Tag Archives: Writing Standards

Writing to Learn

In her book Writing Across the Curriculum in Middle School and High Schools (1995), Rhoda Maxwell states, “Writing is not used in content areas so that students will improve their writing skills, but because students understand content better when writing becomes part of their learning activities.”

We write to learn, to deepen our understanding, emphasize skills and strategies, to deepen thinking, look for clarity of ideas, it even acts as a toolbox for our thinking.

The Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects address the importance of both content and form to develop students’ writing skills. One of the best ways to encourage students to become critical thinkers and strategic learners is to incorporate writing into the content areas. The CCLS place a strong focus on argument writing and informative/explanatory writing. The CCLS call for students to become well-rounded individuals who write different types of texts for different purposes and audiences.

Writing doesn’t just happen in English class, nor should English teachers be the sole teachers of reading and writing. Here are three places content area teachers like science and humanities can help teach writing skills:

The Thesis Statement/Claim – The thesis is the map of an essay. It not only states the argument but also gives an indication of the organization of the essay. All subjects must standardize the need to see one thesis statement in a student’s argument regardless of content.

Evidence – Evidence is the quote, the computation, the data, the statistics, and the findings. Evidence backs up the argument made in the thesis statement.

Commentary – Commentary is individual thought. It is not just about translating the data but also bringing a new layer to the information.

The real goal is to help all students master the knowledge, procedures, and skills of the academic disciplines that run the secondary school curriculum, and which serve as the gatekeeper to success in college, work, and other facets of adult life. Teachers working to improve adolescent literacy instruction must integrate the teaching of reading and writing more fully into academic content areas.

When teachers take steps to incorporate more writing into the content areas, students begin to deepen their understanding of the steps they are taking to solve problems and to learn. They expand their capacity to answer the “why,” to understand the big ideas, and to see the real-world relevance of what they are learning. Through various literacy-based content activities that are purposeful and meaningful, students develop the skills required to successfully master content and increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Here are 10 ideas to think and apply in any content area and classroom:

Create Reader’s Theater on Mitosis

Debate whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat

Write a research paper and find information Boyle’s Law: The inversely proportional relationship between pressue and volume on a confined gas

Have students write and produce a music video on factoring

Create a screencast the influence of global warming on glaciers

Write a newspaper article on whether your school should invest in Solar Panels on the Rooftop

Start a classroom blog for students to reflect on classroom inquiries

Design a RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) choice project for students

Write a persuasive letter to your state senator on the first amendment and whether or not to revise the constitution

Have students script and record a podcast on a science topic they want to know more about

The bottom line: Teachers should create assignments for real audiences and with real purpose that require students to read, write, and  think critically.

 

Writing to Learn

Short, exploratory, unedited, & informal writing opportunities

Public Writing

Planned, audience driven, drafted and edited

Notes

Lists

Sketches

Brainstorming

Charts and Graphic Organizers

Journaling

Freewrites

Exit/Admit Slips

Mapping

Research Papers

Articles

Proposal

Projects (RAFT, Brochure, Webquests, Newspapers)

Essays

Stories
In lieu of essays:

Make a cartoon strip

Design a questionnaire

Write a play

Create a teacher’s guide

Create a scrapbook

Write a television show script, poem, commercial, song, monologue

Write a letter

Write a press release

Design a slide show, Prezi, or Screencast

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Recording Genius: Using Notebooks & Journals with Genius Hour

The great inventors like Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and artists, musicians, and writers maintain journals and notebooks to record their thinking, ideas, and experiments. In fact, Benjamin Franklin once said, ““If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things down worth reading or do things worth reading.”
benjaminfranklinRediscovery #: 06859
Job A1 10-123 Rough Journal

To catalogue students’ genius hour experiences over the course of the school year and semester, students created a Genius Journal recounting their investigation, planning, action, and reflections.

Genius journal could be as creative and artistic as a student chooses with a minimum of five entries that address the following:

Investigating

 

 

Define your genius hour goal based on personal interests

Explain why this project is important to you and something you are passionate about

Identify prior learning and subject specific knowledge relevant to the project.

Demonstrate the research you conducted to collect information, ideas, and knowledge

Planning

Articulate the guiding question for your project

Describe the steps you took to put the project in action

Describe the process and development of the genius project

Demonstrate how you managed your time and resources to bring your project to fruition

Describe where you might have had to change, revise, and revamp your project and why

Learning from the Experts

Interview a person you feel is a genius or can help you with your project, what insight do

they offer regarding carrying out your passions and project

Curate information about your project. What others are doing and have done

Who are the people in this field of study that have insight to share, what keywords have they presented

Taking Action

Demonstrate service and or product as a result of the project

Demonstrate your thinking skills and new understanding as a result of the project

Demonstrate communication and social skills

Reflecting

Evaluate the quality of your service or product

Reflect on how completing the project has extended your knowledge and understanding

Reflect on your own development of life skills and how you benefited from completing

this project

Reflect on whether you will continue your work on your genius project; why or why not

 

The journals would be evaluated on the criteria below:

Criteria
Quantity of Entries
Quality of Journal Entries
Original Illustrations, Diagrams, & Photos
Reflection
Grammar, spelling, mechanics, & punctuation

These reflections and entries would also work well as blog posts for Genius Blogs.

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Powerful Writing Starts with Strong Sentences: 8 Sentence Activities to Use Across the Content Areas

“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” —J.K. Rowling,

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” 

—Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices

 

How do we get our students to write well?

How can teachers help students to string words together with poetry, grace, and meaning?

I recently attended a workshop on The Writing Revolution: The Hochman Method, an instructional approach to teaching writing and communication skills. Dr. Judith C. Hochman is the creator of the Hochman Method and founder of The Writing Revolution. Dr. Hochman was the Head of Windward School an independent school focused on teaching students with learning disabilities.  

We began with sentences and sentence activities. The idea is to start small in order to help students to write better. Focusing on sentences improves the substance of writing to raise the level of linguistic complexity and clarity, enhance revision and editing skills, and improve reading comprehension.

The following 8 sentence activities were presented to help student take command of their sentence writing and become better writers.

Sentence Fragments – A group of words that is not a grammatically complete sentence. Usually a fragment lacks a subject, verb or both or is a dependent clause that is not attached to an independent clause.  Teachers can post sentence fragments for students to repair. The aim is to address what is necessary to write complete sentences. For example, as a bell ringer have students identify the sentence fragments and change the fragments into complete sentences adding necessary words, capitalization, and punctuation.

the town of Macomb

does not remember her mother well

atticus finch is a lawyer

Scrambled Sentences – Another five minute do now is to have 7-9 words maximum for students to put together to make a complete sentence. One way to help students with this activity is to bold the first word of the sentence to help them unscramble the sentence.

Sentence Types – We use four different kinds of sentences when speaking and writing: Statements or Declaratives, Questions or Interrogatives, Exclamations, and Commands or Imperatives. Give students a topic or an image for them to write a sentence, question, exclamation, and command for. This strategy encourages students to think about the text and encourage precise language. To differentiate this activity  you can offer an answer and have students create a question that shows synthesis, comparison, and frames their academic vocabulary.

Q: _____________________________________

A: direction and magnitude

Possible question: What are the two defining characteristics of a vector?

Because, But, So – Because tells why, But changes direction, and So shows cause and effect. If we want students to think critically and not regurgitate information we can have students extend a sentence with but, because, and so. Each of these conjunctions help to change the meaning of the sentence.

Hammurabi created a written code of laws . . . .

Students can complete the sentence based on what they know and understand.

Hammurabi created a written code of laws because ________________________________________________

Hammurabi created a written code of laws, but ___________________________________________________

Hammurabi created a written code of laws, so ____________________________________________________

These three conjunctions can help students learn linguistically complex language and change of direction language that can help writing counterclaims. Additional transition words for but includes:  although, while, even though, however, on the other hand.

Subordinating Conjunctions – After, Before, If, While, Although, Even though, Unless, Since, When, Whenever. Rather than asking students questions about the text or material, use subordinating conjunction  sentence stems to evaluate comprehension and knowledge. For example,

Since Lennie has a mild mental disability in Of Mice and Men, ________________________________________

After Lennie meet’s Curley’s wife, _________________________________________________________________

Although Lennie promised to keep the farm a secret, ________________________________________________

Students can use a given subordinating conjunction to write a sentence about a character.

Although __________________________________________________________

Even though ________________________________________________________

If I was using the above activity with To Kill a Mockingbird, I might anticipate a student to write,

Although Tom Robinson was innocent and defended himself well, he was found guilty.

Even though Tom Robinson’s case seemed doomed from the start, Atticus agreed to defend him.

Appositives are a noun or noun phrase placed next to another noun to rename, or explain it more fully. Teachers can have students practice writing topic sentences with appositives. Another activity is to have student match appositives or fill in the appositives. Introducing appositives provides students a strategy to vary writing and help the reader provide more information. In addition, it improves reading comprehension. Another strategy is to give students an appositive and have students write a sentence around it.

Sentence Combining helps to teach grammar and usage because it requires students to gain syntactic control.

This strategy is from The Teacher’s Guide to Effective Sentence Writing by Bruce Saddler.

Let’s take the following five sentences:

People are innocent.

People are innocent according to a principle.

The principle is American.

The principle is legal.

They are proven guilty.

 

What did you come up with?

According to an American legal principle, people are innocent until proven guilty.

To scaffold this sentence activity you can give hints for students to use a conjunction or appositive. Additionally, you can differentiate the activity by giving the high fliers a challenge, the middle level students a hint, and for struggling or ELLs offer them a sentence starter.

Kernel Sentences – A simple, active, declarative sentence with only one verb and containing no modifiers or connectives. This activity is helpful for note taking because it gets at the who, what, when, where why, and how.

Snow fell.

Cells divide.

Pyramids were built.

Students state the when, where, and why.  Think of this like a puzzle, students need to complete every piece of information to write an expanded sentence.

In ancient times, pyramids were built in Egypt to protect the body of the deceased pharaoh.
Whether you try all the sentence activities or just a few, activities should be embedded in the content. Teacher demonstration and modelling is beneficial. Sentence strategies can be practiced in do nows and warm ups, stop and jots, exit slips or even test items.

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Beneficial or Bogus? Seeking Valid & Reliable Supporting Evidence: Lesson Plan

I am beginning a scientific investigative journalism inquiry project with my students this month and the final project will be an annotated bibliography and feature article. As we embark on the features of a nonfiction investigative journalism piece, the topic of valid and reliable supporting evidence is at the forefront.

Essential Questions:

  1. How can you tell if a resource contains valid information?
  2. How can you determine the saliency of information?

Objectives (KUDoS) By the end of this lesson, students should:

KNOW:

  • Saliency = the most important, relevant information
  • Self-reliance = depending on one’s self
  • The steps to composing a persuasive speech (Prior Lesson)
  • Types of supporting evidence include: testimony, statisitic, fact, and example (Prior lesson reinforced in this lesson)

UNDERSTAND:

  • The importance of supporting an idea with ample examples of valid evidence
  • The importance of skimming information to filter the most important facts
  • How to check the validity of a source

DO:

  • Analyze the saliency of information
  • Skim articles to identify relevant details to support a thesis
  • Locate a valid resource from the internet

 

PROCEDURES

Anticipatory Set: DO NOW

How do you know if information you’ve been told is valid? How do you know what to believe?

Write your response on the post-it notes and post your response on the SmartBoard.

Teacher will read some of student responses with the large class. Questions to further discussion and student thinking: “When researching a topic, how do you know if the information you find is valid?”

Instructional Activity: Station Activity

I. Students will travel to three different QR Codes in order to find evidence to support the supplied thesis/claim. Each QR Code links to an article, video or website for the students to draw out support material (evidence, testimony, statistics, etc). Students will complete a support material research chart as they evaluate each piece of evidence. In addition, students will assess the validity and benefits of QR Code. The articles of information have already been selected by the teacher to assess students’ abilities to judge reliable and valid research documents.

Students will use the 2-D graphic organizer to record their findings from the QR Codes they visit.

Selected Articles, Videos & Websites:

Source 1 – Does Video Game Violence Make Teens Aggressive?

Source 2 – Could Violent Video Games Reduce Rather Than Increase Violence?

Souce 3 – 10 Ways Video Games Can Help or Harm Your Brain from the Huffington Post

Source 4 – Video Game Revolution – The two computers in the classroom will post this website for students to read through the myths about video games. The article was written by a MIT professor debunking the myths about video game violence

Source 5 – This article has no specific information on video game violence but is about the teenage brain. This article is being used to see if students can decifer that this article has no specific connection to the thesis.

Source 6 – The pros and cons of video games. There are many statistics and additional links on the website from this debate website.

Source 7 – Onion Network Video “Are Violent Videos Preparing Adolescents for Apocalypse”

II. After students have had the opportunity to find support material examples from the various stations, students will find a partner who utilized the same sources to discuss and confirm their findings.

III. In large class discussion reflect on student findings.

Questions to ask:

Which research sources were beneficial to finding support material? How do you know?
Did any one find invalid research? What lead you to conclude it was invalid?

IV. One the back of students’ research charts they are to list three ways to validate a resource (exit slip).

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Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

small-group-work-rank-the-evidence-presented-in-the-envelopes-which-is-the-strongest-evidence-and-why-be-prepared-to-defend-your-answers

Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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The Need To Tell: Monologue Writing in English & Social Studies

Diane Arbus Photograph

Look at the person in the photograph.

Who is this person?
What is her/his name?
What is special about her/him?
Where is she/he?
How does she/he feel about being there? Why?
What does this character want, need, or dream about?
What’s stopping her/him from getting it?
What does she/he need to tell?
Who is she/he telling?
Why is this day different from any other day?

Objective:
1. To create an individual character and establish a foundation for characterization.
2. To write a monologue based on a photograph used to create a character.

This activity was first presented to when during a playwriting workshop for teachers presented by Young Playwrights, Inc. This activity can work as a creating writing assignment or role playing in response to a story or specific period in history. For example, I use photographs of Japanese Internment and students choose a person in one of the photographs to write about experiences during internment. Integrating tools of creative drama and theater tools – like pantomime, movement, improvisation, scripted drama, oral interpretation, debating, storytelling, readers theater – creatively communicates ideas to others and requires students to become the people they read about and study.

Procedures:

  1. Post a photograph on the SMARTBoard. This will be used for a whole class brainstorm.

Tell the group that there are no right or wrong answers, as you will all be making this up as you go along. Ask the following questions:

Who is this person? – Get a specific answer. You may have to vote between 2 or 3 names.

What is her/his name? – Have writers begin to define the age, occupation, and general biographical information based on what they see in the photograph. Make a group decision who this person is.

What is special about her/him? – Have writers think about the way he or she talks, dresses, walks. We are looking for specific character traits.

Where is she/he? – Get writers to be as specific as possible.

How does she/he feel about being there? Why? Happy? Sad? Worried? Angry? What does the expression in the photography tell you?

What does this character want, need, or dream about? – We are moving away from what can be seen to inferring emotions and thoughts based on visual cues.

What’s stopping her/him from getting it?

2. Inform the group they will now have the opportunity to allow her or his 􏰂􏰋􏰆􏰃􏰆􏰂􏰅􏰌􏰃􏰁 􏰅􏰉􏰁character to speak. to begin writing a monologue or speech Instruct writers 􏰎􏰈􏰌􏰆􏰣􏰜􏰁(written in first person) bearing in mind what the character Needs To Tell. Add three new questions writers should answer individually:

What does she or he need to tell?

Who is she or he telling?

􏰖􏰁Why does this need to be told today?

The character doesn’t need to answer these questions in the monologue, but the answers should be what drives her or his words.

3. Expand the Activity – After students share out ideas based on the class character brainstorm, I have them choose their own photograph (I have a class set for students to choose from around seven or eight different photographs based on the theme we are studying) and complete the assignment on their own. It is often fascinating for writers to see how many different and distinct stories and characterizations can emerge from a single photo.

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Attaining Common Core Reading & Writing Standards with Interactive English Notebooks: LILAC/NRC Conference

The topic for this year’s LILAC/NRC (Long Island Language Arts Council & National Reading Conference is “Literacy Matters For Every Learner.” Key note speakers include Richard Allington and Pam Munoz Ryan. I will also be presenting along with 12 additional teachers and literacy coaches addressing topics related to literacy. My session will addressed specific foldables I created for my students to support reading and argumentative writing. I have embedded my slide show for the presentation below.

The foldables and supporting graphic organizers I have included in my presentation include:

 

Interactive Foldables Anchor Standard
Stop and Notice & Note CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10

Introductory Paragraphs: BLT Strategy CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4

Writing A Thesis for An Argumentative Essay CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4

Ways to Start An Essay CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4

TEXAS Body Paragraphs CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2

Writing A Conclusion CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.E
Transition Words & Phrases CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1.C
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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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Voices from History: Ideas for a Historical Blog Assignment

In order to help students ask questions and be critical thinking citizens, teachers need to offer assignments (and reading material) that helps students see multiple points of view about people and history. Blogging allows for creative writing, especially in social studies. We want students to step into periods of history and understand different perspectives, experiences, and events.  At the same time tap into the Common Core Writing Standards:

  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

 

The assignment described below was used with a unit on colonialism but this assignment can be adapted for any unit in history.  

Here is a Colonial Blog assignment that requires students to take on the identity of an imaginary colonist and write three blog entires explaining their reactions to specific events that angered the colonists. The focus of this assignment is to understand what caused the colonists to revolt against the English. 

First, students are to imagine a character that was living in a colony in 1760. Using data given in class, students select a country of origin, home colony, a religion, a profession, and a name. Students invent a name, age, and family circumstances. The assignment requires students to write a brief biography of their character. This includes: demographic information, family’s history, and a description of life in the colony. 

For the first blog entry, in character, the student is to write about how one of the British acts have affected you. Describe which rights have been violated and how this act changes your life. Tell how you will respond to this act. The following are the British acts during this period: Proclamation, Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Line of 1763, Quartering Act, Boston Tea Party, Sugar Act, Townshend Act, Intolerable Acts. The blog entries are expected to be based on the history of these events and be descriptive. 

The next blog assignment requires students to read the posted blog entries from other students and write a response. Comment on the experience of a fellow colonists. Give advise, sympathize, or ask a question. Tell what happened after your previous response. Tell how one of the British acts has affected you. Describe what is going on in your life, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you will respond to this act. 

The final blog assignment has students read the posted blog entries of the other colonists and write a response. Tell what happened after your previous blog entry and how another British act affected you. Describe what is going on in your life and that of your family, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you plan to respond to this act. 

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Revision Olympics for the [Dreaded] Essay

Maybe you’ve assigned an in-class essay assessment where students are required to write a four or five paragraph essay exhibiting their understanding and analysis of a text.  Writing under pressure and within a short time span (two 40 minute class periods), the results are mediocre.

I feel that I do not have enough time in the class period or in the school year to do everything that I want to and have to cover in my classroom.

Right now, I am doing all that I can to support my students as writers and give them the tools necessary to succeed in school on written assessments. In order to help my students understand the elements of an effective essay and to boost their writing for future writing assessment, I created a Revision Olympics Activity for students to reflect on their writing, look at models of proficient essays, and improve their writing for clarity, focus, and evidence effectively supporting the claim.

Below, I will walk through the different challenges of the olympic activity and at the bottom of this post I included a link to all of the challenges and handouts created for my students.

Challenge #1 – Student Exemplars & Self Reflection

Students read through two student exemplar essays and addressed the following:

What did the student writer do well in the essay?

What would you want to model/borrow/steal from his or her essay?

What is one thing you are going to do differently as a result of reading this student’s essay?

Challenge #2 – Building Better Intro Paragraphs

Students reread their own introductory paragraphs and addressed whether it included an engaging broad statement to capture the audience’s attention, linking information with text titles and authors, and a clear thesis statement that states the claim (and so what) in one clear cut sentence.

Challenge #3 Finding & Supporting Your Claims: Textual Evidence

Working in small groups, students worked as an investigative team to determine whether the evidence provided in their own essays supported their claim.  First, students were to find all the evidence provided in the essay and compile it into a graphic organizer. Second, students had to explain how each piece of evidence supported the claim. If other members of the team disagree with the explanations, the student was to find evidence that would convince them. Lastly, students were to record what the author was trying to prove with the example or evidence and why it mattered.

Once students completed the three challenges they were to revise their original essay.  The revised writing that I got in return was detailed, clear, concise, and effectively met the requirements of the writing prompt.

Here is a link to the handouts and challenge directions to use with your students.

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