Friday, August 9, 2019
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
I have focused many of this summer's private lessons with middle-schoolers on strengthening their essay-writing skills. No amount of outlining or filling in graphic organizers has as much influence on my students as deconstructing sample body paragraphs based on my E-IEI-O mnemonic device for the five essential elements of every body paragraph:
I provide examples of both weak and strong paragraphs, and read them aloud with my students. I then give them a checklist that calls their attention to each of the five structural elements above, to consider in terms of: vagueness versus specificity in word choices and examples; whether each sentence builds upon the preceding one; unnecessary repetition of words or ideas; clarity of assertions and examples; smoothness of transitions; inclusion of contextual set-up for quotations; and the overall power of the writer's insights. After this editorial exercise, which empowers them to fill the margins with notes guided by the checklist, I assign a single paragraph response to a short story or a poem. The students may write about the theme of the literary work, or focus on the style and power of the writing. Full of the desire to emulate the strong essay paragraphs that made them exclaim, "Ah, I didn't see that!," and the even greater desire to avoid emulating the weak essay paragraphs whose margins they filled with questions and critical words, they write.
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Today I have created this example paragraph below, for students to emulate, based on a poem from my book, Writing Success Through Poetry, which you will find on page 52:"Thirsty Plant and Cloudy Sky." This would be helpful for a middle-school student to read and study, along with the poem (so get yourself a copy of my book with a quick click on the link embedded in the title above).
“E-IEI-O” Example Essay Paragraph About the Theme of a Poem: “Thirsty Plant and Cloudy Sky,” by Susan L. Lipson
Structure of a theme-based paragraph about literature
I-Illustrate theme with quotations from text, set up in context
E-Explain what illustration/quotation shows the reader
I-Interpret implications of the quotation that expand on established theme
O-Overall “take-away” lesson for broader understanding of theme
“Thirsty Plant and Cloudy Sky,” a poem by Susan L. Lipson, presents a metaphorical conversation between two personified friends--Plant and Sky--in which Plant offers comfort to his “blue” friend, but not solely out of love for Sky. Plant initially exhibits compassion: “Now sob, my friend; release a thunderous yell! Shared tears help friendships grow….” But then Plant adds quietly, “And ME as well--truth to tell!” The murmured confession of the ulterior motive alerts the reader that Plant may be encouraging the Sky’s sobbing--that is, rain--to quench his own thirst and boost his growth. Although the reader may doubt the Plant’s love for his friend, viewing Plant as a user more than a giver, no harm has actually occurred, only a mutually beneficial rain. Thus, the poem teaches a lesson about the codependence between friends and the importance of looking at the outcome of our interactions as well as the intentions behind them.
Notice especially that the essay paragraph provides enough information about the poem it discusses that you don't have to read the poem in order to understand the paragraph. Also note how the "Overall sentence" broadens the topic established in the first sentence, and how the "Interpret line" offers an opinion based on "reading between the lines" (not based on the text itself, but on an opinion of what seems to be implied).