Today we held a funeral in class. My students and I buried all the contrived and canned transitional phrases that had been taught to them years before for writing essays. I told them to thank the words for helping them write essays in the early years, but now in eighth grade our expository writing needed to be more powerful and prolific.
You know the words and phrases I am talking about:
I think . . .
I believe . .
In conclusion . . .
All in all,
By this I mean . . .
As I have already stated . . .
However . . .
After spending my weekend reading ninety-five expository essays based on summer reading, I had compiled a long list of the most abused transition words among the essays. I even had one student who wrote “All in all” in every paragraph of his five paragraph essay. I became more depressed as the weekend carried on.
I want my students to be effective writers. By effective, I mean students who write clearly and concisely. I don’t want my students to waste words or add fluff and filler because they need to meet a minimum of sentences or paragraphs. Their writing needs to grab the reader’s attention in the first sentence and keep the reader interested all the way to the end. There should be enough evidence and textual details to support their claim, even possibly change my thinking about the subject. I want my students to know that good writing doesn’t happen over night, but is a life long skill that can only improve by working on it daily. Lucy Caulkins once said, “Writing is like giving birth to a piano.” Writing is hard and it rarely comes out perfect in the first draft. I tell my students that they can revise their writing as many times as they want. As their teacher, I can be their reader, their editor, a vocabulary enricher, and red pen nightmare, or daintily ask, “What do you want me to pay attention to?” My goal is to help improve my students writing to prepare them to write for situations both in school and outside of school.
After our funeral we discussed the elements of an introductory paragraph and how to write a thesis statement for an argumentative essay. Students had the opportunity to rewrite their introductions and guess what, I didn’t see any of the transitional words or phrases we laid to rest in their writing. But now they are asking for some new transitions!