Tag Archives: essay writing

Getting Students to Revise & Reflect on their Writing

What are we asking students to do when we ask them to revise and reflect on their writing?

I am of the philosophy that in order to become a better writer, one needs to write daily and look to examples of great writers as models and mentors. When it comes to writing essays in my English class, I have my students writing one essay each quarter. It is not enough if you ask me, but in this current climate of high stakes tests I continue to find a balance between teaching reading and writing.

I have my students write their essays in class and after I read through them, I allow students to revise and improve their essay for a better grade. After reading through the recent compare and contrast essays students wrote in response to  Melba Patillo Beal’s memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, and Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” I planned a revision workshop to help students reflect on their writing and pinpoint areas where I found many students needed additional support. Reading through ninety five essays I found three places to “teach back” and help improve student writing: Writing a solid thesis or claim; Choosing the strongest evidence to support one’s claim; and Using better transition words.

I created a Revision Passport to guide students throughout the revision workshop and allow students to move around the classroom visiting different stations to help revise and reflect on their writing with the objective to nudge students to revise their writing and produce a stronger essay. After completing the work at a station I checked their work and gave them a stamp on the passport. Students had to complete four different stations.

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Station 1 – The Exemplars

I pulled out two student essays that I felt were exemplars for the entire grade. I retyped the essays and removed the student’s names from the essay for the rest of the class to read through. Students had to write down two things the writer did well in the essay and then record a “writing move” they wanted to steal or borrow from the exemplar.

Station 2 – The Thesis/Claim

Although I have created interactive foldables and taught lessons on writing a clear and solid thesis, this is still a struggle for many writers. The thesis or claim is the heart of the essay. English teacher Ray Salazar has a great blog post on writing a thesis in three steps which  showed my students. I made a graphic organizer for students plug their thesis into the 3 steps Ray describes and then figure out what is missing or what needs to be added to help write a revised thesis that is specific, debatable, and significant to the essay prompt.

Station 3 – Textual Evidence

Not all evidence weighs the same. Students need help finding the strongest evidence to support their claim. At this station I had students look at the evidence they provided in their essay and rank the evidence from strongest to weakest on a graphic organizer. In addition, students had to explain why the evidence is weak or strong. What makes the strongest evidence and why?

Station 4 – Writing Reflection

Looking back at their essay and the work they did during the revision workshop students completed two reflection tasks. Students had to rewrite, in their own words, the comments I made throughout their essays and what I wanted them to improve on. Then, students were to give an example how they were going to make their writing better based on teacher’s comments and the work they did in the revision workshop.

Below is a copy of the revision passport I created and used with my students.

Revision Passport WDC

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Helping Students Build Better Introductory Paragraphs

I always begin the school year with my students writing an argumentative essay connected to their summer reading text.  I do not grade this first essay, but use it as a pre-assessment to gauge my students’ writing strengths and plan the lessons I need to  teach them to become better writers. To help my students understand the expectations for Common Core writing demands,  I spent three consecutive days in writing workshop mode to help my students rethink and revise their first essay for eighth grade.

Each day the workshop began with a ten mini lesson and interactive foldable about an element of the introductory paragraph and then the remaining twenty five minutes was used for writing workshop, revision, and individual conferences. The writing went from general and casual to specific textual details and elaboration with strong academic language. Below are the slides I used for the mini lessons and a handout that I created to help students break down the elements of the introductory paragraph.

 

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Building a Better Body (Paragraph)

This week I am holding a writer’s workshop in my eighth grade English classroom to help my students understand and apply the elements of effective argumentative essay writing.  I began the week with an interactive foldable on Ways to Start an Essay which addresses six different strategies for to start any kind of essay.

Ways to Start an Essay Foldable

Ways to Start an Essay Foldable

For my students, the two hardest parts of essay writing are the claim/thesis and the analysis of textual evidence that supports the claim. In a post earlier this school year I created a foldable for writing a thesis or stating a claim.  Once my students have their thesis complete, we move on to the body paragraph.

The body paragraphs are the meat of one’s essay. The body paragraphs must include specific textual evidence to support one’s claim and provide analysis of the textual evidence describing how it supports the claim.  Stating, “This quote proves . . .” is not enough. One’s analysis needs to hold the reader’s hand and walk them through the connection between the textual evidence and one’s claim. The body paragraphs should include three or more examples of textual evidence to really prove the claim is valid.

I created a graphic organizer for my students to record the textual evidence, summarize the evidence, and describe how and why the evidence is significant to the claim. In completing the graphic organizer, my hope is that it will be easier for my students to craft a body paragraph that explains, proves, and supports the claim.

In addition, there is a great Writer’s Checklist on essay writing from Read Write Think that I adapted and had my students include in their Interactive Notebooks to help guide my students in the essay writing process.

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A How-To Write an Essay Flip Books

Building a Flip Book

There are great websites that help students make notecards like Quizlet, but this week I went old school and had my students create flip books to help them remember the elements of writing a good essay.  Learning how to write an essay for school has always been a concern for students and teachers.  I had students create their own reference flip chart to provide them with a map for expository writing.  My goal was to stimulate thinking, writing, and enthusiasm for writing in the classroom.

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