantly. The first two, narration and description,
tend to be easier for students because these modes are
based on more concrete material: events they personally
experienced or things they have observed and can
describe. As assignments become more abstract, they
often become more difficult to write about.
Arrange assignments in order of difficulty, using each
assignment to teach those skills that will prepare them
for the next. Teaching students how to summarize on one
assignment will give them the skills they need when asked
later to insert quotations and summaries of other sources
as part of a larger paper with a more challenging goal.
Embed within each assignment those smaller but
no less important skills your students need to
achieve the course objectives. Good writing assignments
inevitably integrate within them a series of smaller
writing opportunities, each of which allows you to teach
such skills as summarizing, taking notes, responding to
an idea, and paraphrasing another’s argument as you
formulate your own.
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Keep in mind the important connection between
writing, reading, and speaking, all three of which
complement one other. Each writing assignment
provides rich opportunities to focus on these other areas
throughout the assignment. Rarely will any instructional
sequence allow you to focus on only one of these three
fundamental literacies, so the instructional sequence
must ensure that students are taught the necessary skills
at each step.
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Aligneachassignmentwith
yourstateanddistrictstandards.
Almost every state in the country has adopted standards for
just about every subject area. Most, if not all, of those standards
include requirements for writing appropriate to that subject area.
Some districts have adapted the state standards to their own
local needs, culling out and emphasizing what are often called
“power standards.” Such power standards are those standards the
department emphasizes but which are still part of the required
state framework. Here are a few representative examples:
Physical Science: Interpret, display, analyze, and draw
conclusions from the results of a scientific investigation.
English/Language Arts: Compose a written message/
statement utilizing the correct format to focus writing for
audience and purpose.
Social Studies: Compare and contrast different cultures
in terms of family, social class, religion, education, arts,
and other aspects of daily life.
Here are a few strategies to use when designing your own
assignments:
• Consult your state and district standards to identify
those standards which are a natural part of the
assignment you are creating. Include the standards on
your assignment handout to identify to your students
those goals central to the assignment. You do not have
to list them all, nor must you use the bureaucratic
language of the state. Notice that on my sample
assignment on page 12, I list only one standard and,
because they form a useful checklist, the subpoints,
as well.
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• Use the academic language appropriate to these
standards to ensure that students learn it. In my
freshman English class, for example, we take time
to study the specific terms of argument (e.g., claim,
reason, evidence, rebuttal) as we learn and practice
them within the larger context of an assignment that
calls for them to write an op-ed piece for or against the
existence of zoos in the wake of a recent occurrence in
which a tiger escaped from its enclosure.
• Integrate the standards into your assessment criteria.
One measure of your instructional effectiveness
should be that students have made progress toward or
mastered the standard.
Conveyclearlythecriteriaforsuccess
onanassignment.
As you begin to design assignments, you must always have the
end result in mind. Know what the criteria are by which you will
measure it. Such criteria also help to anchor your instruction and
direct your use of class time: Is this activity or lesson related to
the goal? Will it lead the students to success on this assignment?
If not, rethink your assignment.
Ericka Lindemann’s (2001) “Heuristic for Designing Writing
Assignments” is very helpful for determining appropriate criteria.
Lindemann recommends asking yourself the following questions
as you plan.
1. What do I want the students to do? Is it worth doing?
Why? What will the assignment tell me about what
they’ve learned? How does it fit my objectives at this
point in the course? Does the assignment assess what
students can do or what they know? Am I relating their
work to the real world (including academic settings)
or only to my class? Does the assignment require
specialized knowledge? Does it appeal to the interests
and experiences of my students?
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2. How do I want them to do the assignment? Are
students working alone or together? In what ways will
they practice prewriting, writing, and rewriting? Are
writing, reading, speaking, and listening reinforcing
one another? Have I given students enough
information to make effective choices about the
subject, purpose, form, and mode?
3. For whom are students writing? Who is the
audience? Do students have enough information
to assume a role with respect to the audience? Is the
role meaningful?
4. When will students do the assignment? How does
the assignment relate to what comes before and after
it in the course? How much time in and outside of
class will students need for prewriting, writing, and
rewriting? To what extent will I guide the students’
work? What kinds of help can students constructively
offer one another? What deadlines do I want to set
for collecting the students’ papers (or various stages
of the project)?
5. What will I do with the assignment? How will I
evaluate the work? What constitutes a “successful”
response to the assignment? Will other students or
the writer have a say in evaluating the paper? What
problems did I encounter when I responded to this
assignment? How can I improve the assignment? (221)
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The following suggestions offer some ideas about how
to establish and communicate the criteria for a successful
performance on any given writing assignment:
• Clearly list the criteria for success on the handout and
clarify these criteria, explaining the terms as you go.
• Provide examples from the textbook or past student
papers to show students what a successful performance
looks like on this assignment. If, for example, one
requirement is a clear and compelling claim, provide
students with samples to illustrate what such a claim
looks like.
• Revisit the criteria throughout the writing process.
Make each criterion the focus of a mini-lesson to help
students keep it fresh in their minds.
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2.
Teaching Students
to Generate Ideas
All students occasionally struggle to get started on a writing
assignment. Some struggle continuously. They may not engage
with the assignment or it might ask them to write on a subject
about which they know nothing. Or they may simply struggle,
as John Steinbeck often did, to discover what to say and how to
say it: “It is strange how this goes on. The struggle to get started.
Terrible. It always happens. I am afraid.” Here Steinbeck recognizes
what studies consistently emphasize: the internal obstacles to
writing. Mark Twain compared writing to sending a bucket down
into the well. When the bucket came up empty he knew it was
time to get out into the world, usually by traveling on a steamboat
down the Mississippi, to replenish his supply of stories. You can’t
take your students down the Mississippi, but you can use the same
strategies writers have developed over the years. And you can
provide the supportive environment needed to take the risks and
explore the possibilities that good writing requires.
Mel Levine (2003) confronts the difficulty some students have
with getting what is inside of them out onto the page, calling it
the “myth of laziness.” Levine redefines this problem as “output
failure,” something most students experience.
In my AP English Literature class, for example, all students
feel overwhelmed by the challenge of writing about Hamlet,
lacking the strategies they need to generate more complex ideas
and find textual evidence to support those arguments; however,
in my English class, these less experienced writers, many of whom
have identified learning difficulties, lack more fundamental
strategies for writing even about more familiar, concrete subjects,
such as their own experiences. These troubles have greater
consequences than in the past due to increased pressure from state
tests, which now include writing assessments about typically dull
topics students must discuss in a thoughtful essay written in 20
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minutes, often incorporating
details from an accompanying
expository article they must
first read.
Generating ideas is a
little like making sausage: It’s
a messy process that requires
you to grind ideas to make
the final product palatable.
Inexperienced writers often
neglect this important stage,
throwing down whatever
comes to mind to get the
assignment over with, while
more experienced and
advanced writers spend as
much as half their writing time
actually thinking, grappling
with ideas, organizing
structures, arguments, and
details for the assignment they must write. If students are to
become consistently effective writers, however, they must learn
a range of strategies they can use to generate such material,
especially when they struggle to get anything out at all. This
chapter offers you specific techniques you can teach students so
they can get their great ideas out of their head and onto the page.
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GuidingPrinciples
• Havestudentsreadtolearnnewideasabout
thesubject.
• Havestudentswritetodiscoverwhattheyknow
andneedtolearnabouttheirtopic.
• Talkthroughtheprewritingprocesstogenerate
andelaborateonideas.
• Askquestionstocreatenewassociationsand
deepeninitialthinking.
• Observemodels,procedures,productions,
andperformances.
• Havestudentsusegraphicorganizerstostimulate
ideasandmakeconnections.
• Providecriticalthinkingstrategiestohelpstudents
articulateideas.
Havestudentsreadtolearnnewideas
aboutthesubject.
Ask students to read a particular text with the purpose in
mind of generating ideas for the paper they must write. If, for
example, you want students to write a paper on the connection
between food and health, have students read a range of texts,
taking notes as they read newspaper articles and textbooks and
view documentaries and Web sites. In such cases, students are
using these texts not to study but to gather information about
the subject. To get ideas for this chapter, for example, I read
many books and articles on the writing process, taking notes as
I read, just as in my English class students read sample personal
narratives to give them ideas—about style and content—for the
narratives they will write themselves.
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Havestudentswritetodiscoverwhatthey
knowandneedtolearnabouttheirtopic.
Writing to think or gather ideas can take several forms. Teach
all these different techniques, allowing individual students
eventually to choose which strategy works best for their thinking
style. Free writing involves writing nonstop about the subject for
a specified period of time and then sifting through that material
for key ideas and interesting connections. Journaling, while
similar to free writing, asks students to write informally about
ideas or questions you provide, all of which are chosen for their
ability to stimulate thinking related to the assignment. Other
techniques include taking notes while reading or listening, listing
ideas and possible titles, brainstorming and clustering ideas for
a more visual way of generating ideas, and making connections
before and during writing. In truth, I often use several of these
approaches, beginning perhaps by asking students to write a list
of associations, statements, titles, whatever ideas come to mind.
Once they have generated some rough material, I will ask them
to choose one idea from their list and then do a free write in
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their notebooks for five or 10 minutes, after which I might, time
allowing, ask them to reread what they wrote and underline those
few ideas that rise to the top and show some potential. My next
step might be to send them home with those ideas to do some
more generative reading (or rereading) of relevant texts, and write
a very sketchy outline for the next day.
Talkthroughtheprewritingprocess
togenerateandelaborateonideas.
Discussion is inherently generative, especially when combined
with other strategies such as asking questions, observing, or
reading. It is often useful to have students talk about the
assignment and what they might say about it, taking notes as
they do. For example, if I have students use a graphic organizer
to generate ideas for their paper, I will usually have them work
together to complete it, discussing their ideas as they work; or
if they complete it on their own, I might then have them use
that organizer as the basis for a discussion, the purpose of which
is to add more details to and refine their own ideas on the topic
at hand. Also, if students read a text or observe something (e.g.,
a video, a process, a performance), I will have them discuss it
and ask them, during this conversation, to take notes on the key
elements that they might use in the paper they need to write. In
my freshman English class, for example, students were writing an
essay on Odysseus’s journey. To prepare them, we first discussed
what the elements of a journey were by using a clip from The Lord
of the Rings, which I repeatedly interrupted, asking them to turn
to a partner and analyze the film. After further discussion, they
had a working model of the journey cycle they could use for their
paper. Throughout the writing process, of course, they continued
to discuss how each step of the cycle applied to The Odyssey.
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Askquestionstocreatenewassociations
anddeepeninitialthinking.
Questions are the most important tools the writer has. When we
write, there is always a question at the heart of the work, one
we are trying to answer. I often begin an assignment by asking
the class, “What are the questions we should ask to help us
think about this
topic?” For many
students this is a
new experience
and they can find
it difficult, wanting
the teacher to
“just give the
answers.” Yet few
strategies help more
than learning to
ask questions to
stimulate thinking
and evaluate the
importance of what they have begun to gather. While this is a
helpful beginning, other questions such as these have traditionally
helped writers:
The Reporter’s Questions: Who, what, where, when,
why, how—and “So what?”
Classical Topics: What is it? (Definition) What is it
like? (Analogy) What is the consequence? (Cause-Effect)
What do the experts say? (Testimony)
Four Core Questions: What goes with what?
(Association) What opposes/resists what? (Opposition)
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What follows what? (Progression) What changes into
what? (Transformation)
Analytical Questions: What is it made of? What type is
it? What is the relationship between x and y? How are a
and b similar and different?
These are familiar and proven question sets, but each topic
tends to suggest its own questions, those that will help unlock the
ideas and potential within both the writer and the topic itself. In
my freshman English class, my students write about a person who
was an “ally” during a difficult or important phase of their lives.
I give students three questions to help them generate and organize
their ideas:
Problem: What was the problem or difficult experience
this person helped you get through?
Solution: How did they help you get through this
experience?
Consequences: What effect did this person’s actions
have on you after it was over?
Before students use these questions for their own writing,
they use them as reading tools as they analyze several models
I have them read and annotate, labeling specific passages with
these terms.
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Observemodels,procedures,productions,
andperformances.
Whether a movie or a science experiment, visual media can
help make the abstract more concrete. Sarah Galvin, who
teaches freshman English, showed a student-made documentary
from YouTube.com on the Little Rock Nine as part of a unit on
equality and inequality in communities. Instead of just having
them passively watch, however, she gave them a graphic organizer,
which they used to identify key details and then sort them into
four categories. Next, Ms. Galvin extended these categories
to connect this material to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, thus
allowing the students to generate a much more analytical reading
of the story. A graphic organizer (see page 32) then served as the
basis for the writing assignment, providing structure and support
for the class discussion and writing that followed.
This last point is important: Observation should involve
other generative strategies—discussion, writing, taking notes,
reading—to complete the generative transaction and thus prepare
the student for the writing assignment. Observing can also
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include examining models of the assignment. Whenever possible I
give the class an example of the kind of writing that I want them
to do, presenting it on the overhead and giving them a copy to
annotate. We think aloud about what the text does that makes
it effective. These observations often suggest an organizational
structure to the student. For example, observing a scientific
procedure, a student may realize it has a cause-effect pattern or a
chronological one. Such patterns are themselves useful generative
techniques as the students begin to think about, “Okay, what
should go first? And now second? And so on.”
Havestudentsusegraphicorganizersto
stimulateideasandmakeconnections.
Graphic organizers offer powerful support for writers of all levels,
providing a structure that helps students not only generate ideas
but also identify connections between those ideas. I use them
most often to help students in the initial phase of the writing
process. The first step is to ask what kind of thinking you want
the students to do and which tool might best support their efforts.
A simple target, for example, can get students thinking about a
topic. Write the topic (e.g., Industrial Age Inventions) in the
center and then have eight different major discoveries in the
inner circle. Students can then elaborate on each discovery in
the spaces on the outer circle. This prewriting strategy lends
itself to collaboration by allowing students to compare their
results in small-group discussions, or you can use a whiteboard
or transparency as a means of facilitating a full-class discussion.
Use graphic organizers as a tool to generate and refine ideas, or
pose questions.
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Graphic organizers are useful when students read. A good
graphic organizer helps students to sort their ideas and thoughts
into creative material for subsequent writing assignments. Again,
the key step is to ask what kind of thinking you want students to
do and help them choose the tools that will facilitate such analysis.
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In my freshman English class, I asked students to read a
collection of stories and essays that explored the essential question,
“What does it take to be a survivor?” I created Survival Notes for
them to use while reading. We used the graphic organizer as a basis
for group and class discussions, all of which prepared them to write
an essay on the traits of survivors.
SurvivalNotes
The character
survives by being. . .
For example, he. . . This helps him
survive because. . .
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Providecriticalthinkingstrategiestohelp
studentsfindandarticulatewritingideas.
Often, students need structural support to generate and
communicate their ideas. The language of critical analysis is
difficult to acquire for some students, especially when they are
reading texts that are new and difficult for them to understand.
Creating lists on the board or posters on the wall with strategic
sentence starters can help students begin the process of
developing their initial ideas into language they can refine as they
move through the writing process.
SentenceStructures:HelpingStudentsDiscuss,
ReadandWriteAboutTexts
SENTENCESTARTERS
Making Predictions
I predict that. . .
If x happens, then. . .
Because x did y, I expect z.
Making Connections
X reminds me of. . .
X is similar to y because. . .
X is important to y because. . .
Summarizing
The main idea is. . .
The author argues that. . .
In __________, (author’s name) implies. . .
Synthesizing
These elements/details, when considered together,
suggest. . .
Initial impressions suggested x, but after learning _____ it is
now clear that. . .
It is not a question of x but rather of y because. . .
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SENTENCEFRAMES
Responding
X claims _____ which I agree/disagree with because. . .
X’s point assumes y, which I would argue means. . .
While I agree that_______, you could also say. . .
Agreeing
Most will agree that. . .
I agree with those who suggest that. . .
X offers an effective explanation of why y happens,
which is especially useful because most think that. . .
Disagreeing
I would challenge x’s point about y, arguing instead. . .
X claims y, but recent discoveries show this is. . .
While x suggests y, this cannot be true since. . .
Arguing
Although x is increasing/decreasing, it is not y but z that is
the cause. . .
While x is true, I would argue y because of z.
X was, in the past, the most important factor, but y has
changed, making it the real cause.
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A related approach is to give students strong statements on
the board, overhead, or a handout—to respond to, in order to
start the fire of discussion, such as:
• Video games are not a waste of time but a way of
improving your mind. (English)
• We are all Hamlet. (Literature)
• The Great Depression was not a curse but, ultimately,
a blessing. (Social Studies)
• Junk food should be outlawed in schools. (Health)
In response to such statements, students might choose from a
list of sentence starters such as these:
• I agree that ____________ but not that ____________
because . . .
• X is true because . . .
• Some people think ____________ about x, but
I/others say ____________ because . . .
No one prewriting method is perfect for all students. Instead,
consider each strategy in light of your students’ learning style
and your specific assignments. At the heart of these suggestions,
however, is the idea that writing requires not only a culture of
support and inquiry but also the time and encouragement to fully
engage in that inquiry. I am reminded of a cartoon I saw some
years ago: A man reclines in a cabana on the beach, staring off
through the window while a sign on the door warns: “Do Not
Disturb—Writer at Work.” We may not be able to provide the
cabana or the beach, but we can—and should—provide students
the time and opportunity writers need to think before they
write. Given the different schedules all teachers have and the
competing demands we struggle to meet in a given semester, it’s
hard to say what is enough time, but we should not expect good
or engaged writing if we rush to get it done, making what should
be a meaningful learning experience simply another assignment to
check off as completed.
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3.
Teaching Students
to Write Analytically
When students have finished all that gathering and generating,
they have little more than a big pan full of mud that may or may
not have nuggets of gold hidden in it. To find the treasure, they
need to analyze what they have discovered and determine how
it fits in with their topic and writing task. How long this process
takes depends, of course, on the time students have: If it’s a timed
writing, such as a state exam, they might have 30 minutes to
generate, evaluate, analyze—and write! If, on the other hand,
they are writing a process or research paper, they have more time
for this stage.
Students must determine which of these details are relevant
and most effective as they move from concrete, familiar writing
territory (e.g., description, personal narrative) to more abstract,
complex assignments (e.g., compare and contrast a and b, or use
your data to explain how x causes y and discuss the implications).
This stage is crucial to an insightful, effective piece of writing,
for it is here that the writer begins to weave all these ideas
together prior to actually putting them into paragraphs of what
will become the paper they must write. Here, the writer makes
important decisions such as what her subject will be and what she
will try to say about it, what form all this should take, and which
details are most important to her purpose or the argument she will
develop about this subject.
Though there are many complex stages to this process of
evaluation and analysis, teaching your students a few key principles
can help them to steer their way through the writing maze.
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GuidingPrinciples
• Helpstudentsbreakdownthewritingtask.
• Helpstudentsdevelopafocusforanalysis.
• Teachstudentshowtochoosetheevidence
orexamplesthatsuittheirwritingpurpose.
• Teachstudentshowtoorganizetheirideasprior
towriting.
• Showstudentshowtosynthesizetheirideas
andplansastheybegintowrite.
Helpstudentsbreakdownthewritingtask.
Writing prompts come in all shapes and sizes, some clearer and
more interesting than others. While you might create thoughtful,
engaging writing assignments for them, your students are still
likely to encounter vague or bland topics on standardized writing
tests. If you teach your students how to approach any writing
task, they are likely to be more successful and write with greater
insight. Of course, you may choose not to give prompts, but
instead simply offer topics with a loose set of constraints. Such an
assignment might ask students to “write about how the character
changes over the course of the story,” or “compare a society from
the past with one from the present and explain how they are
similar.” What’s important is that students learn how to attack
writing prompts and compose an effective response.
• Identify the key words in the prompt. Focus on the
verbs that say what you must do and the nouns that
spell out what your essay must include. Here is a sample
prompt from a Modern World History class; note the
verbs and nouns which have been singled out:
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Write an essay in which you identify one key discovery from
the Industrial Revolution and formulate an argument about
its importance. In this essay, describe the invention and
explain how it benefited society not only then but continues
to help us today. Include in your essay relevant examples
that support and illustrate your assertion.
• Deconstruct the prompt with the class. Ask your
students to underline the key words. Then, walk
through the assignment line by line and ask students
to share what they’ve noticed. Discuss key points as you
go. Be sure to remind them to underline such key words
in all writing prompts, especially timed essay exams.
• Teach students to evaluate all their possible options.
Push them to find several ways they could respond to
this topic from the generative stage, and choose the
one that is most compelling.
• Ask students to determine which ideas, evidence, or
other details they have so far that are appropriate and
valuable to this prompt.
• Show students how to turn a writing assignment into a
checklist of what the writer must do in his or her essay.
This is useful on any writing assignment but especially
so on a timed writing test. Failing to fully answer the
prompt is consistently cited as one of the main reasons
for a lowered score on the Advanced Placement
English and state writing exams.
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AssessmentVocabulary
(Adapted from Kate Kinsella’s Common Academic Writing Tasks)
Analyze Break the subject (an object, event, or concept)
down into parts, and explain the various parts.
Critique Point out both the good and bad points of
something.
Define Give an accurate meaning of a term with
enough detail to show that you really
understand it.
Describe Write about the subject so that the reader
can easily visualize it; tell how it looks or
happened, including how, who, where, why.
Evaluate Give your opinion of the value of the subject;
discuss its good and bad points, strengths and
weaknesses.
Explain Give the meaning of something; give facts and
details that make the idea easy to understand.
Interpret Explain the meaning of a reading selection;
discuss the results or the effects of something.
Persuade Give reasons in order to get someone to do
or believe something; appeal to the reader’s
feelings and mind.
Respond State your overall reaction to the content, then
support your individual opinions with specific
reasons and examples, making sure to refer
back to the reading.
Summarize Briefly cover the main points; use a paragraph
form and don’t include any personal opinions
about the content.
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Helpstudentsdevelopafocusforanalysis.
Your goal at this stage is to help students learn how to bring their
subject into focus, as a photographer brings an image into focus
with the lens. Murray (2003) calls this the “focal point,” saying
that when the writer finds this point it “energizes” the writing by, in
part, showing how all the ideas and the topic can be tied together.
I ask writers to think about the focus of their paper as the
spine that runs through its body. To help them further refine their
focus into a a thesis statement, we use these strategies:
• State the problem embedded in the text of the writing
assignment. For example, when my freshmen wrote
about their “allies,” those who had helped them
through a difficult time, I asked them to state the
problem and explain briefly how this person helped
them solve it. This was not meant to be a rough draft
but merely a quick effort to move them closer to a
main idea about their subject. One student wrote, “My
problem was that my grades were going down and I
needed discipline. My uncle helped me by giving me
focus = the subject + the main idea
about that subject. Everything should work
to establish, maintain, and develop the
focus of the sentence, paragraph, or paper.
purpose
Everything is chosen
and arranged to
achieve this end.
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discipline and making me do all my homework and
reading. He was also there to guide me when we had
just moved to the United States.”
Have students ask themselves:
• Do I have enough specific, accurate INFORMATION to
build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
• Does the information focus on a single, significant
MEANING?
• Do I see an ORDER in the material that will deliver the
information to readers when they need it?
• Do I know readers who NEED the information I have to
give them?
• Do I hear a VOICE that is strong enough to speak directly
to the reader? (57)
Adapted from Donald Murray (2004).
These questions can be rephrased for younger students or
used singly. The point is to develop in your students the ability
to evaluate the value of their material, the viability of their ideas,
and their readiness to begin actually writing.
• Post useful questions on the board or on a poster for
easy reference. Young writers must learn to internalize
these questions as part of their own individual
composing process, making them habits of mind.
• What is the subject of my paper?
• What is the point or argument about this subject?
• Who is the audience for this paper?
• Why is my argument important? (or, So what? and
Who cares?)
• What details are most relevant and compelling to
my main idea?
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• What is my attitude toward this subject?
• What does the reader already know or feel about
this subject?
• What do I want readers to know, understand,
or do when they finish reading my paper?
• What genre or form is most appropriate for this
topic?
• What does the prompt say I must do or include?
• What are the criteria on which this paper will
be assessed?
• Use a graphic organizer to discover or refine the focus of
the paper at right. An organizer like the Conversational
Roundtable asks students to place a subject or main idea
at the center and then begin analyzing which category
each detail might be sorted into, while also determining,
informally at this point, how they relate to the main idea.
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ConversationalRoundtable
Topic _____________________________________________
Suggestions for use: Ask yourself what is the focus of your
paper, discussion, or inquiry. Is it a character, a theme, an
idea, a country, a trend, or a place? Then examine it from four
different perspectives or identify four different aspects of the
topic. Once you have identified the four areas, find and list any
appropriate quotations, examples, evidence, or details.
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• Have students shape it into a working thesis. Students
must transform an idea into a topic and, finally, into
a thesis their paper will explore, explain, or persuade
the reader to accept as a reasonable argument based
on the evidence they provide. A topic would be,
for example, the invention of the automobile, the
importance of sleep in adolescent development, or
the use of language in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
As Booth, Colomb, and Williams (2003) suggest, “a
topic is usually too broad if you can state it in four or
five words” (43). Such broad topics not only make it
difficult to achieve a coherent focus throughout the
paper but overwhelm the writer who must gather the
details and evidence to write about such a large topic.
Put the general topic on the board and ask students
to practice revising it into a more focused version.
For example, “the invention of the automobile”
could become, “the impact of the invention of the
automobile on American culture.” The challenge now
is to take this emerging topic and shape it into an
argument that is neither too broad nor too narrow and
which the students have the evidence to support. On
the board, I then take the topic and work with them
to transform it into a working claim. First, I have them
write their own claim based on the more refined topic,
and then we discuss what they come up with. I often
write some of theirs on the board, then revise one or
two of these into a stronger version. Thus we have a
three-step strategy for developing a working thesis:
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Step 1: Generate topic
Example: The invention of the automobile
Step 2: Refine topic
Example: The impact of the invention of the
automobile on American culture
Step 3: Change topic into a working thesis
Example: With the possible exception of the personal
computer, no other invention has transformed
American culture as the automobile has.
I should add, returning to an earlier strategy, that writers can
easily turn this thesis into a question they can use to evaluate
and guide them along the focus line to their stated purpose.
Here, for example, is a set of questions I put up on the overhead
and used to help my seniors refine and revise their focus on a
paper about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as they were trapped at
rather obvious, surface-level thinking. I put it on the overhead,
uncovering it step by step as I had them answer the same
questions about their own essays, which we then discussed.
Refining and Revising Your Essay’s Focus
1. What is the subject of your paper?
2. What is the question your paper is trying to answer?
3. On a scale of 1-10, how important is this question?
4. Why is this question important? That is: So what? (Revise
your question to be more meaningful.)
5. What is your new claim?
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Asking students to reflect on their writing process offers clues
into kids’ writing experience and, at the same time, what works to
keep them writing. One of my students writes:
The process by which I wrote this paper was just
continual rumination and revision of different ideas.
I have found that I am a lot better off and that the
writing comes more easily if I choose a topic that
actually interests me. In delving deeper into the essay,
I realized that asking the question, “So what?” works
wonders, although I could probably have asked it even
more often while writing this essay.
Teachstudentshowtochoosetheevidence
orexamplesthatsuittheirwritingpurpose.
Once students have this working focus line to follow, they must
return to what they generated and begin evaluating the capacity
of the details to help them prove their point. In some cases,
students will first need to do more research into their topic, using
the strategies outlined in the previous chapter, now that they
know the point they are trying to make. To return to a previous
example, students in my class had to write about an ally of theirs.
After first generating a list of all the people they considered allies,
students had to choose one to focus on; one of my freshmen,
Sonia, chose the mother of her childhood friend who helped
her through a difficult period. Sonia stated the problem as “not
having a stable home and not seeing my mom and dad a lot. They
were always working and going through a divorce.” In response to
the question, “How did this person help you solve the problem,”
Sonia wrote, “This person helped me solve it by letting me go to
her house and she would take care of me. I could sleep over at
her house and I would be welcome. She had a safe environment
for me.” By framing the topic as a problem, Sonia creates a useful
means of deciding which of the details she generated are useful
for her essay. I had students use the Narrative Notes organizer to
first generate more details (in the Notes column) and then move
toward some initial organization to the paper in preparation for
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writing a draft. Other strategies, such as the rhetorical modes
listed below, help students to further refine their focus even as
they are choosing the details and evidence for their essay before
or as they begin to write.
NarrativeNotes
Focus: Nariman & Nadia
Second Mom
Sister I never had
Taught me a lot
Took care of me from when I was 6 months until 11 years old
Went to my birthday parties
Had four kids
Beginning
Met through a friend
Went to her house almost everyday
Her daughter Nadia was a few years older than me
Middle
Taught me how to tie my shoes and other life skills
Played with Nadia every time I was at Nariman’s
Great family
End
Still keep in touch
Five kids now
Miss them a lot
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Sonia’s example suggests the following strategies are useful for
this stage of the process:
• Ask students to restate or consider their topic as
a problem instead of a thesis. Using the earlier
example about automobiles, I might come up with
the problem of transporting people and products in a
timely manner. By recasting my thesis as a problem,
I can examine it from different sides and choose the
examples, details, quotations, evidence, and data
that will help me do that. Dombek and Herndon
(2004) suggest asking students to write a letter to a
friend or family member about a problem they have
not been able to solve. In the letter, which can be
written at several different points during the process,
students should try to get the other person to see
there is a problem and to consider it from the writer’s
perspective, offering a range of ways to address or
resolve it. This kind of embedded exercise allows
teachers to focus on the thinking writers must learn to
do if their writing is to be clear and effective.
• Ask the students to select the details, examples, and
quotations based on their ability to add substance to
their paper. Many writers, especially those writing five-
paragraph essays, choose examples that are all of one
type and rarely advance the topic or ask the reader
(or writer, for that matter) to consider the topic from
other sides. Thus your students should choose—and
do some more generating if necessary—examples
and quotations that represent points of view that
contradict or challenge elements of your argument,
or suggest possible exceptions. The point here is to
remind students to use these other perspectives on
their topics to clarify and strengthen their own ideas
by showing that their students know and have already
thought through others’ ideas.
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• Revisit your purpose in light of the prompt itself and
rhetorical modes listed in the table below:
Rhetorical Mode Answers the Question
Narrative What happened and when?
Definition What is it?
Classification/Division What kind is it? or
What are its parts?
Process Analysis How did it happen?
Cause and Effect What caused this to happen?
Argumentation/Persuasion What do I want the reader to
think, believe, or do?
Comparison/Contrast How is x similar to or
different from y?
Example/Illustration What is an example of x?
• Ask your students questions to help them evaluate and
analyze the different materials they have gathered in
light of their audience, purpose, and main idea. Here
are some sample questions you can list on the board or
in a handout for students to ask themselves at this or
subsequent stages of their composition process:
• What interests or surprises me most?
• Which idea(s) can I write about best under the
circumstances of this assignment?
• Which one invites or makes best use of the details
and ideas I have gathered?
• What will everyone else writing this assignment say
about this subject?
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• Given that most will write about x, what is a
compelling but different angle I might adopt for
this subject?
• What detail, image, fact, or idea is most memorable,
most important, of those I have gathered so far?
These questions are helpful in all writing situations as each
writer is trying to develop a voice and a stance on a subject that
will distinguish him or her from the others. As one who has
graded district and state essays, I can tell you that they all quickly
blur into one mediocre voice, periodically interrupted by a few
writers who dared to make the prompt their own and write against
the grain of all the others.
Teachstudentshowtoorganize
theirideaspriortowriting.
As students move closer to actually writing, they must assess their
ideas and focus, and find an organizing principle. The traditional
five-paragraph essay would call for three main qualities or ideas
about this topic, but such a structure inevitably leads to writing
that lacks vigor and depth since the writer must move on to the
next idea just as he or she is beginning to scratch beneath the
surface. The organizational capacity I am speaking of is more
subtle, but is evident when students approach the subject as a
question or a problem. Help your students understand that they
can use one or more of the following approaches to assess or
develop the organizational structure of their paper before or as
they begin to write it:
• Integrate into your instruction these specific
organizational principles that are most appropriate to
the prompt or point students are trying to make. This
might mean providing samples that show students
how such information might be organized by different
patterns (e.g., compare/contrast vs. classification) or
teaching them specific organizational patterns.
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• Ask students to use a
particular graphic organizer,
such as a Venn diagram, to
help them give shape to their
ideas and thus, in this case,
improve the comparison.
• Use a variation on graphic
organizers such as the
technique of clustering.
This approach helps students
identify the different
categories into which they
could sort their ideas and
then gives them a means
of evaluating whether the
details and data they have
will actually sort out into
these categories. In this
process, students can begin
to evaluate and analyze
the relationship between
the categories and details,
determining which are most
important and which show
the most potential as they
begin to write.
• Show students how to outline
their ideas using a range
of strategies that include
flexible, informal outlines.
Try to avoid the formal
numerical and alphabetical
systems that sometimes
hinder thought at these
early stages when students
are still trying to discover
Organizational
Patterns
1. Sequential
Arranged in the
order that events
occur. Also known
as time order or
chronological order.
2. Geographical
Arranged according
to location or
geographic order.
3. Classification
Organized into
categories or
groups according
to various traits.
4. Listing
Arranged in a list
with no consideration
of other qualities.
5. Cause-Effect
Arranged to show
connections between
a result and the
events that preceded
it. Similar to
problem-solution.
6. Order of Importance
Organized in order of
importance, value, or
some other quality.
7. Compare-Contrast
Organized to
emphasize
similarities and
differences.
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the organizational structure of their ideas. Only later,
when they are writing or have a solid working draft,
can students begin to organize their ideas with some
greater rhetorical purpose in mind.
Showstudentshowtosynthesizetheir
ideasandplansastheybegintowrite.
At this point, some students are ready to be turned loose to get
down that initial draft; most, however, need to better understand
what they have to say and how it all fits together. Others have
yet to arrive at any clear idea about what they intend to say and
need to corral all their ideas into the shelter of a controlling idea;
otherwise their essay will end up resembling a typical President
Coolidge speech, which I heard described once as a pack of wild
horses breaking free across the plains in need of a firm hand
to bring them under control. Here are some ideas for teaching
students how to make these connections so they arrive at the next
stage of the process knowing where they want to go and how they
might get there:
• Have students write what Donald Murray called a
“discovery draft,” which he defined as “more of a late
predraft . . . that the writer pushes on to the end,
no matter if there are holes and parts of the writing
that clearly do not work [but that allow] the writer
. . . to work with a completed whole” (2004 51). It
is in this discovery draft that writers can assess what
they know—or need to know. Such a draft—which
I often refer to as a “down draft,” meaning to just
get something down on paper to work with—further
assesses the viability of the subject and the writer’s
perspective on it, the structure and the reader’s needs.
In short, such a draft marks the transition from
thinking to writing about a subject. While it may
evolve into a working and, ultimately, a final draft, it
is more of a rehearsal, something like the way actors
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block a scene before running through it and beginning
to master it. True, many students these days prefer to
compose directly on the computer, yet the purpose
here is still to explore their thinking, not to get the
assignment done, which is often the concern for those
students. I will use one of several strategies to help
students write such a discovery draft:
• Have your students write a timed in-class version to
get them thinking about the subject by writing in
more of a structured form instead of taking notes and
doing generative free writes.
• Send students home with all their notes and ideas,
which they may have discussed in class that day
as preparation, to write a discovery draft, usually with
the suggestion that they take no more than an hour.
• Ask students to do a free write, which is a variation
on the discovery draft, the goal of which is more
generative, less focused on creating a whole draft of
the assignment the student must write. It is a method,
usually applied in class, for gathering and connecting
what students have so far, but one that also helps
them begin to find their voice, their stance for the
subsequent drafts. When I use this technique, I ask
them to write anything they have to say about the
topic for a given period of time (e.g., 10–15 minutes).
• Assign students to groups to discuss their ideas so they
can synthesize what they think at this point. Think of
these discussions as editorial meetings common to all
publications: Everyone sits around the table pitching
ideas to colleagues who challenge the writer with
questions designed to clarify. During such meetings, all
writers should take notes they can use later when they
write their drafts.
• Require students to write an actual rough draft of their
introduction and first body paragraph. This method
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forces them to stand (well, okay, sit) and deliver a
concrete beginning, to commit themselves, through
language and their stance, to the writing. I ask them
to write only the intro and first paragraph because, like
the foundation of a house (in which all their ideas will
live), this beginning gives a clear sense of where they
are going and how they think they will get there. In a
variation on this approach, one I will use if explicitly
teaching students to write introductions, I have them
write three different introductions, each using a
distinctly different voice and stance. Then students
share these with peers the next day, asking them to
identify which one is most effective and why. The
writer then chooses, based on that feedback, the best
introduction and formally begins the draft.
• Have students write a proposal in which they
summarize their ideas and what they will say in the
paper. This approach is especially helpful for larger
projects, such as research papers, as it puts writers in
the position of having to advocate for ideas they must
begin to refine, to shape into an argument they can
present. If they are still struggling, it will be clear;
such struggles will clarify your next steps. In such a
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proposal, which Donald Murray calls a “query,” the
writer lays out the topic and what she will say about it,
but also explains why the idea and the perspective on
it are important, as well as how she will develop the
idea. Some suggest writing this proposal as a letter to
the teacher, putting the student in the position most
writers occupy when they must write to a publisher to
pitch an idea for an article or a book.
• Require students to create a PowerPoint presentation
to frame their ideas prior to writing them into the
assigned form. This does not require going to the
computer lab, though such a trip does provide a useful
context in which to teach students how to use such
software; instead, they can use a storyboard organizer
to sketch out their paper on a “paper PowerPoint.”
While this technique is less useful for narrative
writing, it is perfectly suited to both expository and
academic writing, which have specific points that
support an overriding argument. Whether students
discuss or even present these ideas depends on your
instructional goals and the time you have. Students
in my AP literature class, for example, must analyze
Hamlet according to a particular theory of literature
(e.g., Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytical). Before
writing the actual paper, they work in groups to
research the subject and collaborate on a formal
presentation using PowerPoint. When they finish
these presentations, they will have read, discussed, and
presented their ideas, all of which have prepared them
to then write the paper, for which they now have a
detailed outline in the form of their PowerPoint slides
as well as an emerging fluency on the subject thanks
to their presentation before the class.
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4.
The Drafting and
Revision Processes
I did not understand the notion of drafting and revising until I
wrote my first serious piece of public writing: my wedding vows.
My then-fiance and I, a couple of young 24-year-olds just returned
from living abroad (she in Japan, I in North Africa), opened a
bottle of wine and sat down at our shiny new computer. We had
brainstormed and gathered ideas from others’ vows, including
the traditional ones. As soon as we started in, one of us would
question the other, saying, “Well why not say ‘forever after,’ ” or
some such hairsplitting query. As we worked through the evening
(and the wine), a draft emerged, one we could work with, one we
could shape into what would become the final draft after many
versions.
One can only commit to such a process, however, when one
genuinely cares about the subject at hand. A state writing test
a few years back asked students to read an informational article
on and then write an expository essay about hummingbirds.
All across the state kids were sitting down to think and find
something compelling to say about—that’s right—hummingbirds.
You can imagine the results. Students often must write about
remote topics on class and state exams, and do so under the
pressure of time, which allows no chance to draft and revise. In
such cases the first draft must show the potential for a great final
draft that they will never get the chance to write.
When it comes to getting a draft down on paper, we need to
give students permission to write terrible first drafts. Students are
often not used to actually working through the process of a paper,
so they tend to want to get it down and call it done. It falls to
us, as their teachers, to create not only a process but a culture in
which they can work as real writers, trying out and leaving behind
ideas in a process that is not really linear but rather more dynamic
and interactive. It is important to ask students to reflect on their
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writing process, or certain aspects of it as they work on it.
After writing, one of my students reflected:
“I started out with a horrible first draft. Lately, for
some reason, I am never happy with what I initially
write. I have to go back, write, and rewrite a point. It is
frustrating, but for some reason or another, that is what
my writing has come to. I think that maybe this just
means I am growing as a writer.”
The reflections of one of my freshman students remind us
that we must teach students how to get that first draft down and
how to revise:
“The process of writing this took up lot of time, but
also gave me the chance to remember things that I have
forgotten. My progress as a writer has greatly improved
now that I have been taught how to revise. Before this
semester I didn’t know how to revise at all. Now that I
know the strategies you have taught us my essay writing
will continue to improve.”
GuidingPrinciples
• Provideguidancetohelpstudentslearntodraft
andrevise.
• Embedwritinginstructionthroughoutthedrafting
andrevisionprocess.
• Havestudentsevaluateandrevisetheirwriting
basedonneedsandinsights.
• Createopportunitiesforfeedbackthroughout
thedraftingandrevisionprocess.
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Provideguidancetohelpstudentslearn
todraftandrevise.
As college graduates, we have years, even decades, of experience
writing academic papers about topics we may or may not care
about. We have paid our dues. I remember one freshman
composition class I had in college in which I received a C- on the
first five papers I wrote. A psychology paper came back dripping
with red ink, the most memorable line on it being, “You’re not
writing a short story here, Mr. Burke. This is a scientific paper.”
Somehow I found the courage to go into these professors’ offices
and ask for help, saying in essence, “I don’t know what you want.
Show me what a successful paper looks like.” And they did, so I
improved, slowly but surely.
Middle and high school students need similar support, though
we don’t have the leisure of office hours (or an office!) to meet
with and discuss the papers of our 150 or more students. What
you need is a way to provide such support to whole classes or
individuals through groups as they draft and revise their papers.
Here are some representative examples of what you can do to help
students draft and revise their paper for your class:
• Provide a range of models so students know what a
successful performance on an assignment looks like.
Such examples can come from your students, from
state and AP exams, or professional writers, as well
as textbooks. The following example, which I created
for my freshman English class, had goals: helping
students to improve their introduction writing and
how to elaborate on their ideas with more detail. I first
put it on the overhead, covering up Version B.
I then asked them to generate questions about Version
A, all of which I wrote on the board. After revealing
and discussing what made Version B more effective, I
had them apply the same questioning strategy to their
own papers. Note that this sequence helped them
simultaneously draft and revise their essay. Here is the
sample I wrote:
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Version A: Death at the River Version B: Death at the River
The world beyond my stretch
of Keane Drive was unknown,
uncharted. All we knew was
that beyond it lay dangers
we had heard of. None of
these dangers came to mind,
however, that summer day
when John Russell rode up
and asked if I wanted to go
for a ride. Unwilling to show
my fear, I straightened up
and said, “Sure, let’s go.”
And so we headed off, two
10-year-old boys in cutoffs.
The world beyond my stretch
of Keane Drive was unknown,
uncharted. All we knew was
that beyond it lay dangers
we had heard of: big streets
with fast cars driven by crazy
teenagers, strangers who
would take us away, and,
of course, the river, which
was filled with not only
rushing waters but stories
of the lost lives my father
spoke of when telling me
of his own childhood. None
of these dangers came to
mind, however, that summer
day when John Russell rode
up on his bike and asked if
I wanted to ride along the
new bike trail at the river.
Unwilling to show my fear,
I straightened up and said,
“Sure, let’s go,” though a
small quiver in my voice no
doubt betrayed me, as it did
when I called out the lie to
my mother a minute later:
“Mom, John and I are going
for a ride over to his house
to play some basketball.”
And so we headed off, two 10-
year-old boys in cutoffs, our
pale chests bared to the hot
summer sun of Sacramento,
unaware that behind the
bright light of the day hid
a darkness which that day
would reveal to us through
events we would never forget.
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As we discuss Version A as a class, I ask my students which
elements of the writing need to be developed. So it goes: sentence
by sentence, generating questions to help me revise my initial
draft. Once all these questions are written up on the board, they
read Version B, underlining any additions they notice as they read.
Together we rewrite it, until we have a piece of writing
similar to Version B. Now they are prepared to apply the same
technique to their own papers, so they trade and write such
questions in the margin, then revise to add the details their reader
said are lacking.
TechNote!Youwillfindarichcollectionofsample
essays,prompts,andrubricsonstateandfederal
departmentsofeducationWebsitesaswellasonthe
CollegeBoardWebsitefortheAdvancedPlacementexams.
SomestatesaswellastheCollegeBoardprovidesample
papersscoredwithcommentarytohelpteachersand
studentsbetterunderstandthenatureofaneffectivepaper.
• Offer students a range of support at the sentence,
paragraph, and paper level. Students often struggle
to find the language to say what they know or what
sounds like the samples you have offered. Each genre
of writing or type of essay makes its own demands.
While this type of guidance will help some as they
draft, most will not be able to consider this type of
help until they are revising. The different sentence
structures in the sample essay help students see
how they can say certain things more clearly, with
greater power, especially when working with complex
ideas. For example, I will call their attention to the
“Summarizing” section (p. 33) when students must
read and summarize an article, providing related
examples to help them further see what I am after.
When working with more advanced assignments, such
as “Disagreeing” (p. 34), I will write these sentence
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frames on the board and model for them how to
apply these: “I would challenge Achebe’s point about
Conrad’s racist attitudes, arguing instead that he agrees
with Achebe and uses the narrator to point out the
racist ideas of the Europeans in Africa.” Once I have
modeled this for them, students must then use the
same structures to write or revise their own statements
as they develop or refine their arguments.
• Use examples during both the drafting and revising
processes but for specific purposes. Sometimes you
might be working on how to write more effective
introductions or conclusions to a paper; on other
occasions, such as the example below, you might be
teaching them to develop their ideas through the use
of examples and commentary, something students find
particularly difficult as they move into more academic
writing. The following example offers a good way of
how to do this, but to make it clear let me describe the
steps first:
1. Students were writing a short paper that synthesized
the ideas from multiple readings, in this case about
the role of allies in our lives.
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2. Students read and annotated three articles about
people and the role allies had played in their lives.
3. Students then wrote a paragraph that was supposed
to have a clear focus, effective organization, and
good development in the form of examples and
commentary.
4. After students wrote their first paragraph (see
Sample A), I created a sample of the same
assignment rich in the details I found lacking in
theirs. I arranged this in an outline form to help
them see better how I organized and developed my
ideas and printed it to an overhead transparency.
5. I then put this example on the overhead projector
and led them through it, pointing out what I did,
how I did it, and why.
6. They used my example to help them revise their
first draft, the improved version of which you can see
in Sample B, written by the same student in my
freshman class.
Sample A (Sara’s first attempt)
All three of these people had challenges and obstacles that
presented themselves to them throughout their lives. And all
three of them had certain allies that helped, supported, and
encouraged them along the way. People that they themselves
even said that they wouldn’t have been able to do it without.
It’s important to have people on your side and rooting for
you, sometimes it makes all the difference in the world.
Here is my sample paragraph, full of the details I wanted
them to include in their own essays, arranged into outline form as
I presented it to them on the overhead first, before giving them a
copy to study and use:
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My Example
n People find guidance from so many different people, some
of whom are obvious allies, while others are unexpected.
n Yet it is not who these people are that matters as much
as what they do to help us accomplish our goals.
l One thing they do, perhaps the most important,
is believe in us.
l Kelly Zimmerman Lane, for example, came from a
house filled with the alcoholic violence of her father;
yet her mother and grandmother protected her from
this abuse, showing her through their example that
they expected her to accomplish great things.
l As she said, “Success. . . was the only option.”
l Actor Mario Lopez also had parents who supported
his interest in drama, coming to every performance
and signing him up for any class he wanted to take.
l Not everyone has parents who can help them,
though.
l Reverend “Monk” Malloy, former president of
Notre Dame, lacked “any models in [his] family
for going on to college,” but found in Sister
Eleanor a mentor who took a special interest in
him early on.
m Malloy, like the others, benefited from his
ally’s high expectations.
k For example, Sister Eleanor “gave [him] a
tremendous amount of confidence, exposed
[him] to the thrill of learning, and convinced
[him] that [he] had a moral obligation to
use the opportunities available to [him].”
n One way or another, each of these allies taught Lopez,
Lane, and Malloy that, as Lopez says, they had “to
be focused and disciplined,” that they had to have
“dedication, strong will, and mental toughness,” all of
which their allies helped them develop.
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Here is Sara’s revised version, written after we discussed
my model:
Sample B (Sara’s second attempt)
Everyone has allies that help them in different ways to
accomplish something. All three of these people had
challenges and obstacles that presented themselves to
them throughout their lives, and all three of them had
certain allies that helped, supported, and encouraged them
along the way. People that they themselves said that they
wouldn’t have been able to do it without. For Kelly Lane, it
was her mother and grandmother who were her biggest
allies after her father left the picture. Her grandma took her
and her sister in, and her mother set the ultimate example
of success for Kelly. For Mario Lopez, he had his dancing,
wrestling, and drama coaches to set examples for him and
guide him. And finally, Reverend “Monk” Malloy, had Sister
Eleanor, his teacher for three years in a row. She inspired
him and made him like school even more. It is important to
have such people on your side rooting for you because they
can make all the difference in the world.
Some teachers might worry that by providing a model
students are just copying what you do, a reasonable concern. I
would say only that the apprenticeship method has served us
well for centuries. The process of mimicry, combined with the
gradual move toward independence, gives students the support
they need at the level they need it. Thus I provide some form
of differentiated instruction, telling the class to use as much
of my model as helps them complete the assignment without
using my exact words, for it is often the sentence structures and
organizational patterns they are learning.
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Embedwritinginstructionthroughout
thedraftingandrevisingprocess.
When examining effective literacy instruction, Langer (1999)
found that teachers incorporated strategies into their instruction
so students developed independence; a second major finding of
such instruction was that students learned skills and knowledge
through a range of lesson types. After all, we cannot learn by
mini-lesson alone. The key to such embedded instruction is that it
is situated within the context of students’ learning and therefore
provides a more responsive, targeted form of teaching that helps
students learn the lesson at hand, or prepares them for those
problems on the horizon. If, for example, I am teaching students
to write a persuasive essay, I am simultaneously creating a perfect
opportunity to teach them what a claim is, a topic well suited to a
short lesson which they can then apply to their own paper while we
work on them in class. If they show an acceptable level of mastery,
we can then move on to the reason for their arguments, doing still
more mini-lessons on how to state these reasons, or provide the
evidence that best supports their claim, and so on.
The basic structure of such mini-lessons is pretty
straightforward and should take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes
depending on the complexity of the material:
1. Identify the subject of the lesson (e.g., writing
effective introductions)
2. Provide the rationale for the lesson, connecting it
to the paper they are writing.
3. Go over the lesson in detail, providing examples
to illustrate your main points.
4. Provide time for students to take notes and ask questions
for clarification on the topic of the mini-lesson.
5. Ask students to practice the lesson at that time
through some commercial materials or those you
create yourself.
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6. Discuss problems students had or questions that arose
during the practice.
7. Have students apply what they learned to the paper
or other assignment they are actually working on and
for which this lesson was the reason.
In her study on effective literacy instruction, Langer
identified three types of instruction: separate instruction, during
which discrete lessons are taught (steps 1–4 above); simulated
instruction, during which students have the opportunity to
practice the lesson and gain initial understanding (steps 5–6);
and, finally, integrated instruction, during which the students
apply the content of the lesson to the paper on which they are
currently working (step 7).
While I sometimes use the whiteboard or project material
using an LCD projector attached to my laptop, most of the time
such lessons take place with me at the overhead projector, pen in
hand as I present and we discuss the lesson at hand. The overhead
allows me to structure the lesson with their needs and the time in
mind, since I have only a 50-minute period. What follows are some
representative examples of lessons I have used with my classes:
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• Summarize key points about the topic or lesson to
provide succinct delivery and promote effective note-
taking. Here is a sample overhead I created for a lesson
on effective introductions:
EffectiveIntroductions
• Establish the focus by introducing the subject, narrowing
it down, and making a statement (claim, thesis statement)
about the subject.
• The thesis statement usually appears near or at the end
of the introductory paragraph. It is the main point you will
try to prove.
• Use one of the following strategies for an effective
introduction:
• Begin with an intriguing quotation or series of
quotations.
• Ask a question or pose a series of questions about the
subject.
• Define the subject (though avoid the overly familiar
“According to American Heritage Dictionary a crime
is a. . . . ”).
• Make an unexpected or compelling comparison.
• Open with a controversial statement that challenges
but does not offend or distract from the point you want
to make.
• Tell a relevant but engaging anecdote.
• Draw the reader in with the promise of new insights
or information about a subject that interests him.
• Establish your credibility as a writer through a
combination of what you say and how you say it.
• Set up some sense of structure so the reader knows
how information will be organized and can read it
effectively.
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NewTeacherNoteCreatingsuchhandoutsinyour
ownvoiceforyourstudentsisoneofthebestways
tolearnyoursubjectingreaterdetail.Suchhandouts
havebeen,forme,aformofpersonalprofessional
development.What’smore,theyallowmetoadaptthem
totheassignmentandclassIamteachingandthusmake
memoreeffective.
Here is a more specific lesson, this one on how to incorporate
quotations effectively into an expository paper. This particular
sample was created by my colleague Sarah Galvin. I include here
the handout as an example of such a lesson and explain how she
had students use it.
Sarah gives
students their own
copies of this sheet,
puts a transparency
of the same
document on the
overhead, then
asks students to
get out different
color highlighters.
After going over
the reason for
using quotations
and discussing the
sandwich diagram,
she has them
highlight the words that lead up to or introduce the quotation
with one color, use a second color to highlight the quotation
itself, and use still a third color to indicate the commentary on
the quotation. After ensuring that her students understand the
lesson, she has them use the highlighters on their own papers.
For those who cannot identify any lead or commentary for their
quotation, she has them revise the paper to add these elements.
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QuoteSandwich
Properly using quotes is more than just rewriting it from a
text. To be effective, you need to surround the quote with
support and explanations. Think about it like this: Use
quotes to prove a point or support an idea, not to show that
you have read the story.
Sample quote from To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee:
“You never really understand a person until you consider
things from his point of view. . . until you climb into his skin
and walk around in it.”
Atticus gives Scout a crucial piece of moral advice that
governs her development throughout the novel. He implies
it is easy to pass judgment on others, but one cannot fully
understand another’s character unless they have lived
through similar experiences. He says, “You never really
understand a person until you consider things from his point
of view. . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Scout struggles with varying degrees of success to put
Atticus’s advice into practice and to live with sympathy and
understanding towards others. At the end of the book, she
succeeds in comprehending Boo’s perspective.
Introduce the quote:
Who is speaking?
What is the quote saying?
Why is this comment on
the quote important?
What do you think it says?
“THE QUOTE”
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• Teach specific types of writing in context. Each type
of writing has its own conventions, most of which
are not intuitive to students, especially those new to
academic writing. Whether you are teaching them
to write a persuasive essay or to write about how
westward expansion changed the American landscape,
you need to teach students how to write such texts.
Here is an example of a handout I created to help
students learn the conventions of writing a letter. In
this case, students were writing a thank-you letter to
Helen Farkas, a Holocaust survivor who had come to
our class to speak about her experiences. This event
provided a natural opportunity to teach them how to
write such a letter while also giving me a way to tie
together all that we had been learning prior to Mrs.
Farkas’s talk. Note that the example is designed to
teach, not be a complete letter. After giving them a
copy, I put the same document on the overhead and
talked them through the points, asking them to draft
their own as we went. Once they had working drafts,
we went to the computer lab to type them up and
revise them through conferences.
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SampleThank-YouLetterandFormat
Your letter should be:
• Properly formatted
• Specific, including examples from the visit
• Thoughtful and respectful in tone
400 Burlingame Way
Burlingame, CA 94010
September 24, 2007
Mrs. Helen Farkas
1234 San Mateo Avenue
San Mateo, CA 94344
Dear Mrs. Farkas:
Thank you for taking the time to come to our
class to tell your story. Your story made me
think about many things, but especially about
how we treat each other. You and your family
were abused not only by strangers but those
from your own town. This made me realize,
in a way I had not before, how degrading the
Holocaust was for the Jewish people and
others who were rounded up and taken away.
One story you told made an especially strong
impression on me. . . (choose one, summarize
it, and explain why and how this one story
affected you.)
Your story was filled with such pain and
suffering, with so much loss, and yet when you
finished you had only words of hope to offer us.
I would assume that such an experience would
leave one bitter—about everything! Yet you
said, “No matter how bad today is, you always
have tomorrow.” Thank you for coming to our
class, and for sharing your story with us.
Sincerely,
Jim Burke
Recipient’s
address
Salutation:
“Dear Mr./Mrs./
Ms.?
Establish your
purpose
Double-space
between
paragraphs and
do not indent.
Restate your
purpose near
the end.
End letter
properly and sign
your name.
Sender’s address
and date at top
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• In the example that follows, I created a one-page
handout intended to help students write analytically
and revise the same document later. While preparing
the assignment, I noticed that when writing about
setting, for instance, effective analysis would require
the use of certain verbs and nouns. Moreover, I
realized that the analysis required a certain sentence
structure. Thus I gave students this handout and, after
working through it with them, had them apply it to
their own writing, especially when revising. They had
to highlight all their verbs and examine the structures
of their sentences, revising as needed to achieve
greater precision.
AnalyticalWriting
Analytical Verbs
Establishes
Emphasizes
Conveys
Evokes
Affects
Indicates
Setting Adjectives
Idyllic
Pastoral
Chaotic
Alienating
Conservative
Divided
Setting Nouns
Environment
Era
Atmosphere
Climate
Region
Background
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Havestudentsevaluateandrevise
theirwritingbasedonneedsandinsights.
Students need some kind of map that spells out where they are
going and how to get there. On a writing assignment, this map
is sometimes a rubric, but on other occasions it might be the
prompt or some sort of outline the teacher provides, examples
of which I will include below. Regardless of the form, students
need some means of assessing their performance throughout these
stages of the writing process. Spandel (2005) calls this approach
“assess[ing] to learn,” then argues, “You cannot rework writing
unless you hear the problem with the text” (5). As they begin
that first draft, students can, as Spandel says, “hear the problem”
only if they have some criteria they can turn to. While good
writing does not follow a recipe, we do nonetheless know what
ingredients go into a strong piece of writing; if students also know
what to include, they are more likely to feel some measure of
control and arrive at a more delicious end result. Spandel sums up
her vision of success as “students who can read their own writing
and who know what to do to make it stronger” (5).
All the evaluation in the world will make no difference
if students do not have the chance to revise their writing as
they go along. Nor is it adequate to turn them loose with a
rubric and expect a perfect result. Students need examples of
what, for example, “a meaningful thesis looks like,” ideally an
array of examples so they get a sense of what they are trying to
accomplish as they write or have some means of comparing their
own thesis to the standard as they revise. How many examples or
how frequently they need to evaluate their work depends on the
complexity of the assignment and their level of mastery. In an
advanced class, I might have students use samples of whole essays
or portions (e.g., introductions, use of quotations) to evaluate
their work throughout the composing process; in a college prep
English class, on the other hand, I might provide more concrete
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evaluation tools like rubrics, checklists, or those which follow.
Here are some specific examples to consider using with students
as they draft or revise their papers:
• Rubrics, while not appropriate for all situations, offer
detailed guidance as to the qualities of an effective
paper. When given to students at the outset, rubrics
help students stay on course and revise with greater
precision. Here, for example, is a sample rubric from
a school district which, for a district-wide writing
assessment, adapted the rubric used for the state writing
exam. Teachers can easily incorporate such a rubric
into their class for other writing assignments. In my CP
English classes, for example, we use the district rubric to
assess and revise students’ essays in the class.
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EssayRubric
4 The Essay
• Provides a meaningful thesis that addresses the writing task.
• Demonstrates a consistent tone and focus, and illustrates a
purposeful control of organization.
• Provides a variety of sentence types and uses precise,
descriptive language.
3 The Essay
• Provides a thesis that addresses the writing task.
• Demonstrates a consistent tone and focus; and illustrates a
control of organization.
• May contain some errors in the conventions of the English
language. (Errors do not interfere with the reader’s
understanding of the essay.)
2 The Essay
• Provides a thesis or main idea that attempts to address the
writing task.
• Demonstrates an inconsistent tone and focus; illustrates little,
if any, control of organization.
• May contain several errors in the conventions of the
English language. (Errors may interfere with the reader’s
understanding of the essay.)
1 The Essay
• May provide a weak thesis or no thesis that is related to the
writing task.
• Demonstrates a lack of tone or focus; illustrates no control of
organization.
• May contain serious errors in the conventions of the
English language. (Errors may interfere with the reader’s
understanding of the essay.)
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• Scoring guides offer more targeted ways of guiding
writers as they write and later, when they revise.
They can be global, attending to larger aspects of, for
example, a personal narrative, or they can focus on a
more specific aspect such as introductions:
IntroductionEvaluationRubric
1 2 3 4 5 Establishes a compelling focus and a thesis
that can be proven
1 2 3 4 5 Establishes your credibility to the reader
1 2 3 4 5 Every sentence serves a specific purpose:
no fluff!
1 2 3 4 5 Connects the topic to your reader in a
meaningful way
1 2 3 4 5 Conveys the importance of the topic
1 2 3 4 5 Implies or creates an organizational structure
for the essay
1 2 3 4 5 Provides an effective transition at the end to
subsequent divisions
1 2 3 4 5 Addresses the writing prompt (or shows
clearly that it will do so)
Comments:
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• Checklists offer very precise suggestions for how
to write or revise the paper. At their worst, they
run the risk of being a recipe that exerts too much
control over the writer; however, they can be helpful,
especially to those writers who are struggling to master
these new, more complex forms of academic writing. I
tend to use them more during revision. The following
example is representative of what they look like and
how I use them. In the middle of the writing process, I
collected students’ personal essays on an ally and read
them through, scribbling down observations about
those patterns of error or areas of need that were most
common to all. When I returned the essays, I also
gave them the following handout, which I discussed
in detail with them, asking them to apply some of the
items in class as we worked through the checklist. The
more specific to an assignment a checklist is, the more
useful it will be (from my actual class handout):
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AlliesEssay:SuggestionsandChecklist
o Titles: Give your paper an interesting title (Hint: “Allies
Essay” is not an interesting title). Here are examples
which no one better use: My Uncle the Jedi Master. . .
or Grandma’s Cure. . . .
o Questions: Ask the reporter’s questions—who, what,
when, where, why, and how—of everything. And ask the
seventh, most useful but difficult question: So what?
Or who cares? These questions help you explain why
an experience is important, how it changed you, for
example.
o Revisit the prompt: Some of you did not write about the
prompt but sort of wrote around it. The prompt doesn’t
ask you to say what a great guy your uncle is; it asks you
to tell the reader how he is your ally, what he does for
you, how he has helped you solve problems.
o Lights! Camera! Details! Help the reader see and hear
these wonderful people by adding dialogue, describing
them, and generally showing them in action, doing these
things you say they did to help you.
o Be specific: Try to avoid the word thing in your essay. Use
concrete, specific nouns to help us see and understand
what you are saying.
o Avoid clichés or overused phrases: In this essay, for
example, many of you say repeatedly, “He was really there
for me.” Instead of “there for me,” write, “He encouraged
me, telling me he would support me no matter what I
chose to do.”
o Examples: Often you say these people helped you
overcome obstacles but then don’t give examples of what
they did or what the obstacles were. Good writing has
examples to help the reader see, hear, and understand
what you are writing about.
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• Templates are the most heavy-handed means of
guiding and assessing students. While they are rarely
appropriate for more advanced students, students who
are still learning academic writing and conventions
(e.g., English learners) find them very helpful, as do
students who lack confidence in their own writing
abilities. The following example was created by several
colleagues in my department. They found this helped
not only their college prep freshmen students but
themselves, as it allowed them to articulate for their
students and themselves what the paper should include
and accomplish. I interviewed several students, asking
them how helpful they found it; almost all students,
especially those with identified learning differences,
found it extremely helpful. Here is the template:
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OfMiceandMenOutline
Throughout our study of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men,
we have been discussing the question “Am I my brother’s
keeper?” and examining our responsibilities to other people.
Through a class unit, we have analyzed the qualities of a
good friend and critiqued the relationships between
characters in the story. The purpose of this essay is to
analyze George and Lennie’s friendship and prove or
disprove that George has the qualities of a good friend. Use
the outline and examples from the text to support your ideas.
I. Introduction
• Did you mention the title, author, and basic plot of
the novel?
• Did you discuss your general ideas about Lennie
and George’s friendship?
• Did you conclude your introduction with a statement
of the specific qualities a good friend should have
and explain that these are qualities that George
does/does not have?
II. Body Paragraphs
• Did you begin each body paragraph with a topic
sentence that presents a specific quality of a good
friend and also indicate whether George has this
quality?
• Did you use one or two quotations to support your
discussion?
• Did you conclude each body paragraph with a
concluding sentence that summarizes the paragraph?
III. Conclusion
• Did you begin your conclusion by mentioning the
qualities of friendship?
• Did you then discuss how these qualities of a friend
relate to your own life and your personal views?
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Createopportunitiesforfeedbackthroughout
thedraftingandrevisionprocess.
Writing is a social activity, done most often for an audience,
even if that audience is sometimes the teacher. All writers
need feedback from their readers or those who can help them
to improve whatever they are writing. (There is, of course,
no occasion to get such feedback when students write timed
essays for you or some other audience such as the state.) Such
opportunities provide students the chance, when working
together, not only to get feedback on their own papers but to
learn from others who
are writing about the
same topic, though
perhaps in a different
way. We often have
severe time constraints,
however, so feedback
must be efficient if we
are to find the time to
do it, and effective if it is
to be worth the time we
allot for it. Perhaps the
most important point to
make about feedback is
that it is only useful to
the extent that students have the chance to apply it. If you return
a paper with comments all over it which students cannot use to
revise the paper, then they will look at it long enough to locate
the grade and file it away. Thus the opportunities discussed here
include two parts: the chance for students to get the feedback and
the chance to put it to use to improve their performance on the
paper at hand. To the extent that it results in improved learning
and performance, feedback is the most important vehicle of
writing instruction. Yes, it takes time; it also makes a difference,
especially when the feedback is coupled with in-class instruction.
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Here are some forms of feedback that I have found to make
a difference:
Written response is useful but only to a point. What
is not helpful is a paper dripping red ink with every
mistake marked. The most useful comments are written
in a positive tone and make specific observations. For
example, instead of saying, “Your paper has no details!”
you might write in the margin, “An example here would
really help me understand what you are saying,” followed
by an arrow that shows the exact spot to revise, or “Your
strong verbs here make a real difference.” Studies have
found that specific compliments motivate students to
try to repeat whatever earned the praise. Another useful
approach to written feedback is to note significant errors
throughout, and then list the errors at the top of the paper
for easy reference. For example, I might notice that a
paper lacks a clear subject in most of the sentences, so I
would underline all the offenders and write at the top,
“Clear subjects,” which would allow me to follow up with
an in-class conference about what that means. I can then
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combine written with personal feedback, but do so more
efficiently as I now know what the problem is and have
some examples to use for the personal mini-lesson that
might take place at the student’s desk.
Peer response taps into the social aspect of writing and
students’ natural desire to work together. The quality
of peer response depends on how well you prepare
them to read, discuss, and respond to a given writing
assignment. Peer response can be effective, but you must
set up specific guidelines and show them how you want
them to work. For example, students often need more
help developing their ideas by adding details, examples,
and quotations. What I will do is use a sample paper
from a previous assignment or one I created myself,
copying this to a transparency so they can watch me as I
demonstrate. I will stop and circle a passage, for example,
and write in the margin, “Why did this happen?” or
“What is an example of this?” Most of the time I try to
limit their responses to just questions since the answer to
the question will presumably improve the paper. I don’t
want comments; I want responses that lead to better
writing. Before I turn them loose, we talk about the kind
of language their questions should use, sometimes putting
examples on the board (e.g., “What are you trying to say
here?” “How does this example relate to your main idea in
this paragraph?” or “Why did you include the quotation?”).
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Guided response is more of a full-class approach that
asks students to provide specific feedback to themselves
as directed by the teacher. Because I have classes of up
to 35 students, this is a technique I use often and find
effective. It has the added benefit of complementing
mini-lessons and other classroom instruction I have
given. For example, if students are working on
quotations, as discussed above, I will have them get
out three colors of highlighters or crayons as we focus
on strong sentence subjects. I will then ask them to
highlight the first seven words of each sentence in the
paper and then to evaluate the quality of their subject.
I will say, for example, “If those first seven words are
your subject—that is, if you have one of those big long
messy compound subjects—you need to work on making
your subject more concise.” This sequence sends them
home or back to the writing workshop with specific (and
colorful) feedback they can act on. In academic writing,
which often requires quotations and examples, I almost
always use guided response to have them identify the
quotations. Even strong students often ask, “What if I
didn’t find any?” My response is a grin and, “Well, I guess
that tells you what you need to go home and work on
tonight, doesn’t it, Kevin?”
Student-teacher conferences are important
opportunities for feedback but very difficult to achieve
if you have large classes. Still, they are possible if you
plan ahead and make good use of the time. They need
to be purposeful, not exploratory. Students come to
conference with me either about comments I’ve already
made on their papers (as mentioned above, I will list
2–3 items at the top of the page for quick reference in
such conferences) or about a problem they are having
and want me to help them solve. Such conversations can
also take place right at the student’s desk. When I return
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papers they need to revise, I often just drop down on a
knee and go over a few things on the spot. Although I
have terrible handwriting, I have come to see it as an
effective means of forcing students to seek me out for
translation, which creates the opportunity to discuss the
comment further. Such conferences are easiest to have
when students are working in the computer lab, which
we do periodically: I move around the room, monitoring
progress, snooping. I can use the mouse to quickly
highlight some sentence or other detail and talk about
that within the context of their paper, helping them to
draft or revise it on the spot.
General feedback comes during and after the writing
process. General feedback is addressed to the whole
class and is based on observations I have made during
the drafting and revision process, or after having read
and graded the papers. When I read papers, I keep a
pad of paper handy. As I read the papers, I watch for
patterns of success or trouble. If, for example, I see a
trend toward using stronger verbs, something we may
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have been working on recently, I will jot that down and
note some examples. When I finish the papers, I type up
my observations—general comments about what I saw
most people were doing well or need to improve—and
put them on the overhead, using them as the basis for my
feedback on the paper that is now finished. In addition,
I always copy two or three examples, all strong, but each
different in a useful way. Again, I will put these on the
overhead and read them aloud, interrupting myself to
comment on particular points to explain why I think a
particular move is effective and how the writer did it so
others can try it next time around.
KeepinMindEnglishlanguagelearnersoftenneed
additionalfeedbackaboutissues(e.g.,spelling,
mechanics,wordchoice)thatarenotasurgentforother
students.Hereareafewsuggestionstoconsiderwhen
providingfeedbacktoEnglishlanguagelearners:Identify
andpraisetheirstrengthsandeffort;showthemthrough
exampleshowtocorrectcertainerrors;identifypatternsof
errororseriouserrors,butonlypointoutacoupletocorrect
andexplain;askthemtokeepalistofcommonerrorsthey
makewhichtheycancheckastheywriteandrevise.
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5.
The Polishing and
Publishing Processes
Correctness counts—and always should when it comes to
academic or any other public writing. By this point in the process,
the students have all worked so hard to make the papers worthy of
others’ eyes that it would be a shame to abandon them and their
papers. Proofreading requires patience and commitment, because
it is based on specialized knowledge about rules and conventions
that many students do not know. Colleges throughout the country
consistently cite such errors as their greatest concern when asked
about students’ writing abilities; Standards for Success (Center
for Educational Policy, 2003), a major report that came from
such inquiries, offers detailed college-level writing standards.
What is noteworthy about this report is that the first seven
of these standards focus on issues related to conventions and
correctness. Certainly state writing exams, as well as the SAT,
ACT, and AP exams kids take, all recognize that some errors
are inevitable when students are writing timed essays; in such
tests, the expectation is that errors will not be so prevalent as to
impede the reader’s ability to understand what the writer is saying.
The motto of such tests is “reward the student for what they do
well and don’t punish them for what they do wrong”; yet clearly
the College Board and other such agencies expect a certain level
of proficiency, and they want those reading the tests to get the
impression that, given the chance to revise, the student would
recognize and repair the mistakes.
How then to actually teach students to make that final draft
worthy of their name and some wider audience? A quick answer,
one I have mentioned repeatedly, is that they must care about the
work, seeing it as a public representation of themselves instead of
just another assignment. Here then are some principles to help your
students learn to care deeply about all aspects of their writing.
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GuidingPrinciples
• Cultivateacommunityofwriterswhovalue
correctness.
• Teachstudentstobestrategicproofreaders.
• Provideopportunitiestolearnandapplyknowledge
ofconventions.
• Publish,perform,post,orpresent.
Cultivateacommunityofwriters
whovaluecorrectness.
What we say when we talk about writing shapes our students’
perceptions of and attitudes toward it. If we focus on informal
writing, treating everything as little more than a journal entry, we
create in students some false sense of security and confidence that
the world outside destroys as soon as they venture beyond school.
While we certainly must provide regular opportunities to write
for more personal purposes and in less structured ways, we should
also foster a classroom environment that validates the hard work
formal writing demands. Such a culture of expectations is the
result of the way you work with and speak about writing. If you
treat it as something to check off, something to get done, your
students will quickly pick up on this and feel no commitment to
get the right word, to make sure all the sentences are parallel,
and to ensure that all the punctuation is correct. Here are some
representative ways to cultivate and maintain such a commitment
to correctness in your class.
• Avoid making any statements that dismiss or otherwise
undermine the importance of correctness in writing.
While it is perfectly fine, important even, to say, “This
is not the time to worry about spelling or grammar;
we will work on that when you proofread later,” it is
not acceptable to say, “Don’t worry about spelling,
grammar, and that stuff!”
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• Reinforce the value of correctness by bringing in
articles that emphasize the difference such knowledge
and skills make.
• Emphasize the importance of correctness by sharing
your own efforts to achieve it. We all have trouble
spots that trip us up as writers. I talk about my own
challenges, words like believe, and grammatical
structures such as correlative conjunctions, pointing
out that I have had to learn to watch for these
problems and always take time to fix them.
• Resist the desire, no matter how hilarious the errors
might be, to read aloud or otherwise make public,
student errors. Of course it is funny when a student
writes, “This experience really lowered my self of
steam,” when he meant “self-esteem.” But if we post
such mistakes, our most vulnerable kids will feel unsafe
in our class. Save such fun bloopers for the dinner
table or lunchtime conversations with colleagues—but
even then, don’t reveal the student’s name. Privately
address the student about the malapropism.
• Post helpful rules and posters on the walls to which
students can quickly refer. Ideally these posters would
target specific patterns of error that you know are
common to the class at that time. This might be the
subject of a mini-lesson you recently taught and want
to be able to refer to as students work on a paper.
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Teachstudentstobestrategicproofreaders.
Students must first learn what they are looking for, where to find
it, and, if necessary, how to correct it. For example, if you are
teaching students about the mechanics of quoting (e.g., how to
format the quotation marks, the citation, the end punctuation),
you must first teach them how to identify a quotation and what a
complete and correct quotation includes. You must, as the saying
goes, teach your students to fish so they can feed themselves;
that is, they must learn the strategies needed to correct their own
writing. Certainly some students have language disorders that
make this a more difficult challenge for them; still, they need
to learn those strategies specific to their own needs, something
the special education department can often help you with. In
their excellent book Getting It Right: Fresh Approaches to Teaching
Grammar, Usage, and Correctness, Smith and Wilhelm (2007)
offer a useful model for teaching students proofreading strategies.
The following includes some of their suggestions as well as my
own for teaching proofreading strategies.
• Focus on teaching students to use one convention
or find one rule at a time, then show them (by
modeling) how to find and correct that one type.
Obvious examples would include teaching them about
possessive apostrophes or the difference between who
and whom, then having them search for and check
each usage. Those conventions you teach, however,
should be connected to the paper at hand, not random
items they have not used in their papers.
• Limit the number of types of errors you teach or ask
them to find and correct to no more than three,
emphasizing those you have recently taught or know
they have not yet mastered.
• Practice and refine these strategies by having students
read not only their own papers but others’ to look for
those errors the writers themselves may have missed.
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• Direct students to look for and highlight conventions
that are frequent errors. You could pick the most
appropriate items from, for example, your state
standards, Andrea Lunsford’s “Top Twenty,” or your
own list. To address formatting titles properly, you
might have your students go through and circle the
title of any article, book, or poem, then review the
rule and ask them to check and, if necessary, correct
the format of their titles.
• Provide additional guidance to any English learners in
your class as they often have specific patterns of error;
to help these students, you might arrange to meet with
your English learners as a group and ask them to check
specific areas for possible errors, taking that opportunity
to reiterate the rules and reasons for them. Some of the
most common errors include the following:
• Count or noncount noun error
• Incorrect or missing article
• Preposition error
• Repeated subject
• Wrong verb tense
• Irregular verb errors
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• Wrong verb form
• Wrong order of adjectives
• Incorrect word ending
• Incorrect use of plural or singular
Provideopportunitiestolearnandapply
knowledgeofconventions.
Every paper provides an authentic context (within the academic
environment) to teach different content. As I discussed in an
earlier chapter, teachers accomplish much more when they can
address conventions appropriate to a paper students are working
on. During the drafting and revising phases, you have abundant
opportunities to give targeted mini-lessons on those conventions
and grammatical rules appropriate to the assignment at hand. You
may have taught your students, through sentence combining and
mini-lessons, how and why to use adjective clauses or appositives,
or some other more sophisticated structures. Now is the time to
ensure that they punctuated them correctly and have all the right
words in the right order in the actual paper. Thus, you have a new
round of opportunities for teaching specific skills and knowledge
in context, which students can then put to use on their current
papers. Here are some ways to help students learn and apply their
knowledge about conventions.
• Have students use a rubric for conventions to analyze
their own writing, taking advantage of this context to
review or teach, for example, end punctuation. See the
Quick Style Guide at right.
• Create a style guide with specific information about
how the paper should be formatted and certain
elements (e.g., titles) in their paper should be handled.
Below is a sample style guide I created for my AP
English literature classes.
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QuickStyleGuide
The following guide addresses common questions regarding
format and conventions for academic papers in English
classes.
ManuscriptFormat
• Double-spaced (typed)
• 12-point black font (preferably a serif font)
• Times New Roman is a serif font.
• Helvetica is a sans serif font.
• Margins should be 1–1.25 inches wide on both sides
• Put the appropriate header information on the front page:
name, period, date, teacher
• Put the page number in the top-right corner of each page;
place this in the header
Titles
• Italics: books, magazines, CDs, television shows, movies,
newspapers, plays, paintings; note: italics = underlining
(in handwritten essays)
• “Quotation marks”: individual articles, songs, poems,
short fiction, essays, chapters, television episodes
(compared to the series, which would be in italics)
• CAPITALIZATION: All nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives,
adverbs, and the first and last words of titles of
publications and other artistic works (consult style
guidelines for handling prepositions)
• One Hundred Years of Solitude
• “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”
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Citations
• Author cited in the lead-in:
• Miller argues that the common man is also a suitable
subject of tragedy (9).
• Krutch claims that “Tragedy is not, then, as Aristotle
said, the imitation of noble actions, for, indeed, no one
knows what a noble action is” (2).
• Author not cited in the lead-in:
• “Tragedy is not, then, as Aristotle said, the imitation of
noble actions, for, indeed, no one knows what a noble
action is” (Krutch 2).
ReferringtoanAuthor
• When referring to an author, use the full name (e.g.,
Ernest Hemingway) in the first sentence; after that, refer
to the author only by last name (e.g., Hemingway).
Punctuation
• Quotations: The period and punctuation marks go inside
the quotation marks:
• “One day a man may just pick up and walk out,”
writes Amos Oz.
• Oz begins his novel A Perfect Peace by saying,
“One day a man may just pick up and walk out.”
• Block quotations: Four or more lines of prose; three or
more of poetry. Indent them one inch front left side. Do
not include quotation marks. End passage with period,
followed by parenthetical citation.
• Apostrophe: Used for possession.
• Singular: poet’s
• Plural: poets’
• Ending in s or eez: Add an apostrophe to make
possessive: Sophocles’ plays
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• Provide specific mini-lessons on conventions,
including in these lessons explicit instruction on,
for example, the use of colons; follow these discrete
lessons by practicing the conventions through guided
instruction; then, finally, have students apply this new
knowledge to their papers. During such a sequence, I
circulate around the room to confer with students at
their desks to be sure they are doing it correctly and
clarifying the rules for them if they are not.
• Incorporate lessons on more advanced uses of
conventions to show students how they can affect the
meaning of a sentence or larger piece of writing. One
example would be to include samples from professional
writers using the dash to set off certain information
for emphasis. Some formatting conventions, such
as bulleted lists, represent changes in the nature of
certain genres of writing; depending on the genre and
purpose of the given paper, you might make time to
provide a lesson on how, when, and why to use such
lists as well as how to introduce and punctuate them.
• Require students to maintain a working list of particular
writing errors and, on subsequent papers, use this as
a guide to check whether they have addressed those
challenges in the latest paper. As the year progresses,
students can remove or add to this list various
conventions they are learning to control. The list could
also serve as the basis for writing conferences. When
you meet with your students one on one or in small
groups, reinforce the notion that they are responsible
for learning and correcting these errors.
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Publish,Perform,Post,orPresent.
Students have never had more opportunities to make their ideas
and performances public. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook,
podcasts and YouTube, millions of students across America are
publishing their music, videos, poetry, and fiction, as well as
their art and opinions. Of course some of this “publishing” might
borrow its collective title from Norman Mailer’s early book
Advertisements for Myself, and still some, thanks to their shocking
content, may merit not so much titles as ratings similar to those
that identify the adult content of movies. Students sometimes
come into my class on Monday morning with a wild look in their
eyes; when I ask if they are OK, these students say things like,
“Oh, I’m fine, Mr. Burke. I worked on my MySpace page for, like,
20 hours this weekend.” In this context, they are saying they
worked like a magazine or Web publisher might, choosing and
laying out photos, adding and revising written content, perhaps
even uploading some video footage. As for more academic
content, which might mean research papers or essays, speeches
and other expository writing assignments, there is a wide range
of ways to give audience to these writings. The reason to do so
is obvious: Students are motivated to work harder when what
they write will be read, heard, or seen by others. Here are some
possible ways to give students’ writing a real audience.
In class: Students can display their writing on
designated spaces on the walls, perform their work before
the class, and deliver it through either formal or informal
presentations or speeches. The class can also publish
student work in bound anthologies and magazines.
Online: Students can post their work to a class Web site,
blog, or podcast. Many schools have restrictions
on anything that involves publishing student work or
images online, so be sure to check with your district
regarding its policies.
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Around school: Students can publish their work on
designated bulletin boards, in student publications
such as the newspaper and literary magazine, and even
in the school news programs broadcast to all classes.
Obviously I don’t suggest that all students read their
essays to the school; still, certain assignments, such as an
opinion piece, might lend themselves to in-school issues
that would make a spot on the school news program
appropriate for one or two students.
Through school: Most schools send out some form of
newsletter; nearly all schools have their own Web sites;
a few even provide more advanced forums like podcasts
and television stations that broadcast over local cable
stations. Depending on the type of assignment, some
of these venues may offer rewarding opportunities
to publish, if not the work of many students, at least
perhaps excerpts from a few.
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Beyond school: Writing contests are available to
students; local and national speech contests provide
annual competitions and other opportunities to speak.
The “Laws of Life” essay contest (www.lawsoflife.org) is
one in which many teachers in my English department
have participated. It is an excellent experience, as it
combines serious writing with meaningful recognition
from an organization. At the same time, the essays
themselves can double as wonderful speeches which
the students can deliver in class or to another local
organization that is sponsoring a speech contest. On
a more informal level, students can find an audience
outside of school—parents or other relatives, mentors—
who can read and respond to their paper.
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6.
Assessing Student
Writing
Writing assessment refers not only to evaluating a student’s final
paper and assigning it a grade, but also to measuring a student’s
knowledge of the elements of writing we have taught him.
Assessment is a crucial part of the instructional process and of
a student’s growth as a writer, but it also demands much of the
teacher. We might revise an old writer’s saying to read that “we
love everything about teaching writing except the paper work.”
Yet it is not true that we must assess everything students write;
if we did so, our students would not write nearly as much as they
must if they are to improve. Such purposeful writing requires
a constructive response, feedback that helps students revise a
specific paper and improve their future performance. Students
themselves, however, must also reflect on their own writing
and the strategies they use throughout the writing process, for
if students do not internalize the writing strategies discussed
throughout this book, they will not achieve the independence
required to apply this knowledge in college or the workplace.
While we could frame writing assessment as both evaluating
a paper and measuring knowledge of content (through an essay
exam), this is not the place to discuss both in detail. Instead,
coming as it does at the end of the chapters about the writing
process, this chapter will examine how to evaluate and respond
to a student’s finished paper. In an earlier chapter on drafting and
revising, I considered some aspects of assessing and responding to
writers. Those remarks focused on the paper while it was being
written; the student author then used the feedback to revise his
paper. For the purposes of this chapter, assessment and response
will concentrate on the completed paper, though this does not
preclude the option of allowing students further opportunities
to revise. Here then are the guiding principles for assessing,
responding to, and reflecting on student writing.
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GuidingPrinciples
• Useavarietyofassessments.
• Respondtowritersaccordingtotheirindividualneeds.
• Invitestudentstoreflectontheprocess,theproduct,
andtheperformance.
Useavarietyofassessments.
Every writing assignment exists within a larger instructional
context. As the previous chapters illustrate, you are teaching
students a range of skills, some of which culminate in a given
assignment that, once polished and turned in, you must—choose
your favorite word—grade, evaluate, assess, read, or score. While
we use some of these words interchangeably, they do not mean
the same thing. The word assess derives from the Latin assidere,
meaning “to sit beside.” This definition suggests more of a guiding
role than a hard and fast score in the grade book. One gets the
sense that to assess is to act like the master sitting down beside
the apprentice at work to see how well he or she is learning the
craft. Evaluation, however, requires that we interpret the results
of a performance, in this case, a piece of writing. These results,
which might be alternatively described as evidence of a student’s
learning, are the measure not only of their success but also of ours.
Moreover, there is the dilemma of what to evaluate: the student’s
process or the content of the paper. As Calfee and Miller (2007)
write, “We [cannot be] completely satisfied with our content
and process labels. A contrast is also made between process and
product, the differences between how a student writes a paper
and the quality of the final work . . . . So we use process to refer
to the student’s activities in writing a composition as well as the
characteristics of the written work” (273). That composition,
however, is part of a larger body of work that can show progress
over time more clearly than any one individual assignment.
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Thus, when it comes to assessing the student’s paper at the end of
this process, the following approaches lead to improved writing
over time if executed effectively.
Content and process grade: If you have been teaching
specific aspects of writing (e.g., elements of argument,
organizational patterns, use of supporting details, thesis
statement) you can score papers for both content (i.e.,
students’ mastery of the specific content you have
taught) and process (i.e., the extent to which they
followed the steps of the process for the assignment).
This approach allows the teacher to hold students
accountable for both the content and the writing
without penalizing the student who is in the process
of learning to use the strategies she is being taught.
Content area teachers, moreover, can use this evaluation
method to incorporate more writing in their classes
without having to take full responsibility for providing
explicit writing instruction if time does not permit it. In
such cases, the social studies teacher, for example, can
have students write an essay in which they explain the
key factors that led to the Depression, simultaneously
assessing their knowledge of the era and students’ ability
to assemble an effective historical argument, something
most states include in their standards.
Rubric: Most of us must use one rubric or another: the
state exit exam rubric, the AP essay rubric, a district
writing assessment rubric (see example on page 75). So
it makes sense to incorporate, when appropriate, the
criteria by which our students will be evaluated. Still,
rubrics have their limits: Some argue (Wilson, 2006)
that they reduce writing to specific elements that do
not necessarily constitute good writing. Moreover, these
critics suggest that the harsh language that describes
lower-level performance undermines the efforts of
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struggling writers who don’t want to have their essay
about their grandfather’s struggle with cancer scored a
“2” for its “lack of examples and sensory details, choppy
sentences and grammatical errors.” On the other hand,
the obvious advantage of rubrics is that they provide
specific information about what a successful paper will
accomplish and save the teacher some time in evaluating
the paper since the rubric provides a minimal but
useful level of feedback. They also allow you to offer
students specific criteria up front. Any state will have
sample rubrics on its Department of Education Web site;
these can be adapted to meet the needs of individual
assignments. On the next page, I show the rubric I use in
my Advanced Placement literature class, adapted from
the AP literature exam rubric.
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APEssayScoringRubric
Score Description
9–8
A+/A
oresponds to the prompt clearly, directly, and fully
oapproaches the text analytically
osupports a coherent thesis with evidence from
the text
oexplains how the evidence illustrates and
reinforces its thesis
oemploys subtlety in its use of the text and the
writer’s style is fluent and flexible
ohas no mechanical and grammatical errors
7–6
A-/B+
oresponds to the assignment clearly and directly
but with less development than an 8–9 paper
odemonstrates a good understanding of the text
osupports its thesis with appropriate textual
evidence
oanalyzes key ideas but lacks the precision of an
8–9 essay
ouses the text to illustrate and support in ways
that are competent but not subtle
owritten in a way that is forceful and clear with
few if any grammatical and mechanical errors
5
B
oaddresses the assigned topic intelligently but
does not answer it fully and specifically
oshows a good but general grasp of the text
ouses the text to frame an apt response to the
prompt
oemploys textual evidence sparingly or offers
evidence without attaching it to the thesis
owritten in a way that is clear and organized but
may be somewhat mechanical
omarred by conspicuous grammatical and
mechanical errors
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4–3
B-/C
ofails in some important way to fulfill the demands
of the prompt
odoes not address part of the assignment
oprovides no real textual support for its thesis
obases its analysis on a misreading of some part
of the text
opresents one or more incisive insights among
others of less value
owritten in a way that is uneven in development
with lapses in organization and clarity
ounderminded by serious and prevalent errors in
grammar and mechanics
2–1
D/F
ocombines two or more serious failures:
omay not address the actual assignment
omay indicate a serious misreading of the text (or
suggest the student did not read it)
omay not offer textual evidence
omay use it in a way that suggests a failure to
understand the text
omay be unclear, badly written, or unacceptably
brief
omarked by egregious errors
owritten with great style but devoid of content
(rare, but possible)
Comments
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
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Portfolios: More appropriate to the English class,
I suspect, this approach emphasizes growth over time.
Students write often throughout the course of the year,
completing a range of papers on different subjects.
At certain junctures—
the end of a grading
period, for example—
students choose a paper
that represents where
they are at that time
as a writer and, if they
have not already done
so, revise and finish it
before turning it in. In
this way, students write
much more, but the
teacher does not have
to read and respond to it
all. This approach seeks
to measure students’
improvement over time
as opposed to their
performance on one
specific assignment.
Other teachers will
score papers but also
allow students to revise
certain pieces in their
portfolio and resubmit
them, after writing a cover letter in which they reflect
on their improvement, at the end of the semester for
reevaluation.
The past semester, year, I wasn’t always
able to meet the requirements. But
now I think I meet and exceeded the
expectations. I didn’t use to care on
writing. I would just go in and try semi-
hard. Though for this essay which was
the first big essay of the year I tried. I
prepared and I tried hard. That’s such
a great feeling to have when you tried
hard and you get the grade that you
earn. This essay I read the whole book,
took notes, researched more than the
book, and made an extensive outline
which helped me out a lot because a lot
of times I would get stressed out, but
with the outline I didn’t lose my train of
thought and forget where I was in my
writing. I just hope that in the future I
can keep these strategies and will be
able to get such high grades.
A student’s reflection letter
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Respondtowritersaccording
totheirindividualneeds.
Responding to papers encompasses so many of the challenges of
teaching writing successfully, all of which can be summed up by
asking, “How can we respond to students’ writing in ways that
are fast but effective?” Correcting every error, writing detailed
comments in the margin, offering encouraging and helpful
summary remarks when we finish—these are noble goals, but
if you have 170 (or more!) students, as many of us do, it’s not
possible. Well, that’s not true; one of my colleagues worked with
a teacher who kept an army cot in her classroom and, when she
collected papers, spent the night in her room so she could return
the papers to her students the next day. As a happily married
man and father of three kids who strives for some measure of life-
work balance, this is not a viable option for me. Our response to
students’ writing serves three main purposes: It provides guidance
for revision of the current paper, it gives feedback students can
use to improve their future performance, and it accounts for the
grade you assign the paper. Here then are some ways to respond
to papers when they are finished (as opposed to while they are in
draft form).
• Avoid overfocusing on surface errors. Instead, narrow
your remarks to emphasize the two or three most
important errors, particularly those errors you have
been addressing most recently through instruction.
Look also for patterns of error, as these offer targeted
opportunities for quick improvement.
• Show students alternatives to flawed usage or sentence
construction. It’s useless to tell them something is
wrong if they have no idea how to do it right. For
example, if a student writes, “World War Two was
a very important war because it lasted a long time,”
when they were supposed to come up with a thesis
about how the war changed American culture, you
might scribble in the margin, “Jane, explain how it
changed American culture. Ex: WW II galvanized
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Americans, uniting them in a common cause to defeat
Japan and Germany.”
• Praise what they do well, making specific comments
about their good work. Studies find that students make
an effort to repeat what earned them praise. Thus, if
you say, “The strong, active verbs in this paragraph
really give your ideas power!” they will be more likely
to focus on using strong verbs in future papers.
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• Avoid vague, general comments, as they are not
useful. When you say that a sentence is “vague” or
a paragraph “lacks focus,” students tend to see this
as your subjective opinion and dismiss it. Specific
comments with explanation or illustration clarify what
you are saying and help students see not only what
to change but how to change it. Instead of saying
a sentence is “awkward,” for example, you might
underline a part of the sentence and write, “How else
to say this, Pat? I’m not sure what you mean here.” In
some cases, when it is quick and comes easy to you,
you might write an example of how they might revise
it to illustrate your point. (See example on page 101.)
• Respond like a reader (not like a judge), giving
students your honest, supportive feedback as you read.
When responding in this manner, your comments are
more descriptive. I often write such notes as “Good
idea in the ¶ but you lost me halfway through, Maria”
or “I’m not sure how this relates to the previous
paragraph, Dion.” On some assignments, I might write
at the bottom of the first page something like “After
a whole page you still have not mentioned the book
you are supposed to be analyzing. Consider revising
to make the book the center of your paper.” Such
comments are best, of course, if students can then use
them to revise.
KeepinMindConsiderstudents’specificneeds
anddevelopmentwhenrespondingtotheirwriting.
Advancedstudentsoftenwantmorecriticalfeedback.
AsoneofmyAPstudentssaid,“TellmewhatI’mdoing
wrongandhowtoimproveit.IfIwantpraise,I’llhavemy
momreadmypaper.”Englishlearners,ontheotherhand,
maywantmoredetailedfeedbackongrammar,mechanics,
andusage.
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Encouragestudentstoreflectontheprocess,
theproduct,andtheperformance.
As students use new strategies and learn new aspects of writing,
they need the opportunity to examine the difference these
strategies make. Each writer must study his or her own writing
process, learning what works when, for example, they generate
ideas. I have students who have learned that they need to talk
their ideas through, so they schedule conferences with me during
lunch to have a sit-down and hash out what they are thinking.
Others need to just write, getting something down on paper no
matter how bad. When the paper is finished and ready to be
turned in, ask students to do some thinking about not only the
final product but also their process and their performance. If they
do not reflect, they will lack insight about how they reached
the final result and will be unable to repeat what they did well
due to a lack of awareness. Their success on a paper becomes an
accident, something they cannot reclaim on future performances.
Just as athletes watch videotapes of previous games, students
should reread past essays. Here are some easy but effective ways
to incorporate reflection into the writing process.
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• Before they begin to write, students reflect on where
they are in their development as writers, identifying
those specific areas they need to focus on and the ways
in which such an effort will improve their paper.
• During the writing process, have students pause to
reflect, for example, on the questions they asked to
help them generate ideas or write a particular section
of a paper. They might also stop to reflect on what
is not working and then brainstorm some possible
strategies to help them solve that problem.
• After the writing process is complete and the paper is
due, ask students to reflect on any of the following:
The strategies they used to write the paper. I tell
students that I often don’t know what I am trying to
say until I write my conclusion, which then ends up
working well as an introduction, at which point I cut
and paste it to the front of the essay, tossing out the
original introduction. Another strategy I often suggest,
or even require, is to read each sentence and ask of it,
“So what?” which has the effect of forcing students to
explain the importance of their ideas.
Their performance on this paper in contrast to
their previous papers, focusing on their growth
and needs. An alternative is to have them reflect on
their performance on this paper based on the criteria
outlined on the rubric.
Their needs as a writer, reader, or thinker on
future assignments. The most useful question
is “What was hard and what went well?” Each
assignment is a step in the year’s long journey toward
becoming a better writer, so it is important to keep
asking where they are and what they need to learn to
get where they want to be.
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Recommended Resources
and Readings
The following books proved essential in writing this book. They
go into much more detail about the ideas I’ve discussed, as well
as other interesting topics not touched upon in this book.
Alliance for Excellent Education (April 2007). “Making writing
instruction a priority in America’s middle and high schools.”
Washington, D.C. report.
Applebee, A. N., & Langer, J. A. (2006). The state of writing
intervention in America’s schools: What existing data tell us. Albany,
NY: Center for English Learning and Achievement.
Booth, W. C., Columb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2003). The craft of
research. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
Boscolo, P., & Gelati, C. (2007). “Best practices in promoting
motivation for writing.” In S. Graham, C. A. MacArthur, & J.
Fitzgerald (Eds.), Best practices in writing instruction (pp. 202–220).
New York: Guilford.
Burke, J. (2001). Illuminating texts: How to teach students to read the
world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Burke, J. (2002). Tools for thought. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
College Board (2003). The neglected R: The need for a writing
revolution. Report of the national commission on writing in
America’s schools and colleges. New York.
Connors, R., & Glenn, C. (1999). The new St. Martin’s guide to
teaching writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Farrell, E. J. (1976). “The beginning begets: Making composition
assignments.” In R.L. Graves (Ed.), Rhetoric and composition: A
sourcebook for teachers (pp. 220–224). Rochelle Park, NH: Hayden.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
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Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to
improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools—A report to
Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, D.C.: Alliance for
Excellent Education.
Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Fitzgerald, J. (Eds). (2007) Best
practices in writing instruction. New York: Guilford.
Hillocks, G. (2007). Narrative writing: Learning a new model for
teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lanham, R. (2006). The economics of attention: Style and substance in
the age of information. Chicago, IL: Chicago.
Levine, M. (2003). The myth of laziness. New York: Simon &
Schuster.
Lindemann, E. (2001). A rhetoric for writing teachers. New York:
Oxford.
Lunsford, A. (2008). The St. Martin’s handbook. Boston, MA: Bedford/
St. Martin’s.
MacArthur, C. A., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (Eds.) (2006).
The handbook of writing research. New York: Guilford.
Murray, D. (2004). A writer teaches writing (Rev. 2nd ed.). Boston,
MA: Heinle.
National Council of Teachers of English (2004). NCTE beliefs about
the teaching of writing. November.
National Writing Project & Nagin, C. (2006). Because writing
matters: Improving student writing in our schools. San Francisco, CA:
Jossey-Bass.
Smith, M. W., & Wilhelm, J. D. (2007). Getting it right: Fresh
approaches to teaching grammar, usage, and correctness. New York:
Scholastic.
Spandel, V. (2009). Creating writers through 6-trait writing assessment
and instruction. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Wilson, M. (2006). Rethinking rubrics in writing assessment.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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Troubleshooting
Writing on Demand W
<cR_cVRd
Writing on demand has become one oI the more pressing concerns Ior teachers in
recent years. 0ur students must write on demand Ior state exams, high school exit
exams, and the 5AT, A0T, and AP exams, among others. 0ontent area teachers,
especially those in science and social studies, require some Iorm oI writing, oIten
a short essay, on ma|or exams. 5ome resist teaching students the strategies they
need to succeed on such tests, but this ignores the prevalence and importance oI
these tests both in school and beyond. Many workplace applications require some
writing on demand. 5chools that do not demonstrate test proIiciency may Iace being
¨reconstituted¨ or otherwise penalized Ior their perIormance. What are the problems
teachers and students encounter when writing on demand? Here are the most common:
- Analyzing and preparing to write about an assigned, timed prompt.
- Writing about a prompt that is based on a text students must Iirst read.
- Teaching students strategies they can use to write eIIectively within the
constraints oI prompts.
- Ìntegrating test preparation into your curriculum without undermining your
curriculum and making you Ieel as though you`re teaching to the test.
- Aligning the writing-on-demand prompts with the standards you must
address in your class.
Here are instructional techniques you can use to prepare your students for tests without
surrendering control of your curriculum:
1. 7dWbop[WdZ_dYehfehWj[_djeoekhYkhh_Ykbkcj^[bWd]kW]["Ye]d_j_l[Z[cWdZi"WdZ
ia_bbi\ekdZ_dj^[mh_j_d]Wii[iic[djioek"oekhijWj["WdZh[b[lWdj dWj_edWbj[iji
ki[$ You could, for example, adapt the language of certain prompts to other assignments,
familiarizing students in the process with terms that may appear on the exam. State tests
frequently ask students to respond to a text they must read. You might, in anticipation of
Jim Burke
TheTeacher’s Essential Guide ’ Series
Content Area Writing
1.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
this, ask students to write similar assignments that introduce or reinforce those skills, such
as generating a word that best describes a particular person they read about, then drawing
evidence from the article to support their assertion.
2. J[WY^j^[bWd]kW][WdZijhWj[]_[iWffhefh_Wj[jej^[mh_j_d]Wii[iic[djioekh
ijkZ[djim_bb[dYekdj[h_doekhYbWiiWdZedj^[I7J"79J"eh7F[nWc_dWj_edi$ These
strategies include annotating the prompt, generating ideas and jotting them down, reading
and rereading closely, and taking notes for writing assessments that require the student to
first read then write about a text.
3. J[WY^ijkZ[dji^emjeXh[WaZemdj^[fhecfje\Wmh_j_d]Wii[iic[dj"\eYki_d]
edj^[a[omehZij^Wj_dZ_YWj[m^Wjj^[ockijZeeh_dYbkZ[_dj^[_h[iiWo$ Such
instruction might also include teaching them how to organize their essay based on these key
words (e.g., comparison/contrast). Often, such prompts can be turned into a checklist of
what students must do or include in their essay.
ó. FhWYj_Y[j_c[Zmh_j_d]Wffhefh_Wj[jekfYec_d]j[iji"_dYh[Wi_d]j^[j_c[
_dYh[c[djWbbojecWjY^j^[Z[cWdZie\j^[j[ij$ In an AP course, for example, students
will have to write three essays in two hours, so it makes sense to arrive at May ready to
write such demanding essays. In my class, for example, we practice writing analytically in
class in 10–15 minute bursts, calling them “mini AP essays” and increasing the time as we
get closer to the exams.
5. 9h[Wj[YedZ_j_edii_c_bWhjej^ei[edj^[j[ijioekhijkZ[djim_bbjWa[$ Students in
many states, for example, take exit exams that require them to write an essay. In California
these tests begin in 10th grade, so whenever possible, teachers of these classes might align
their examinations and the scoring guides with those from the state.
ó. 7ZWfjWdZWZefjiYeh_d]hkXh_Yi\hecj^[ijWj[ehej^[hW][dYoj^Wjm_bbX[iYeh_d]j^[
ed#Z[cWdZmh_j_d]Wii[iic[dji$ In my AP literature class, for example, I use a rubric I
adapted from the one the College Board uses to evaluate the AP exams. Such rubrics are
readily available on district, state, and national Web sites.
7. Ki[iWcfb[fWf[hi_dYed`kdYj_edm_j^ej^[hWlW_bWXb[cWj[h_WbiikY^WihkXh_Yi
WdZfh[l_ekiboki[Zfhecfjijej[WY^ijkZ[djim^Wjje[nf[YjedikY^Wj[ij$ To
prepare students for the state exit exam, for example, I download from the California State
Department of Education’s Web site a set of sample student responses to the prompt my
students use to practice. Before they score their own, they use the state’s rubric to score the
sample papers, providing reasons, all of which must be anchored in the rubric, for giving
it a score of 3, for instance. They then compare the score they give each paper with those
their peers assign, after which I tell them the score the papers actually received. We then
generate a list of useful reminders about the traits of effective versus ineffective papers that
we refer to regularly on subsequent practice days and prior to the day of the actual test.
8. Mh_j[m_j^oekhijkZ[djim^[dj^[ojWa[j^[i[fhWYj_Y[[nWci$ Nothing will help you
better understand the experience and demands of writing such essays than hacking away
at one yourself. I try always to write with my students, at least for part of the time, when
they practice for the AP literature exam. I need to be reminded of how stressful it is to read
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a poem or other literary text in
a few minutes, find something
really smart to say about it that I
can support with evidence from
the text, and say it in a well-
written essay in the time allotted.
This has the added benefit of
giving me—as long as I do a good
job!—an example to use and
personal experience to refer to.
º. J[WY^ijkZ[djijea[[fjhWYa
e\j^[j_c["XkjWbiejea[[f_d
c_dZj^[\ebbem_d][b[c[dji"
Wbbe\m^_Y^\ehcWki[\kb
WYhedocJH7CF0 What is the topic? What are the requirements? Who is the audience?
What rhetorical mode should they use when writing this essay? What is their purpose
(i.e., what are they trying to accomplish) in writing this essay?
10. H[\b[Yjedj^[_hf[h\ehcWdY[m^[d[l[hfeii_Xb[$ While preparing students for the
California exit exam, for example, I interrupt them in the middle of writing a practice essay
and ask them to write down the strategies they have used and the questions they asked to
draft what they’ve written so far. If they have nothing down, I ask them to explain what is
going on in their heads that prevents them from writing. After this brief reflection, I have
them resume their essay. More often than not, I notice that they begin writing with a new
vigor, as if all their writers’ ghosts have been exorcised in that brief period of reflection.
?RP\ZZR[QRQ?RNQV[T`
Gere, A. R., Christenbury, L., & Sassi, K. (2005). Writing on demand: Best practices and strategies
for success. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Angelillo, J. (2005). Writing to the prompt: When kids don’t have a choice. Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann.
Hillocks, G., Jr. (2002). The testing trap: How state writing assessments control learning. New York:
Teachers College Press.
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2.
Teaching the Elements
of Effective Writing
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5tudents need to know not only how to write but also what to write. Each genre oI
writing calls Ior its own special ingredients, some oI which are easier to produce
than others. Ìn addition to teaching students the conventions oI these speciIic genres,
we need to introduce them to and reinIorce the basic elements oI eIIective writing in
general. 5everal models have emerged over the years, some more Iormulaic than
others, but all oI which have the potential to help students write better expository
prose. The Iollowing ideas outline the most common problems and oIIer suggestions
Ior how to begin to address them:
- ÌdentiIying the elements oI eIIective expository prose.
- Teaching such elements to students in a way they will understand, remember,
and be able to apply them to their own writing.
- Teaching the conventions oI various genres my students need to know Ior
my discipline.
- Using these elements to help me assess student writing.
- 0btaining examples to use as models oI these diIIerent elements and genres
oI writing.
The following strategies and examples offer a starting point for teaching such elements:
1. ?Z[dj_\oj^[gkWb_j_[ie\[\\[Yj_l[mh_j_d]ceijWffhefh_Wj[jeoekhZ_iY_fb_d[WdZ
j^[jof[e\mh_j_d]oek^Wl[Wii_]d[Z$ In science this would mean creating a list of the
elements of an effective field or lab report, some of which might include the following:
clear, objective language; appropriate organization of data (e.g., into steps, tables, or
graphs); and use of terminology specific to the subject. In a social studies class where
students are studying how Americans were persuaded to revolt against England, students
would study the elements of argument: claim, reason, evidence, acknowledgment of other
perspectives, and response (also referred to as rebuttal), during which they restate their
position to clarify their argument. These elements might then be used to analyze samples
from that era, such as the writings of Patrick Henry or John Adams. English teachers would
do much the same with any type of writing they taught, training students to see and use
those elements common to the comparison/contrast essay, the persuasive essay, or the
literary analysis paper.
2. J[WY^ijkZ[djijeh[Ye]d_p["kdZ[hijWdZ"WdZki[j^ei[jhW_jie\[\\[Yj_l[mh_j_d]
YeccedjeWbbZ_iY_fb_d[iWdZ\ehci$ The most common model, known as the “six traits”
(Spandel, 2005; Culham, 2003), argues that good writing has six distinct traits: ideas,
sentence fluency, organization, word choice, voice, and conventions. Culham adds to this
list “presentation,” which she describes as “how the writing looks to the reader” (p. 248).
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In my own class, I use the traits and a variation I developed on my own, which we refer to
by its rather bland acronym: FODP. Here is a summary of this alternative model:
<E9KI applies to the paper, paragraphs, and sentences. It combines the subject
and the author’s main point about the subject.
EH=7D?P7J?ED refers to how the writer arranges information throughout the
paper and within paragraphs or sentences to achieve a specific effect (e.g., to
emphasize).
:;L;BEFC;DJ refers to two elements: details and commentary. Details include
the examples, evidence, and quotations the author uses to support or illustrate
his or her focus. Commentary includes analysis, interpretations, insights,
opinions, and responses to the question, “So what?”
FKHFEI; accounts for the writer’s intended effect in the paper as a whole and
within each paragraph and sentence.
3. ?dYbkZ[Z[i_]dWdZ\ehcWjm^[dj[WY^_d]ijkZ[djij^[[b[c[djie\[\\[Yj_l[mh_j_d]$
Although neatness has always counted, thanks to computers, it has taken on new meaning
and value in our design-savvy world. As mentioned above, Culham includes this in her
model, referring to it as “presentation.” Because writing is no longer limited to words on a
piece of paper, we must take time to teach students how to format pages, screens, or slides,
these last two representing important trends in writing: Web pages and presentation slides
using programs such as PowerPoint.
ó. Fhel_Z[Z_h[Yj_dijhkYj_ed_dj^[ki[e\c[Y^Wd_YWbWdZ]hWccWj_YWbYedl[dj_edi"
\eYki_d]ed^emj^[i[Yedjh_Xkj[jej^[YbWh_joWdZc[Wd_d]e\j^[_hmh_j_d]$ Once you
have explicitly taught the specific convention, give students opportunities to practice using
it in different contexts so they will develop not only a solid understanding but also fluency
in using this knowledge in different but appropriate ways.
5. Ki[j^[if[Y_\_YmehZioekj[WY^j^[cjeZ_iYkiij^[_hmh_j_d]WioekYh_j_gk[_j$
Students benefit from a codified language that clarifies what good writing does or includes;
such language demystifies effective writing, making it clear that elements can be learned
and should be used to write more effectively. In my class, FODP is such an example; when
I say “FODP,” I often add reflexively, “And what does ‘FODP’ stand for?” and then ask
them to call it out. In a class where instruction focuses on the traits, teachers will use
those specific words, often creating posters for each trait to reinforce and add to students’
knowledge of each trait.
ó. H[_d\ehY[j^[i[[b[c[djie\[\\[Yj_l[mh_j_d]Xoki_d]j^[c"fWhj_YkbWhbom^[d
oek^Wl[jWk]^jed[ehjmeh[Y[djbo"Wij^[XWi_i\ehWii[iic[dj$ Any rubric or
other means of scoring students’ work would include the specific element(s), such as
“Development: Includes a range of appropriate examples, quotations, and data; explains
through commentary what these examples mean and how they relate to the main idea
you are developing.” By giving students such guidelines ahead of time, you reinforce the
importance of that element both for writing in general and this assignment in particular.
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7. JhW_dijkZ[djije_Z[dj_\oj^[ki[ehec_ii_ede\j^ei[[b[c[dji[ii[dj_WbjeW
fWhj_YkbWh][dh[e\mh_j_d]$ Whether this means mechanical conventions such as properly
citing a source or more structural conventions such as using transition words to organize
the information, you can develop students’ eyes through direct instruction in these areas.
If I have been teaching students to integrate quotations into their writing, for example, I
will have them use highlighters to identify all the quotations in their paper. Following this
initial phase of identification, we then review and apply what I have taught them about
introducing and commenting on the quotation. I typically use some means of identifying—
labeling, highlighting, circling, underlining—when teaching students to use such elements.
8. J[WY^if[Y_\_Y[b[c[djie\mh_j_d]ki_d]Wj^h[[#f^Wi[WffheWY^0[nfb_Y_j_dijhkYj_ed"
]k_Z[ZfhWYj_Y["WdZ"\_dWbbo"Wffb_YWj_ed$ If, for example, you want to teach students
how to use correlative conjunctions (not only x but also y), prepare a lesson that explains
in detail what they are, why students should use them, and how to use them. Include in
this first stage a range of examples that show the conjunctions used in different contexts
as well as in the type of paper you are asking them to write. Next provide students with
samples taken from publishers, produced by past students, or created by you. You might
begin by projecting a few sentences on a screen and asking students to combine them using
correlative conjunctions. Finally, when they show some fluency, require them to use these
correlative conjunctions in the papers they are writing. The same sequence applies when
teaching other aspects of writing, such as thesis statements, types of paragraphs, or elements
of argument.
º. I^emj^[i[[b[c[djiki[Z_dYedj[njXo[\\[Yj_l[mh_j[hi$ These examples can come from
professional writers, your students, or you. They should not be intimidating but rather well
suited to the level of your students and the context of the assignment. If, for example, an
American Literature teacher is teaching elements of rhetoric in the context of persuasion, she
might use appropriate examples from a speech by Abraham Lincoln, asking students to mimic
his tone and rhetorical strategies. I have a folder in my office at home where I toss examples
I find in magazines and other publications; at school I have a tray for student examples. It is
useful to have models that are both effective and ineffective so students can see the difference
that it makes to use, for example, transitional phrases at the beginning of a sentence. When
possible, I present these models using my LCD projector so I can color-code the elements of
the writing I want them to study. As we examine these elements, I think aloud about what is
going on in the text and how the writer achieved that effect.
10. H[_d\ehY[j^[ki[e\j^[i[[b[c[djij^hek]^ekjj^[o[WhXoki_d]j^[iWc[mehZi"
h[gk_h_d]j^[i[[b[c[djiX[_dYbkZ[Z"WdZj[WY^_d]ijkZ[djijeki[j^[cWjceh[
WZlWdY[Zb[l[bi$ It is too easy, given all that we must teach in the course of a year, to do
“drive-by teaching,” which means we teach it in October and never talk about it again.
“Been there, done that!” we think, mentally checking off another standard on the long list
of demands we all face. Effective writing instruction, however, requires that such lessons be
taught in depth, revisited, and refined over the entire year. While we may teach them well
in October, the writing we expect from students as the year unfolds should necessarily be
more complex and require guided support as to how to use those same elements students
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3.
learned for October’s narrative essay on April’s analytical paper. One way to keep these terms
and techniques in play throughout the year is to keep them posted in key places on the walls
of your room as reminders—both to students and yourself!
?RP\ZZR[QRQ?RNQV[T`
Spandel, V. (2009). Creating writers through 6-trait writing assessment and instruction (5th ed.).
Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Culham, R. (2003). 6 + 1 traits of writing: The complete guide, grades 3 and up. New York:
Scholastic.
Portalupi, J., & Fletcher, R. (2004). Teaching the qualities of writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Using Computers
to Improve Writing
<cR_cVRd
5tudents write constantly these days in ways they never did in the past, e-mails, text
messages, blogs, social networking Web sites, and wikis all provide students ways to
express their ideas to Iriends or even a large public IiI they are lucky enough to come
up with a hot blog ideaJ. Whereas students in the pre-computer age were unlikely
to have the keyboard skills needed to type eIIiciently, today most kids can hammer
away thanks to those all-night instant messaging conversations they have or those
My5pace exchanges they en|oyed all weekend. The point is that most students now
come into the class ready to use computers Iat least at the secondary levelJ, but that
we must use these machines in ways that improve students` writing skills and yield
better writing in a range oI genres. Here are some oI the concerns related to the use
oI computers in the classroom:
- ÌdentiIying the skills students need to use computers eIIectively.
- 0eciding which applications students should learn to use.
- 0eIining the teacher`s role in the classroom when students are all working on
computers.
- Figuring out how the teacher can use a computer to enhance writing instruction.
- Making room Ior other computer-mediated learning to improve writing.
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The following suggestions offer guidance in how to use computers to help students write better:
1. J[WY^ijkZ[djijeki[WlWh_[joe\ie\jmWh[Wffb_YWj_ediWdZedb_d[fhe]hWci\eh
Z_\\[h[djfkhfei[i$ Given that each application is a solution to a different composing
or instructional problem, you want to be sure students know how to use Microsoft
Word, PowerPoint, and, in some cases, more specialized software like Inspiration, an
idea-generating program that allows students to organize their thoughts in different
formats. In addition to these applications, students should all learn how to use e-mail,
post to blogs, and contribute to wikis. As for other, more familiar forms of social
writing such as instant messaging and text messaging, well, we would be better off
asking students to teach us those lessons, as they are the experts in such writing.
2. 9edi_Z[hki_d]Yecc[hY_Wbmh_j_d]fhe]hWci_\j^[i[i[[cWffhefh_Wj[iebkj_edi
\ehoekhiY^eebehijkZ[dji$ Recent increases on the NAEP writing test suggest that
some schools used these programs to great effect. Such programs as Vantage Learning’s
MY Access!, Pearson Education’s WriteToLearn, and Teaching Matters’s Writing
Matters provide useful guidance through the writing process, also allowing students to
receive almost immediate feedback when they submit it online to a software program
that analyzes the features of the text. Although these programs are not appealing to all
(I don’t use any of them), many schools are looking to computers for solutions, asking
whether they can help students write better. Initial results suggest that they do have a
positive impact on writing if used well.
3. Ki[Yecfkj[hije][d[hWj[WdZeh]Wd_p[_Z[Wi_dj^[fh[mh_j_d]ijW][e\j^[
fheY[ii$Students often find they can write more and faster on computers, freed up
from the initial concern about making mistakes and, often, able to write faster on
a keyboard than they can with a paper and pencil. On computers connected to the
Internet, students can move between applications, investigating resources and reading
for ideas, then jotting down these ideas and responding to them by way of figuring
out what they want to say on the paper they must write. Other, more specialized
applications can further facilitate the generating process: the outlining function in
word processing programs or similar capabilities in programs like Inspiration that
allow students to create mind maps that, with a keystroke, can become outlines
students can continue to manipulate as they explore different possible connections
and arrangements.
ó. ?dYehfehWj[mehZfheY[ii_d]_djeoekhmh_j_d]Ykhh_Ykbkcm^[d[l[hfeii_Xb["Wi
h[i[WhY^i^emij^_iijhWj[]oX[d[\_jiWbbmh_j[hiXkj[if[Y_WbbokdZ[hWY^_[l_d]
mh_j[hi$ Whether on laptops in the classroom or on desktop computers in a computer
lab, students write more and show a greater willingness to revise and experiment
than students doing the same assignment with paper and pencil. Other factors that
strengthen the effect of using word processors include the increased confidence from
spell checker and the appearance of their papers, which now look like those of the
smartest kid in the class. Of course, not everyone has access to a full lab. Students can
collaborate on certain types of papers and still get the same benefits; as the authors
of Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High
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Schools say, “In this type of instruction, students might work collaboratively on writing
assignments” (Graham & Perin, 2007).
5. J[WY^ijkZ[djij^[ia_bbij^[od[[Zjeki[j^[Yecfkj[hWdZie\jmWh[$ While your
primary objective is to improve student writing, everything we do provides “teachable
moments” for secondary objectives such as, in this case, teaching them how to use
Microsoft Word or, if they already know that, how to integrate graphics and tables into
their word processing documents, for example. I often use my laptop connected to the
LCD projector to provide such instruction if it is for everyone. When, for example, I
want to teach students how to put headers and insert page numbers into their papers,
I walk them through this step by step, pausing as I pull down the “View” menu and
show them the “Header and Footer” option. When we move into the computer lab, I
circulate among the students, seeing that they have successfully included the header
and page numbers. If they have not mastered it, I sit down and provide instruction
for them at that time, first doing it for them, then erasing and asking them to do it
themselves. Although word processing is the primary use of computers, other lessons
require similar instruction: posting to a blog, composing and sending e-mail, creating
Web pages, formatting and writing for PowerPoint slides (e.g., writing with bullets).
ó. Ki[j^[Yecfkj[hjeZ[cedijhWj[Y[hjW_dWif[Yjie\mh_j_d]oekWh[j[WY^_d]eh
jefhel_Z[ceZ[bi\ehijkZ[dji$ For example when my students wrote a short paper
synthesizing their thinking about the “stages of life,” I powered up the projector and
wrote on the laptop (in PowerPoint), “Although everyone’s life takes its own unique
path, our lives fall into four distinct stages.” This was, I explained, just a working topic
sentence for the assignment, which amounted to a long paragraph. I stopped, discussed
what I had written and what I was trying to accomplish, and then directed them either
to write my sentence or come up with their own that achieved the same purpose. Next,
I wrote the transitional sentence for the first of the four stages: “The first stage is when
one....” Several points merit attention here. I was getting the information from one of
the students in the class, using his model and its content as the basis for my paragraph.
Although the class did not know it, I was asking this student for information because I
knew that he had a good model from the previous day’s work in his group but also that
he had a hard time with writing. So by using his material to guide my demonstration,
I was embedding some invisible differentiation and targeted support (which paid off
when he wrote well). They could not copy my exact words, only use them as a guide
for their own writing. I went on a bit further, narrating my actions all along, and then
turned them loose to write their own with paper and pencil in class. Such modeling
is especially valuable when students are writing specialized genres with required
conventions. Science teachers who want well-written lab reports, for example, should
provide such examples and explanations if they want strong performances.
7. ?dj[]hWj[ej^[hYecfkj[h#c[Z_Wj[ZYecckd_YWj_ed_djeoekhYkhh_Ykbkcie
ijkZ[djiYWdki[mh_j_d]jeb[WhdWdZj^_daWXekjj^[Yedj[dje\oekhYekhi[$
Examples of such communication include blogs, wikis, e-mail conversations—even
text messaging in class about the books they are reading or ideas they are studying.
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I know—this is heresy! And I realize not all students have cell phones. Still, I have
talked with some teachers who, in a moment of spontaneity, told kids to break out
their phones and do above their desk what they are always trying to do under it: write!
Others have experimented successfully with having kids use IM (instant messenger)
as an alternative to book groups or literature circles. I have enjoyed consistent success
in using threaded discussions to explore an idea as background knowledge prior to
reading about it or a topic they have chosen to examine throughout a book. In my
senior English class, for example, students reading Crime and Punishment chose from
among eight subjects (e.g., choices, psychology, philosophy, faith) the one they wanted
to focus on as they read the novel. Weekly, they went online and posted comments
about the book and others’ responses. I found that this informal academic writing
yielded much more developed responses than their typical notebook entries because it
was more social and students are more fluent on computers. Also, those who are shy
in class or need additional time to process the material are often the best contributors
to these threaded discussions because they can take their time to formulate a response
after reading what others have to say. Teachers of other subjects have had similar
success using writing in these ways. A social studies teacher, for example, began a
unit on World War II by asking students to respond over the course of a week to the
question, “Is there such a thing as a just war?”
8. :[i_]dicWhjZeYkc[djije_cfhel[ijkZ[djmh_j_d]$ By “smart” I mean documents
that include annotations and other details designed to help students do well. When
teaching students to write a formal letter, for example, I created a model that showed
not only the appropriate tone but also the proper format.
º. J[WY^ijkZ[djijemh_j[\ehWhWd][e\j[Y^debe]o#XWi[Z][dh[i"Wij^[i[Wbb
^Wl[j^[_hemdYedl[dj_edij^Wj"Wbj^ek]^ij_bb[lebl_d]"m_bbX[[ii[dj_Wbjej^[_h
ikYY[ii_dj^[mehbZX[oedZiY^eeb$ PowerPoint, for example, requires learning how
to say much in few words. Moreover, PowerPoint slides require careful attention not
only to word choice (every word counts when you only get three bullets on a slide!) but
to parallel structure as well. This creates a useful opportunity and authentic context in
which to teach them what parallel structure is and why it matters. Students creating a
web page, on the other hand, need to learn other ways of writing suited to their purpose
and audience. Again, tone and format matter, as do correctness and content.
10. 8[i[di_j_l[jej^[h[Wb_joj^WjdecWjj[hm^[h[oekj[WY^"j^[h[Wh[ijkZ[djim^e
Zedej^Wl[WYY[iijeYecfkj[hiWj^ec[\ehed[h[WiedehWdej^[h$ This is certainly
more of a problem in some schools than in others. My son attends a large urban public
high school and has never been to a computer lab; if asked whether there is a computer
lab, he says with typical teenage indifference, “How would I know?” In my own class, I
always have students who face this limitation. They know they can come in and use my
classroom computers (two outdated but serviceable Macs) or those in the library before
and after school and during lunch. If I want to make sure everyone gets on and gets it
done, especially if I want to teach them something about writing or using a program, I
will sign up for the computer lab and hope everything works and that, at period’s end, we
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4.
have paper when we print! Unfortunately, this often is not the case, something that serves
to remind me that while computers offer great benefit to us, they can also cost us precious
instructional time (if the printer is down, the Internet isn’t working that day, or we can’t
get a computer for everyone due to the number of machines that are out of commission).
?RP\ZZR[QRQ?RNQV[T`
Pew Internet and American Life Project. (2008, April). Writing, Technology and Teens. Available
at www.pewinternet.org.
Partnership for 21
st
Century Skills. www.21stcenturyskills.org/
Handling the Paper Load
<cR_cVRd
The old saying is that iI we had students write as much as we should, we could never
grade it all, and iI we assigned only what we could grade, they would not write enough.
When it comes to handling the paper load, these are the most common issues Ior us:
- Keeping up with the volume oI papers.
- Providing useIul Ieedback that improves students` writing.
- Returning papers in a timely manner with helpIul Ieedback.
- Reducing the number oI papers or time spent responding to them while still
providing quality writing instruction.
Here are a few general ways to respond to or follow up with student writing:
1. 9ecc[djed_dij[WZe\Yehh[Yj_d]j^[_hfWf[hi"\eYki_d]edm^Wjj^[oZem[bbWdZ
m^Wjj^[oYWdZeje_cfhel[$ Say, for example, “Good examples here. Consider explaining
a bit more how they relate to your main idea.”
2. Ki[iYeh_d]]k_Z[iWdZhkXh_Yim^[doekZedÊj^Wl[j_c[jeh[ifedZjefWf[hiXkj
mWdjjee\\[hif[Y_\_Y\[[ZXWYaWXekjm^Wjj^[oZ_Zm[bbWdZd[[Zje_cfhel[d[nj
j_c[$ These have the added advantage of telling students in advance what their grade will
be based on as well as communicating why they received the grade they did. You can also
have students take one aspect of the rubric (e.g., uses examples, quotations, or commentary
to develop an argument) and analyze their papers just for that one feature, highlighting
examples of these elements.
3. I[jkfWdZj[WY^ijkZ[dji^emjeZeYebbWXehWj_l[eh]hekfiYeh_d]edWii_]dc[dji
kikWbbom_j^WhkXh_Y$ One warning, however: You must still go over the work to make
sure the grades reflect the quality of the work. Often teachers who use such scoring will
return the papers to the students for another round of revision once the student knows
(roughly) what it would earn and where it could be improved.
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ó. 9ed\[hm_j^ijkZ[dji_dYbWiiehW\j[h
iY^eeb\ehceh[h[ifedi_l[\[[ZXWYa
WdZjeWbbem\ehWZ_\\[h[djceZ[e\
h[ifedZ_d]$ Such conferences allow
for individualized feedback and a more
supportive atmosphere in which to discuss
students’ writing.
5. 9kbb[nWcfb[i\hech[fh[i[djWj_l[
fWf[hiWdZj[WY^l_Wel[h^[WZ
fhe`[Yjehjej^[i[fWf[hi$ For example
instead of commenting on all the papers, I
will pull out a few papers—usually a C, B,
and an A paper—and copy parts of them
to overhead transparencies. I put these up
in order from proficient (C) to excellent (A) and do a think-aloud about what they each
do well and could do better, using the higher example to illustrate what the previous level
could have done better. This leaves me more time to focus on what and how to teach the
next day instead of marking up 70 papers that night.
ó. ;\\[Yj_l[\[[ZXWYa_i0
- Clearly worded in a way that guides revision (e.g., a well-phrased question that
suggests what the student can do without doing the thinking for them).
- Based on instruction and qualities of effective writing––not on a teacher’s stylistic
preferences.
- Anchored in specific criteria or lessons taught in class. For example, if you have been
teaching students to incorporate quotations and add commentary on those quotations,
those are features you should focus on.
- Positive but productive; personal but useful: “Great verbs, Charlene! They really add
strength to your description. Consider working on the subjects to make them a bit
more concrete.”
- Limited to a few specific items. I will often list three bullets at the top for the student
to focus on; this has the added advantage of giving me a cue if we meet to discuss the
paper. If I see “Development, passive verbs, and citations” at the top, I know what to
talk about.
?RP\ZZR[QRQ?RNQV[T
Jago, C. (2005). Papers, papers, papers: An English teacher’s survival guide. Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann.
N
o
a
h

B
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r
g
e
r
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5. Supporting Struggling Writers
<cR_cVRd
At one time or another, nearly all students struggle to write, regardless oI their skill
level. Top students in my Advanced Placement class Iind themselves shutting down
as they begin to write a demanding essay on a complex novel or a timed essay about
a challenging poem they don`t understand. 5imilarly, students in any other class,
regardless oI sub|ect area, struggle to get ideas down or draw them out when they
cannot Iind the language. 5tudents with learning diIIiculties IL0J or English learners
IELsJ struggle Ior similar and diIIerent reasons. They lack the language or cannot Iind
ways to get their ideas out and onto the page. For one reason or another, writing is
simply a torturous process Ior these students unless they Iind strategies they can use
and have teachers who try to meet their needs through instructional accommodations.
The most common issues associated with supporting struggling writers include these:
- Finding and using strategies that help them generate ideas and revise.
- Helping students write with greater Iluency and conIidence.
- Teaching these students strategies Ior diIIerent types oI writing.
- 0iving them techniques to correct their errors.
- Being eIIective when teaching such a range oI students in one class.
Whole books are written about this subject, but here are the key recommendations I have found
from reading many books and reports about this subject:
1. Fhel_Z[WYYecceZWj_edim^[dfeii_Xb[ehcWdZWj[Zje^[bfijkZ[djiYecfei[$
Such accommodations include extended time (for timed writing or stages of the writing
process), use of computers, and dictation. This last is the most demanding, but research
shows it has the greatest effect in helping LD students write at or near the level of their
non-LD peers. While dictation continues, for the most part, to mean orally composing with
a partner or adult aide, technology (e.g., voice recognition software) will make this a valid
choice for any student in the near future, which will raise the interesting question of what
it will even mean to “write” when one can do so just as easily by using his or her voice to
compose. It’s also worth noting that many of the great authors, including John Cheever and
Fyodor Dostoevsky, frequently hired secretaries or used recorders to take down what they
composed orally.
2. E\\[hbWd]kW][ikffehjWffhefh_Wj[jej^[][dh[ehijob[e\mh_j_d]$ Academic writing
is foreign to most students and thus requires the use of prompts, language, and models.
Prompts typically include sentence starters (e.g., The author argues that ______ is best
because ______.) to train students in the use of such academic forms. Teachers might
find it useful to create a handout of such starters or put them on poster paper. Language
support, on the other hand, translates to words, often specialized words appropriate to a
content area. In an English class, for example, this might mean a list of words kids can use
to describe a character, an author’s tone, or the story’s mood. Finally, models offer the most
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complete support, giving students concrete examples of what a given type of sentence,
paragraph, or paper looks like in your class. While some might say that such complete
examples give away the keys to the kingdom—“Why not just write the essay for them?!”
such people might ask—the truth is that such students are grateful for the support and
are more willing to do what you assign now that they know what they should do. I will
typically tell students that they cannot use my language but can adapt my organization
to give them ideas for their own writing. Many great writers learned their craft by literally
retyping—transcribing—the classic works in their field to learn how the masters achieved
such excellence.
3. 7bbemckbj_fb[[djhofe_dji_djej^[mh_j_d]$ This means giving kids time to talk, draw,
read, or perform first what they must eventually translate into words on the page. When
teaching persuasive writing, for example, consider having students prepare for and engage in
a debate, the structure and evidence of which will serve as the basis for the subsequent essay
they will write. The debates will serve as a rehearsal, an oral draft of the paper they will
write. Moreover, their debate partners and other classmates, who went through the same
process, will be ideally prepared to offer support during the composing and revising process,
giving writers examples they forgot to include in their essay.
ó. Ki[]hWf^_Yeh]Wd_p[hiWdZej^[hjeebije^[bfijkZ[dji][d[hWj[WdZeh]Wd_p[j^[_h
_Z[WiZkh_d]j^[mh_j_d]fheY[ii$ Such tools can be especially useful when students must
take notes on a text that serves as the basis for the paper they must write. A Venn diagram,
for example, allows students to take structured notes while reading two articles about the
same subject. When they move into writing, their comparison and contrast details are all
set to go, and students can complete the writing assignment with greater confidence than if
left alone.
5. 7iaijkZ[djijeh[\b[Yjedj^[_hki[e\j^[i[Z_\\[h[djijhWj[]_[iWdZjeebije\_dZj^ei[
j^Wj^[bfj^[cceij$ Each student is, of course, different, and must determine whether
talking with others or making outlines, using a computer or studying a model provides the
most useful support for more independent writing. I routinely ask students at the end of a
paper to write a reflection on what strategy helped them most. On a recent paper, freshmen
students said using computers and the annotated example I provided made the biggest
difference because, as one said, “I had a hard time understanding what you wanted until I
saw the example you gave us.”
ó. Fhel_Z[[nfb_Y_j_dijhkYj_ed_dj^ei[Wh[Wie\]h[Wj[ijd[[Zjeijhk]]b_d]mh_j[hi$
With ELs, this might mean a focused session on the side about a particular genre that’s
already familiar to native speakers. On another occasion it might mean teaching a mini-
lesson to a class or group within that class on some aspect of the writing assignment—use
of transitions, for example, when contrasting—that is new to them or one they find
challenging.
7. JhoijhkYjkh[Zmh_j_d]\ehcWjij^Wj]k_Z[ijkZ[dji"m_j^lWho_d]Z[]h[[ie\ikffehj"
j^hek]^j^[][dh[oekWh[j[WY^_d]$ Harris, Graham, and Mason (2002) describe, for
example, such a format for teaching persuasive writing, calling it the TREE method. In this
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method the elements of argument are represented by each letter: “(1) Topic sentence—tell
what you believe; (2) Reasons (several)—Why do you believe this? Will your readers
believe this?; (3) Explain reasons—say more about each reason; (4) Ending—wrap it up
right” (Graham, MacArthur, & Fitzgerald, 2007, p. 301).
8. <eYkiedj^[h[WZ_d]Åmh_j_d]Yedd[Yj_ed$ Because students often write about texts they
read, the problems they have with the writing may actually stem from their difficulty with
the reading. After all, you cannot write well about a subject or text you do not understand.
To address knowledge gaps, you might have students take notes, discuss, or complete some
graphic organizer, to give some order to their understanding of the assigned text before
trying to write about it. In general, when students struggle to write, the question we
should always ask is what are the possible causes of their difficulty. While disabilities or lack of
background knowledge on the subject or genre may be the cause, it is often the case that
reading was the problem. The lesson is that we cannot expect students to learn or perform
well if we do not give them the support and time they need to do one step well (read) that
serves as the basis for the next step (write).
º. >Wl[ijkZ[djijWbaj^hek]^ekjj^[Yecfei_d]fheY[ii$ Students are much more adept
at discussing their ideas and, after hearing others’, can glean new ideas for their own papers.
Much of the research I read about students with learning difficulties and English learners
stresses the value of peer response at different stages.
10. :[l[befWdZ_cfhel[ijkZ[djiÊmh_j_d]\bk[dYoj^hek]^\h[gk[djmh_j_d]_ddej[Xeeai"
`ekhdWbi"ZWoXeeaiÆm^Wj[l[hoekYWbbj^[c_doekhYbWii$ Such writing is most
beneficial, however, when it is structured, purposeful, and related to the more formal
academic writing you are trying to teach them to do. This means instead of saying, “Just
write for five minutes about whatever comes to mind about relationships,” you perhaps
begin by asking them to generate a list of types of relationships and examples of each.
Then, once they are prepared and the task is clearly conveyed (through a written prompt
on the board), you ask them to write a paragraph for the next ten minutes that begins with
a topic sentence about the types of relationships and goes from there, using the examples
they generated in the brief but useful prewriting session.
?RP\ZZR[QRQ?RNQV[T
Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with
learning difficulties. Baltimore, MD: Brooks.
Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Fitzgerald, J. (eds). (2007). Best practices in writing instruction.
New York: Guilford.
Harris, K. R., Graham, S, & Mason, L. (2002). POW plus TREE equals powerful opinion essays.
Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(5), 74–77.
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6.
This book has Iocused on academic writing and, within that, primarily expository
writing in the Iorm oI the essay, because this is the primary Iorm used in classes
and on state assessments. Yet there are other important areas oI academic writing
that pose challenges. These other Iorms are addressed in the second halI oI the
troubleshooting section in order to help you use these other Iorms oI writing to learn.
Summarizing
DUNa6a6`
Summarizing is an essential skill for both readers and writers in any discipline. Writing good
summaries is not easy, something teachers don’t always realize, perhaps because we have done
it for so long and have so thoroughly internalized the necessary skills that we can’t imagine its
being hard to do. Yet to write an effective summary one must be able to evaluate the importance
of information, comprehend often complex ideas well enough to translate them into our own
words, and then actually write the summary in succinct, clear language. Let’s be more specific.
A great summary should do the following:
º locus on tle main iJea of tle text anJ incluJe onlv tle most important Jetails from
the original source.
º Òffer a brief retelling of the text (e.g., article, chapter, book, movie) in your own words.
º Le slorter tlan tle text vou are summarizing.
º Lmplasize anJ explain tle meaning of tle main iJea anJ supporting Jetails.
º Òrganize tle content of vour summarv in tle same orJer as tlose Jetails appear
in the source.
º Òffer no analvsis or commentarv.
º lncluJe quotations from or cite tle original text if necessarv.
º /voiJ plagiarism bv ensuring tlat vou use vour own worJs; tlis Joes not mean
mimicking the original sentence structure and changing important to significant.
The author of the original text should feel that you accurately represented his text
but be unable to recognize it as his own writing.
DUR[a\@bZZN_VgR
Content area teachers can—and should—ask students to summarize throughout the year for a
range of reasons and with a variety of types of text. These “texts” would include not only written
but also spoken and visual texts, as well as media texts and events such as an experiment or
process, the results of which you must convey in writing or through a presentation. All fields
include summaries—often called a “synopsis”—in research articles, reinforcing the value of this
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skill, which also doubles as a reading strategy. After teaching students how to summarize,
ask students to summarize for the following purposes:
º To assess tleir unJerstanJing of wlat tlev reaJ.
º To lelp tlem unJerstanJ a particularlv clallenging article tlat mav lave manv
specialized terms.
º To incorporate iJeas from otler sources into a paper tlev are writing.
º To evaluate anJ iJentifv tle main iJea anJ supporting Jetails in a clallenging text.
º To incorporate kev iJeas from otler texts anJ sources into a lowerloint presentation,
using bullets instead of prose to summarize.
>bR`aV\[`a\.`X
º Wlat is tle subject of tle text vou are summarizing:
º Wlv are vou writing a summarv of tlis text:
º Wlat are tle most important iJeas in tlis text vou are summarizing:
º How sloulJ vou organize tle content of vour summarv:
º Have vou evaluateJ vour summarv for anv analvsis or commentarv:
5\da\ARNPU@bZZN_VgV[T
You can’t teach summarizing in one period and turn them loose for the rest of the year. Each
subject area has its own conventions and types of texts, all of which get more complex as the
year unfolds. Thus the English teacher who wanted students to summarize the article in October
must teach this skill not only in October but again in April when students read Shakespeare
and will use it to understand certain difficult passages in the play. The following steps offer
suggestions as to how you could teach students to write a summary:
º Teacl tlem low to iJentifv tle main iJea of tle text. l prefer to lave kiJs use eitler
a highlighter or a graphic organizer, since these allow them to be more active readers.
Depending on students’ degrees of readiness, I might ask them to preview the article
and its title and then generate possible subjects, which I will write on the board. After
discussing these possible subjects in light of our purpose, we will determine what the
subject of the summary should be. For example if my freshmen read a passage in their
textbook from Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, we might conclude that the main subject is
the human need to conquer nature.
º Have stuJents reaJ tle text, liglliglting or unJerlining tle kev iJeas relateJ to
the main subject. Some students need extra help in determining the importance of
information. In such cases, I often create a “Continuum of Importance” on the board,
writing “Essential” at one end and “Irrelevant” at the other. Then we talk about what
kind of information in an article like Krakauer’s might be irrelevant and how we could
determine that. This doesn’t have to take a long time, but it is extremely important
as students need to learn which questions to ask in order to evaluate the importance
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of information. If it is a difficult article or I am working with students who have not
done this before, we will stop after the first couple of paragraphs and discuss as a class
what people have underlined. As we do so, I will ask of a particular detail, “How does
that meet our criteria for ‘Essential’?” If I am introducing summarizing for the first time
to an inexperienced class with diverse needs, I will do a think-aloud, walking them
through the first paragraph and modeling on the overhead what I would underline, then
explaining why I would underline that. Next I would have them do a paragraph or two,
after which I would check through discussion how they did, clarifying if necessary when
they are off the mark. Once they show reasonable competency, I would let them go,
circulating around the room to monitor their performance as they work.
º Clunk tle text into tle kev Jetails or events (tlree or four in an article like lrakauer's).
Students might do this collaboratively, taking time to compare their key details with
each other as a secondary assessment of their reading. Then discuss as a class what they
thought the important details were.
º Develop a tlesis or a topic sentence tlat establisles tle subject of vour summarv anJ tle
point you will make about it. In the Krakauer article, such a statement, which we could
develop as a class if this were all new to them, might read, “In his article, ‘Into Thin
Air,’ Jon Krakauer suggests that we have a need to conquer nature and, in the process,
sometimes end up conquering ourselves instead.”
º lroviJe a moJel of wlat a complete summarv looks like at tlis point. l project a summarv
on the whiteboard when possible, labeling the different elements, doing a think-aloud
about it as I go so students get a sense of what a complete summary looks and sounds
like. We will revisit the elements of an effective summary—as outlined in our text, on a
handout I created, or on the board up front—and find these elements in the example. In
an ideal world, I would have a checklist I created for them which would be adapted from
the “What It Is” section above, which they can use as they go for self-evaluation.
º Have stuJents write tleir summaries using tle guiJelines for assistance.
º /sk tlem to label tle Jifferent elements to slow tlat tlev lave incluJeJ tlem anJ
know where they are.
º Take tle summaries lome, responJ to tlem, anJ tlen return tlem to tle stuJents so
they can use my comments to guide their revision
º Slow a couple of gooJ rougl Jrafts on tle overleaJ-or even as lanJouts for stuJents
to take home for additional help—since these are examples of the very assignment they
are doing.
º SenJ stuJents lome witl mv comments, tle example, anJ a niglt to revise.
º Collect, reaJ, anJ score.
º Debrief witl tlem on tle elements, using an example of a stuJent wlo JiJ a fine job,
preferably a student who has not had attention or even feels he is a “bad writer” but did a
commendable job on this. This kind of support throughout the process allows struggling
writers to succeed and merit such attention.
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7. Paraphrasing
DUNa6a6`
Although it’s a cousin to the summary, a paraphrase is different in some important ways and
is used for different purposes much of the time. In short, a paraphrase is more detailed than a
summary. An effective paraphrase does the following:
º Captures tle essence of anJ incluJes tle entire message of tle text being paraplraseJ.
º ls approximatelv as long as tle text it paraplrases.
º SounJs notling like tle original; is entirelv in vour own worJs anJ writing stvle.
º Òffers no commentarv, analvsis, or explanation of anv content in tle text.
º lncluJes all of tle main points of a passage in tle orJer in wlicl tlev appear.
º /voiJs plagiarism bv using vour own worJs anJ sentence structures as opposeJ to merelv
replacing the original text’s with synonyms; also, by clearly citing the source of the text
to avoid the appearance that these are your ideas.
º Lses quotation marks to inJicate tlat a memorable passage comes from tle original text.
º Cites tle page number from tle original text if vou incluJe tle paraplrase in vour own
text as an example or support for a point you are trying to make.
º laraplrases onlv a slort passage since it sloulJ be as long as or, in some cases, even a bit
longer than the original.
DUR[a\=N_N]U_N`R
Paraphrasing is appropriate and effective when you want to do any of the following:
º LnJerstanJ a passage tlat is verv Jifficult (e.g., tlink of sometling like Hamlet's
soliloquy, a dense scientific theory, or even certain constitutional amendments).
º Lmplasize kev iJeas from an original text witlout using tle autlor's original language,
for reasons of clarity or style.
º lncluJe in vour paper iJeas from otler texts tlat vou can convev more effectivelv or
gracefully than the original author.
º /ssess stuJents' unJerstanJing of a text tlev are reaJing.
>bR`aV\[`a\.`X
º Wlat is tle subject of tlis passage vou are paraplrasing:
º Wlv are vou paraplrasing tlis specific passage:
º How will vou incorporate tlis paraplrase into vour paper:
º ls vour paraplrase as long as tle text vou are paraplrasing:
º lf tle autlor reaJ tlis, woulJ le or sle recognize tle writing or compliment vou on low
well you reworded it?
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8.
5\da\ARNPU=N_N]U_N`V[T
Paraphrasing requires direct instruction and the opportunity to practice the skills, as it must be
done just right to be effective and to avoid charges of plagiarism. To teach it, try the following
steps:
º Teacl stuJents to iJentifv wlen it is appropriate to paraplrase a passage. Wlile it is
most commonly used in the context of writing a paper, it is just as viable as a reading
strategy when students are completely stumped by a difficult passage.
º Slow stuJents low to reaJ a passage closelv, iJentifving tle main iJea anJ supporting
details that will have to be included in the paraphrase. You could do this by providing
a structured note-taking handout, using a graphic organizer, or asking students to color-
code (with highlighters or crayons) the main idea and supporting details.
º /sk stuJents to review tle text before writing, clecking tleir notes against wlat tlev
read to be sure they have included all the key details related to the main idea.
º lroviJe stuJents witl an example of a gooJ paraplrase, going over it witl tlem to
identify the key details included in the sample paraphrase.
º Have stuJents write a Jraft paraplrase, using a clecklist vou create baseJ on tle list
(above) that details what a paraphrase should do.
º Òffer constructive, specific feeJback anJ tlen return tle papers to stuJents so tlev
can revise.
º lequire stuJents to revise tleir paraplrases anJ resubmit for graJing.
Synthesizing Multiple Sources
DUNa6a6`
Both summarizing and paraphrasing ask students to retell what someone has already said; however,
neither of these requires any analytical thinking. Although many disciplines require the ability
to summarize and paraphrase, these skills are not enough. Students must be able to make from
separate, seemingly unrelated sources, a new text of their own creation. This is where new thinking
and new connections yield great discoveries and advances in all fields. Synthesizing is more
demanding, though, and requires strong support in the early stages. A powerful synthesis paper will
accomplish the following:
º Lxamine anJ responJ to more tlan one source in tle same or Jifferent meJia. lor example,
in examining the idea of voting for the latest elections, students in an American history
or government class would not only examine original documents from the constitutional
era but also go to different Web sites and blogs and analyze media coverage from different
television stations, while also checking out other media such as candidates’ advertisements.
Additional sources might include film, art, podcasts, informational graphics such as charts,
as well as lectures or experiments conducted in class.
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133
º lJentifv anJ Jiscuss tle relationslip between tlese Jifferent sources anJ tle subject vou
are examining.
º Lvaluate tle valiJitv anJ importance of tle source in liglt of tle current purpose anJ
topic.
º Summarize eacl source prior to establisling its relationslip to tle otlers anJ tle
overarching subject you are examining.
º /nalvze tle similarities anJ Jifferences, causes, anJ effects common to tlese Jifferent
sources, identifying key points they have in common and explaining the meaning and
importance of these.
º Òrganize tle iJeas so as to clarifv tle connections anJ emplasize tle points vou want to
make about the subject common to these different sources.
º Have a specific purpose: to explain or to persuaJe.
>bR`aV\[`a\.`X
º Wlat patterns, trenJs, or categories emerge as vou svntlesize tlese Jifferent sources or
data?
º How Joes eacl source relate to tle otlers anJ to tle main subject vou are examining:
º Wlat are some of tle kev similarities anJ Jifferences, anJ wlv are tlese important:
º Wlicl sources offer tle strongest eviJence for tle point vou are trving to make in vour
synthesis?
º LaseJ on vour unJerstanJing of tlese Jifferent texts, wlat conclusion can vou Jraw
about your main subject?
DUR[a\@f[aUR`VgR
All the main content-area subjects require students to synthesize. Science classes ask students to
conduct experiments that generate datasets or results that must be synthesized so students can
make inferences about causes and effects. Social studies classes, especially Advanced Placement
United States history, teach students to read a range of primary and secondary sources and draw
conclusions about what led to, for example, the Civil War, and what accounts for its enduring
effect on American society. Health teachers routinely invite students to analyze competing claims
about different diets, foods, or habits, drawing on a range of sources, including those funded by the
companies that sell the products. Finally, English teachers regularly ask students to synthesize a
range of perspectives on a given literary text or use a range of texts in different media to examine a
subject such as the American Dream. These are all examples of who uses synthesis in their classes,
but when should you ask students to synthesize? Here are some possibilities:
º lncorporate multiple sources into an essav in wlicl tle stuJents are examining a subject
from different perspectives. This might mean asking students to write a paper in which
they “cite at least two different Web sites, three articles from different publications or
authors, an interview, and the book you are reading in class.”
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
º lncluJe Jifferent perspectives on a given subject or text, all svntlesizeJ into one paper.
In an English class this might mean asking students to consult different literary theories
to find alternative readings of a literary text such as Hamlet or The Grapes of Wrath and
incorporate these competing perspectives in one paper, comparing and contrasting the
different theories in light of the claim they are defending.
º lntegrate multiple sources into a researcl paper or bv wav of preparing for an exam
such as the Advanced Placement U.S. history or language and composition exam, both
of which require students to write a synthesis paper based on a collection of five or six
different texts (e.g., editorials, charts, photos, letters, journals, articles).
º Lvaluate stuJents' unJerstanJing of tlese Jifferent texts as a culminating slort writing
assignment in which they are asked to write a paragraph or page that summarizes and
synthesizes the different ideas they have examined in the course of a unit or during a
Socratic seminar.
5\da\ARNPU@f[aUR`V`
º /sk stuJents to establisl a clear purpose in liglt of tle prompt, subject, or tle collection of
texts you have given them. It is often helpful to teach students to create a purpose question
that will allow them to evaluate the different information they encounter in the text.
º Slow stuJents low to reaJ tle Jifferent texts carefullv, taking notes as tlev go,
preferably with a specific technique or tool you have chosen for them to use in light of
their purpose.
º lequire stuJents to summarize tle Jifferent texts as part of tleir notes prior to creating a
claim the different sources will support.
º Take time to lave stuJents Jevelop a claim in liglt of tleir purpose. lt is alwavs lelpful for
you to take time at this stage to guide them, offering examples and feedback on their claim,
and asking them how that relates to the different sources they have read, heard, or viewed.
º Lncourage stuJents to make an outline, even if just an informal one, to establisl tle
organizational strategy for their paper. Part of this process involves asking them to
evaluate what details are most important and what their relationship is to each other.
For example, are some details more important than others? If so, should they come first,
or should the paper build up to them as the culmination of the argument?
º lroviJe stuJents time to talk witl eacl otler about tleir iJeas, tleir sources, anJ low
these fit together. All the reading and prewriting has prepared them to participate in an
intelligent discussion that will inevitably generate new connections and insights.
º Teacl stuJents low to Jocument anJ cite all sources accorJing to tle proper format.
º Cive tlem time to write tle svntlesis, wletler a paragrapl, a page, or a paper.
º Òffer stuJents feeJback tlrougl vour own comments or tlose of peer responJers before
giving students the chance to revise, polish, and submit.
º /llow stuJents to present tleir svntlesis if tlev are Joing it as a Jocumentarv viJeo,
Web site, or PowerPoint presentation.
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9. Responding Critically
DUNa6a6`
This sort of writing comes in many forms: the learning log, the reader’s notebook, the dialogue
journal, or an actual paper that takes a critical stance on a subject, a text, an event, experience,
or experimental results. Such critical responses, regardless of their form, will invariably include
or be shaped by these components:
º / specific purpose JefineJ most often bv tle teacler (vou).
º / particular format: Jialogue journals will be JiviJeJ into two columns; learning logs
will go in a notebook as entries with no particular layout; a paper may have specific
requirements for what to critically respond to.
º Criteria for tleir analvsis, sucl as examining tle Supreme Court Jecision in liglt of tle
Second Amendment, or a poet’s treatment of the subject of identity in her poems.
º Summaries of kev iJeas in tle text to Jemonstrate initial unJerstanJing.
º lossible questions to lelp stuJents tlink criticallv about tle subject at lanJ or tle text
to which they are responding.
º lJentification of kev elements of tle text, wlicl mav incluJe language, structure,
themes, evidence, or more specific literary aspects such as imagery, tone, or symbolism.
º / statement of tle autlor's purpose or argument anJ tle means bv wlicl le or sle tries
to accomplish it.
º /n evaluation of tle text for anv flaws or fallacies in its argument.
>bR`aV\[`a\.`X
º Wlat is tle subject of tlis text:
º Wlat is tle autlor's purpose:
º How Joes tle autlor go about trving to aclieve tlis purpose:
º ls tle autlor's eviJence reliable, current, anJ valiJ:
º Wlat strategies anJ possible logical fallacies las tle autlor useJ in support of lis
argument?
DUR[a\?R`]\[Q0_VaVPNYYf
All classes include texts that should be examined critically. Whether these texts are solutions
to problems, datasets, arguments, or works of literature, they are constructions that merit close
scrutiny. Consider asking students to respond critically when you want them to do the following:
º /nalvze low a text is constructeJ.
º Lvaluate tle assumptions belinJ a particular argument, explanation, or analvsis.
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10.
º Critique a work of art or literature.
º Make inferences about an aJvertisement or otler meJia text.
º Draw conclusions baseJ on Jata from an experiment or Jemograplic trenJ.
º Lxamine listorical movements or events.
5\da\ARNPU6a
Although the approach may vary a bit, you can adapt the following suggestions as appropriate to
your instructional goals and students’ needs:
º /sk stuJents to inJicate tle text, source, anJ Jate for eacl response.
º Lstablisl clear criteria for wlat it sloulJ incluJe.
º Help tlem generate questions tlev can use to evaluate anJ responJ to tle text.
º Suggest tlev use bullets to summarize kev iJeas or elements.
º lroviJe stuJents a moJel, creating one on tle spot wlile tlinking alouJ, if necessarv.
º /llow stuJents to collaborate or consult witl eacl otler tlrouglout tle process,
comparing their ideas as a means of generating new ideas for each other.
º Lse tlese responses not as an enJ but a means for furtler Jiscussion or preparation for
subsequent, more complete writing assignments on this subject.
Reflecting on and Through
Writing
DUNa6a6`
Throughout this guide I have discussed how we can teach students to write well; this last
suggestion focuses on how to use writing to improve not only students’ writing performance but
also their reading comprehension. Studies of learning consistently find that for learning to occur
and sustain itself, students require time to reflect on what they did during the writing or reading
process to arrive at their final result. In short, such reflection makes students more aware of the
decisions they made on the way to their final draft or interpretation. To reflect on or through
writing, students can do one or a combination of the following:
º Take time to reflect on tleir past performances anJ current focus areas in writing anJ
reading to help them pay attention to what they do well and what they need to work on.
º lause Juring tle writing or reaJing of a text to reflect on wlat tlev tlink anJ wlv
they think it, focusing in part on the strategies they are using and their effectiveness in
this particular assignment. In addition, students should focus on how these strategies are
helping them so they can be more intentional and habitual in their use in the future.
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º Take time after stuJents finisl writing or reaJing to reflect on tleir performance, stressing
what they did well and what they need to improve on. The purpose of such metacognitive
reflection is to ensure that successful performances can be repeated through increased
understanding of the steps that led to them. Success should not be an accident.
>bR`aV\[`a\.`X
º Wlat strategies, questions, or tools JiJ l use to aclieve tlis result, anJ low JiJ
they help?
º Wlat JiJ l Jo well: How JiJ l obtain tlat result: Wlat Jo l neeJ to work on:
Why is this an area of need for me? What can I do to improve in this area?
º Wlat JiJ tlis assignment tell me about mvself as a reaJer, writer, or tlinker:
º Wlat JiJ tle teacler Jo tlat lelpeJ me most: How JiJ tlis lelp:
º Wlat problems JiJ l encounter Juring tle course of writing tlis paper or reaJing
this text? How did I solve those? Why was this solution effective?
DUR[a\?RSYRPa\[\_AU_\bTUD_VaV[T
There are three key times for students to reflect on how they function as readers and writers:
before, during, and after. The primary purpose of such reflection is to make students more
aware of their own cognitive processes and how they do or can use those processes to solve the
problems they face when writing or reading in your class. Here are some examples of when
I have students write to reflect:
º /fter writing an in-class practice /l Lnglisl literature essav, l often lave stuJents
reflect on what they found difficult and how they solved that problem. In addition,
I might ask students at the same time to create a checklist of what to remember to do
when they take the actual exam.
º Wlile writing a practice essav for tle state exit exam, l ask stuJents to stop writing, Jraw
a line across the page, and then generate a list of the questions they asked and strategies
they used to get what they have so far on the page. I do this to help those who are doing
well to study their strategies and to allow those who are staring at a blank page after 15
minutes to figure out what is getting in the way. This pays off in useful, interesting, and
often surprising ways. The boy you thought was being lazy was actually struggling with
the prompt for cultural reasons. It asked him to identify an adult who has been a major
influence, and he feels it will show disrespect to his parents if he says, as he wants to, his
uncle; yet he also worries he will disrespect his mother if he chooses his father. Once he
has named all these people in the context of the reflection, he is able to write the essay in
the time left to him. After students complete this interim reflection, which takes maybe
five minutes, I tell them to draw a line across the page and continue writing their essay.
º Wlen stuJents turn in tleir big essav, l ask tlem to take time to reflect on wlat tlev
learned from the experience. In this case, I ask them to reflect on some specific things:
interviewing people, using the Internet for research, choosing this topic, and evaluating
their final product.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
137
5\da\ARNPU?RSYRPaVcRD_VaV[T
I have worked with teachers in other subject areas to help them use writing in their classes.
Instead of listing specific steps, I will illustrate how to incorporate reflective writing by offering
some examples of people I have worked or spoken with. Here are a few examples that have
proven successful, according to teachers in those subjects:
º ln matl classes, lave stuJents keep a JeJicateJ section in tleir binJers to reflect on
the processes and emotions related to working through math problems, as well as a
connection to math in the larger world.
º ln social stuJies, ask stuJents to reflect on tle Jecision-making processes listorical
figures went through to arrive at certain political solutions in the United States, India,
and South Africa. One teacher used such reflective writing to help students reflect on
the process by which apartheid was abolished, assigning each student a role and asking
them to respond from the perspective of that character. This guided reflection through
another’s perspective culminated in a Socratic seminar in which kids discussed the issues
and process as if they were that character. When they finished, students then had to
reflect on what happened during the seminar and what they learned from it.
º ln science classes, stuJents, mucl like working scientists, keep fielJ notes or lab notes on
what they do, how and why they do it, and what results they get. In this context, they
also reflect on their decisions and processes, sharing those in class discussions.
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Writing © Jim Burke, Scholastic Teaching Resources
138

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