Yeah, I'm Pretty Good at that!

One of the more important things that I teach my 7th graders is persuasive writing, and I think that I do a pretty good job, considering my lack of experience and skill. The way I teach it really seems to make sense to my students, and I know that it makes sense to me.

First of all, I go to this website called PocketMod, which is basically a place where you can create and print out your own mini-book that needs no staples or tape to work. You can even convert PDFs to this small form factor and have your reading fit in your pocket (I must admit this came in handy when I had to read so many PDFs for a few of my grad classes). I make a book like the one below and print it out.




This method requires half a period (our periods are 45 minutes) to teach introduction, one whole period to teach supporting paragraphs, and half a period to teach conclusion.

I have the paper above on an opaque projector (or as a transparency on an overhead) and write on it just like they do. That way, they can see exactly where things need to go. I tell them they only have to write what I write on the paper like theirs, so all our other discussion and comments don't go there. They get a very specific formula to follow.

I give a blank one to each of my students and pitifully try to explain to them what to number the pages. I do this so that they can have a point of reference for the next steps, which need some reference points.

When this book is folded, each page represents a new paragraph in a persuasive essay (also known as a five paragraph essay). These are 7th graders, so they like it simple and wrapped in a nice package. The anticipation of being able to eventually cut the paper and fold it kills them. I do everything I can to delay that gratification. It is good for them, right?

So, on each "page" I take them through what is required for each paragraph in the essay. I let them do most of the teaching--that is, they call things out and I write it on the board off to the side while we discuss what should go where. Some of them have some background knowledge so this is a good way for me to get an idea of where they are at. Typically, though, we move through this pretty quickly. They give suggestions of what should be in each paragraph, and then I eventually tell them what should go there, and they suggest what should be written. It is all pretty straightforward, and they can easily make sense out of the words that I give them. They usually give an answer very close to the "correct" answer (correct in this instance means, worded the way I like it to be worded).

The other thing that makes this work well, is I give them a guide for what they can use when they are writing papers for me. I give them keywords and key phrases that trigger what is supposed to come next.

Key for the image below:
Black text: The important parts that will be in every persuasive essay they write until the day they die!
Blue Text: The explanation of the black text, just in case you ever forget.
Red Text: Keywords they can use to start that section/sentence/paragraph/whatever.

Why do I teach persuasive organization like this?
  1. Simple plug-and-play types of writing that are different enough (as this one is) will help them score well enough on their big important writing tests.
  2. Middle school kids are all over the place when it comes to organization (and I am sure that has something to do with their out-of-control bodies).
  3. It is much easier to grade them for their organization skills when they all follow this same pattern and use the same words.
  4. It is much easier for them to focus on the other five traits if organization, the trait that can hold them up, is very easy to do.
  5. I enjoy seeing them feel like they are writing a good paper (even if it is not) because it is well organized.
  6. This works. My students' writing scores were much better last year than the year before, and I had a lot of ELL (or ESL or LAL or whatever other names there are for kids who don't speak English at home).
  7. When they know what goes where, the rest of the good writing practices will come
  8. It doesn't take that long to teach, and the rest is just practice (it takes 2 full 45-minute periods, but I do the intro paragraph on the first day, and then have them write two or three to practice their hooks--then the middle paragraphs on day 2, and about 15 minutes on the conclusion).
I do really enjoy teaching them to write a persuasive essay in this manner. This method gives them enough help that even the really poor writers can write a decent paper at the end.

If you have anything that I should add to the lesson, please let me know so I can include it for next year.

Have a Good Life.

2 comments:

    I am so busted. You would know if I read your blog because I am a commenter.

    However, this blog is now on my Google homepage; not even the reader.

    *hangs head ashamedly*

    You are one of my heroes, I assure you!

    You are so forgiven!