Translate

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Help for Student Essay Writers

GRAPHIC ORGANIZER FOR A TYPICAL 5-PARAGRAPH ESSAY
(Check off the steps as you complete them. You may copy and print this if you wish, though not for publication, of course.)


First, write an Introductory Paragraph—but write it UPSIDE DOWN. “Flip it right-side-up” in your revision. This upside-down format forces you to write the THESIS first because it provides the controlling idea, the main “flavor,” of the entire essay, and should keep you from wandering “off topic.” Make sure with your teacher that the thesis is indeed arguable before you continue.


1) THESIS—One sentence that clearly presents the ARGUMENT you intend to prove. Begin with a strong thesis opener such as: “Thus,” “Therefore,” “We can conclude,” “Hence,” “Obviously,” “Although,” etc.
Check with your teacher that the thesis is specific enough and that it can be proved with supportive details and commentary. Then continue writing as shown below.

2) SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS that will build your argument (one or two sentences):
When writing a response-to-literature essay about a character’s development in an essay, to argue about how the character changes from start to finish, you could write your three main points in terms of the time elements. For example, you could write: “In the beginning of the story, the main character seems ____, but by the middle, he/she changes into ______, and finally, at the end, he/she has become ____.”

When writing a response-to-literature essay that deals with issues other than character development—such as an essay about the themes of the story, or the author’s writing style—list the main points you will illustrate, but save your direct quotations or references to the text for later, to illustrate those main points as “concrete details” (CDs) in the body paragraphs to follow.

In general, writers state three main points, within one (or two) sentences, and those three main points will turn into the Topic Sentences of the three body paragraphs that will follow the Introduction Paragraph. (Note: As essay writers’ skills grow, they may vary their approaches to this format and not need the same rigid approach as beginners use.)

Start with something like: "At the beginning of the story…" or "The three main themes of this story..."


3) ATTENTION-GETTER (THIS WILL END UP AS THE 1ST LINE OF YOUR ESSAY. USE A QUESTION, A SHORT MINI-STORY, A SURPRISING OR THOUGHT-PROVOKING STATEMENT, OR A QUOTATION FROM ANOTHER PIECE OF LITERATURE THAT TIES INTO YOUR MAIN POINTS.)

End of Introduction Paragraph. Now type or recopy the sentences with the Attention-Getter first, the Summary of the Body second, and the Thesis at the end of the paragraph.




BODY PARAGRAPH ONE(To prove main point #1)

1) Topic Sentence : REFERS BACK TO MAIN POINT 1 FROM INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH.

2) Concrete Detail : QUOTATION OR SPECIFIC EXAMPLE AS “EVIDENCE” TO SUPPORT YOUR THESIS, TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM THE LITERATURE. Don’t forget quotation marks, author's name or book title, and page number.

3) Commentary One: "This example shows/illustrates that..." BE SURE TO SET UP THE CONTEXT OF THE QUOTATION FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS NOT READ THE LITERATURE.

4) Commentary Two: "The purpose/meaning of this example is…." You may wish to use opinion-suggesting words to open your sentence, such as “Obviously,” or “Clearly,” “Apparently,” etc.

5) Concluding Sentence of the Body Paragraph: RELATE THIS TO YOUR TOPIC SENTENCE, IN A BROADER WAY. Possible opening words: “Readers thus see that…”

You have now completed the Introduction Paragraph and the First Body Paragraph. Only two more Body Paragraphs to go, and then the Concluding Paragraph. Keep up the good work!....


REPEAT THE ABOVE BODY PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE TWO MORE TIMES, WITH BODY PARAGRAPH TWO SUPPORTING YOUR SECOND MAIN POINT AS ADVERTISED IN YOUR INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH, AND BODY PARAGRAPH THREE SUPPORTING YOUR THIRD MAIN POINT. MAKE SURE THAT EACH OF YOUR TOPIC SENTENCES RESTATE THOSE MAIN POINTS IN A MORE SPECIFIC WAY.



CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH

1) RESTATEMENT OF THESIS (IN BROADER TERMS, RELATING TO LIFE IN GENERAL).

2) REVIEW OF MAIN PTS. (An overall, nonspecific summary of your 3 points, in new words; one sentence will do.)

3) ATTENTION-KEEPER (A broad statement that could refer back to your Attention-Getter, if you wish. This statement should make your reader say, “Aha! So THAT’S what I learned from this essay!” If you opened with a quotation or a question or intriguing statement, you could refer back to it here, to make the essay feel as if it has come “full circle.")


You’ve just written a first draft by filling in the blanks! Type up what you have so far. Your next draft stage will allow you to weave your words together, using transitions (bridging words), for a smoothly flowing essay.

HELPFUL TRICK FOR CREATING SMOOTH TRANSITIONS (between paragraphs, and even between sentences within a paragraph): Repeat a word or phrase (or a form of that word or phrase) in the very next sentence. For example: one paragraph might end with the words, “Thus, the narrator shows readers how life can change depending on the choices one makes;” and the TS of the following paragraph could say, “Smart choices involve planning ahead, and the narrator….” The subtle repetition of a word (“choices,” in this case) makes one thought flow into the next for the reader.

The goal of writing an essay should be communication of thoughts that will affect the reader either by educating, enlightening, convincing, or entertaining him or her. Effectiveness in meeting this goal depends upon an essay that builds point upon point, like a carefully constructed building, and weaves thoughts to other thoughts, like a tightly stitched quilt. May you meet this goal in every essay!

~Susan L. Lipson
Writing teacher

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Showing Versus Telling: Playing Director to Your Actor-Characters

To write compelling words, I always stress that writers must SHOW, not tell. I didn't invent that phrase; my own writing teachers used to say that. But sometimes, students have trouble understanding how to create "showing" words from "telling" sentences. Here's one of my latest lessons:

To show, rather than tell, with your words, the trick is to envision yourself as a film director who needs to SHOW each scene in pictures, with a little help, sometimes, from a narrator's voice-over lines. Mostly, though, the scene will consist of dialogue, actions, and descriptions.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate the difference between showing and telling is to have students examine the opening of the third Harry Potter book. As wonderful a storyteller as J.K. Rowling is, no author is immune to overwriting, and no editor should allow superfluous words to slow down a vivid story; however, the first two paragraphs of The Prisoner of Azkaban somehow got overlooked by both author and editor--but not by me. I have typed them below. Notice how the first paragraph merely tells what the following paragraph then SHOWS. If I had edited this volume, I would have deleted the first paragraph and started with the second (with a minor adjustment--see below).

Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.

It was nearly midnight, and he was lying on his stomach in bed, the blankets drawn right over his head like a tent, a flashlight in one hand and a large leather-bound book (A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot) propped open against the pillow. Harry moved the tip of his eagle-feather quill down the page, frowning as he looked for something that would help him write his essay, "Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless--discuss."



If Rowling had merely changed the first "he" in the second paragraph to "Harry Potter," we would already know that the boy is studying magic, as part of a school, and that something is odd (writing with a quill, not a pen, and doing his homework at midnight, in secret--from whom?). This second paragraph hooks us with a scene, not a summary, as the first paragraph does. In fact, the first paragraph illustrates something I coach my students to avoid: The Info Dump. The vivid second paragraph thus renders the original first paragraph useless. What do you think: is the first paragraph really necessary, or as compelling as the immediate pull into a scene, which is offered by paragraph two?

Monday, April 25, 2011

wordswimmer: Swimming Past First Drafts

wordswimmer: Swimming Past First Drafts

Check out this piece on the process of writing. I couldn't have written it better myself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Even Kindergartners Prefer "Showing" (not "Telling") Writing

Yesterday I spoke to my class about the power of a well-chosen verb or verb phrase to show the personality or mood of a character, not just his/her actions. A character who "lopes," rather than simply "walks," conjures an image of a confident person who covers a lot of ground quickly. A character who "gnaws her inner cheek" paints a portrait of an anxious person, rather than simply saying "looks anxious." I explained that even the youngest readers appreciate the nuances of verb choices and can comprehend the subtle implications about characters. "It's the writer's job to find the perfect verb to convey as much as possible--even in picture books." As an example, I mentioned one of my favorite picture books, I Love You the Purplest, by Barbara M. Joosse, in which two little boys are captured by the verbs used to enact them: "Max exploded out of the cabin" versus "Julian left the cabin, carefully locking the door behind them," I paraphrased. "What do you know about the boys' personalities from those two lines?"
My preteen students answered as expected, that Max is excited and rowdy and Julian is calmer and careful. They seemed doubtful that little kids would pick up on those implications, though. I showed them how the youngest readers would comprehend the purpose of vivid verbs (based on my previous classroom experience with little guys):
"I'd ask them, 'So which one of the boys can't wait to go fishing?' They always chimed, 'MAX!' I'd ask, 'How do you know that?' They'd say, 'He goes out like THIS!' And one of them would act out 'exploding' by bursting out of his seat."
A well-chosen word is never wasted on an interested reader, regardless of age.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reviewing Process-Oriented Writing Instruction

Excerpted from an old online article I wrote about writing instruction in public schools:

Many teachers have misled students into believing that the scores applied to written works matter more than both the learning derived from the process, and the establishing of one's own personal best standards in writing. If I, as a writer, create my works based only on what others expect or demand from me, I am not truly communicating, only fashioning words to serve others; not creating, but reiterating; not sighing with pride upon completion of a written work, but rather, with relief to be finished. If I, as a teacher of writing, do not lead my students into careful examination of the words they choose and the reasons they choose them, I fail to assist the communication process.

In focusing on the process, rather than solely on the product, during writing instruction, teachers serve as Muses--to inspire, enlighten, and guide. Teachers must practice more questioning (that good ole Socratic method) and less judging. We must pose questions that produce detailed and/or profound answers. Then we can guide and enrich revisions by asking, "So, is this what you were hoping to convey?" We need to ask what happened between points A and C, not simply deduct points for a lack of B. We should annotate, not simply grade papers; and offer clear example essays (which we ought to write ourselves!), not simply clever writing prompts. Teachers honor communication itself by showing young writers' that their sweat-filled words matter enough to elicit our thoughtful reactions and sound recommendations for continued improvement.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Beyond Grade-Level Expectations

I was discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with a 5th grade student of mine, and we analyzed what Scout meant about Atticus treating her and Jem the same outside the house as he does inside--in short, that he's NOT a hypocrite. Lighting up, she exclaimed, "Oh! So he's like Dr. Seuss's character who 'says what me means and means what he says'? That's the opposite of a hypocrite, too, right?" How about that for critical thinking? By a 5th grader! Studying a high-school required reading book! Offering her unique text-to-text analysis! And the greatest part of this whole lesson was the SECOND part: we analyzed the scene in which the teacher, Miss Caroline, admonishes Scout for writing cursive as a first grader, when "we don't write until the third grade." My 5th grade student smiled as she commented, "That teacher doesn't believe kids should do work above their grade level."

"You mean like writing responses to high-school-level books?" I laughed. "Now write an essay-style paragraph about the role of teachers, using concrete details from this passage about Miss Caroline and Scout." She proceeded to write a very thoughtful, not-at-all-5th-grade-level, thematic paragraph.

I love teaching!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Giving Helpful Feedback

The other day, I asked my tween students to trade first drafts and write comments to each other. Their feedback, they soon learned, was in first-draft form as well. Most of them wrote lists at the bottom of the page, such as "Needs details; Show, don't tell; verb tenses changed; unclear plot...." Some added spelling corrections within the text, or smiling faces or stars in the margins. A couple wrote "Great verbs" or "Great descriptions!" I asked all of these novice editors, "Now that you are looking at the comments you received, how many of you feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start revising?" Most of the hands rose. "Now," I continued, "look at the sample that I edited." I passed the edited copy around. "What's different?"

"You asked questions in the margins," one student pointed out.

"Yeah, you wrote comments right next to the lines that need work," added another.

"You're right," I replied. "Now trade back with your editing partner and do the same."

After they had finished responding directly to the words on the page, in specific terms or questions, rather than in vague generalities as advice, I asked them how many thought they could revise more easily now. They all did.

The revisions showed, rather than told, about the most productive way to give feedback. I hope that everyone learned that we help each other most when we provide details in editing, just as we advise our fellow writers to add details to their writing!

Gadget

This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.