Before leaving this step, I would have students transfer their thoughts from the discussion they just had into something that looks like the opening paragraph of a written argument: A statement of their point of view, plus three reasons to support that point of view. Next I would show students their major assignment, the performance assessment that they will work on for the next few weeks. It’s generally a written prompt that describes the task, plus the rubric I will use to score their final product.Anytime I give students a major writing assignment, I let them see these documents very early on.In my experience, I’ve found that students appreciate having a clear picture of what’s expected of them when beginning a writing assignment.
To help them make this connection, I would have them do some informal debate on easy, high-interest topics.
An activity like This or That (one of the classroom icebreakers I talked about last year) would be perfect here: I read a statement like “Women have the same opportunities in life as men.” Students who agree with the statement move to one side of the room, and those who disagree move to the other side.
It’s not exactly the 5-paragraph essay, but it definitely builds on that model.
I strongly believe students should be shown how to move past those kinds of structures into a style of writing that’s more natural and fitting to the task and audience, but I also think they should start with something that’s pretty clearly organized. One of the most effective ways to improve student writing is to show them mentor texts, examples of excellent writing within the genre students are about to attempt themselves.
Yes, I was certified to teach the full spectrum of English language arts—literature, grammar and usage, speech, drama, and so on—but my absolute favorite, the thing I loved doing the most, was teaching students how to write.
Most of the material on this site is directed at all teachers.Every class of students I have ever had, from middle school to college, has loved loved LOVED this activity.It’s so simple, it gets them out of their seats, and for a unit on argument, it’s an easy way to get them thinking about how the art of argument is something they practice all the time.Then again, I’m always interested in how other people do the things I can already do; maybe you’re curious like that, too.Before I start, I should note that what I describe in this post is a fairly formulaic style of essay writing.Later, as students work on their own pieces, I would likely return to these pieces to show students how to execute certain writing moves.Although many students might need more practice in writing an effective argument, many of them are excellent at arguing in person.Next, we’d have a Philosophical Chairs debate (learn about this in my discussion strategies post), which is very similar to “This or That,” except students use textual evidence to back up their points, and there are a few more rules.Here they are still doing verbal argument, but the experience should make them more likely to appreciate the value of evidence when trying to persuade.But over the next year or so, I plan to also share more of what I know about teaching students to write.Although I know many of the people who visit here are not strictly English language arts teachers, my hope is that these posts will provide tons of value to those who are, and to those who teach subjects, including writing.