Monday, March 13, 2006

In which Ms. Frizzle attempts to instill basic essay-writing skills in her sixth graders...

Two days of research on an energy source (solar, wind, hydroelectric, oil, natural gas, nuclear), using books and print-outs of webpages (it's a damn shame, but the thought of using the laptops in class last week made me so tired I went Luddite). One day of outlining, using a table I made with a row for each paragraph, and three columns - one describing what the paragraph should contain (e.g., Introduction - thesis statement, summary of your evidence), one providing a model in the form of my example outline on coal, and the third blank, for their own outline notes. I walked them through completing this, row-by-paragraph-by-row.


Miss? Um, I can't fill this out, I don't know any of this.

Let me take a look at your notes.... Hmmm, okay, do you feel like you used your research time well?

No. Sheepish look.

Did you learn anything from this experience? Okay, you can use this period to do more complete research, but then you'll have to finish the outline at home. Next time, when I say you have only two periods of class time to do research, please try to stay focused during that time.


Today, I got them started on their first drafts. I modeled how to turn the outline notes into coherent paragraphs. The introduction is the hardest part.


Your introduction is like a roadmap for the person reading your paper. It's a plan for the journey you're going to take, so they know what to look forward to. But you save the details for the body of the paper.


Your introduction is like the preview to a movie. Does the preview give away the whole story? No! Does it introduce most of the important characters and give you an idea of what the story will be about? Yes.


Funny, I said almost the same things to my college friends when I read their papers, only I was allowed to be much more saucy in my comments.


Okay, I don't want to see you writing, "I think..." It's obvious that this is what you think! You wouldn't be writing it, otherwise!


Yes, mom, I learned all this from you. I was paying attention. But you're still not allowed to read anything important.


Listen, in the preview to a movie, does it suddenly zoom out and show you the people with cameras, the director, like, "I made this movie and here's what I did...." --?! No! So I don't want to read, "I did some research and..." We know you did research - that's the whole point. You don't have to say it. Cross it out if you wrote that and just start with what you learned.


Okay, now in the conclusion, you have to sum it up one more time. I know that sounds really repetitive, like, why are we writing the same thing over and over? But you're only writing six paragraphs. In college, you might write twenty pages, - audible gasps - and your reader might get to the end and forget some of what you said at the beginning. So, you go back and remind them. And then you write one or two more sentences with one final, really strong idea that will bring it all home. Your reader will put it down and think, Wow, I really agree with this author!


They have to take a side: Should the US invest in this particular source of energy for the future? Why or why not? They have to provide on paragraph of background information explaining how their energy source is used to produce electricity, two arguments in support of their thesis, and then they have to describe and shoot down one counter-argument.


Miss! This is hard!


Blogger posthipchick said...

I used the laptops today. I am a Luddite as well, now. Ugh.
Getting them to set up a Blogger page- who knew it took an hour?

11:17 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

thank god for you. we need more teachers like you, teachers who are willing to teach writing, no matter their subject. your students will understand that writing is not just an "English" thing but a life thing. too bad none of your kids would ever end up at my school...we could use them!

6:48 AM  
Anonymous K. said...

I just wanted to say hello and let you know that I've been lurking around for a few months, really enjoying your blog.

I'm a grad. student at Boston College interested in working for Teach For America - your perspective has been not only valuable, but far more entertaining than those website "testimonials."

9:59 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

as pre-teacher ed. student, college student, high school droppout and mom i enjoyed this on so many levels.

yes, it is hard. and so many teachers chose not to do it, or don't do it nearly as well.

paper writing is such an all encompassing skill. it forces you to focus your thoughts, map them out, and use the correct language. it takes SO MANY SKILLS.

i can't wait for my son to bring a paper home for me to help him with. i'm tired of math homework *laughing*

11:05 AM  
Blogger graycie said...

You are a treasure -- not only teaching your subject area and its methodologies, but showing them how to use language and writing conventions to tell (and thus think through)what they have learned.

This English teacher thanks you.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do all the students have a chance to write their final drafts on computers? If so, they may wish to write their introductions *last* - it's easier to summarize your paper once you've already written it! ;)

7:40 PM  
Blogger ProfessorDog said...

I am a community college remedial writing teacher. I'm totally going to use the movie preview thing, especially the part about how a movie preview doesn't include the director saying, "I made this movie and..." to explain why we don't say, "I'm writing this essay about..." in an introduction. Thanks! I hope India and Turkey are going well for you.

11:58 PM  
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2:24 AM  

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