Using Academic Language

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SWBAT apply knowledge of language conventions when engaged in discourse about the meaning and style of a text.

Big Idea

Use of academic language turns into sharper writing and deeper discussion.

Lesson Overview

Analyzing Their Own Words

40 minutes

When reading their line analysis responses from yesterday's lesson I noticed that they were very generalized--that students were not using the names of parts of speech or syntax, and writing more conversationally.  One of my goals this year is for students to build an awareness of their own writing, and practice gaining an academic voice with any writing they do, even if the writing itself isn't being assessed.  The only way to become skilled in academic writing is to do it a lot--to practice in low-stakes moments like this assignment.  So, to do this I have taken some passages from their line-analysis responses in the "War" poem assignment to use as examples.  Using their own language to show how it could be improved gives a stronger sense of accountability and context to the objective of the lesson.

In choosing passages, I tried to take ones that had a variety of issues regarding word choice and syntax.  Also, I was careful about whose they were-I have the benefit of knowing all these students because I had them all last year as sophomores and therefore have relationships with them.  This allows me to chose from students who I know will not feel like I'm singling them out.  However, doing this will also send the message that their writing isn't just a silent dialogue between me and the student; they should write everything with the thought that they will have an audience. 

To begin the lesson I will give a short introductory statement about how important it is to practice using the academic vocabulary they are learning, and to recognize the context of a situation so they know what kind of language is necessary.   I like to use a tennis example for an analogy--that if we were going to play, I could go out and beat the ball against a wall for three hours to practice, while they could go out for thirty minutes and strategically practice their form and types of swings, and they would likely win because they practiced with purpose.  With this story I'm trying to strike a balance between making a strong point, but also being light enough that they recognize this is a learning moment, emphasizing that by using their answers in the lesson they aren't being "called out" somehow.

After this introduction, I will show a series of examples from their work.  Using the Smartboard, I'll initially hide the "better" example, and show just the clause "the word trembling shows the woman is scared," and talk briefly about how this statement isn't very analytical--that it states a general connotation and nothing more, and it doesn't create a strong sense that they have strong command of analysis because it is a bit vague and simplistic; it doesn't demonstrate a deep knowledge of how the language functions to make meaning.  Then I will uncover the re-written version, "the adjective trembling used to modify finger connotes a sense of nervousness. . . "

From here I'll put it in the students' hands, asking them what the differences are, and more specifically what specific words are used to create different meaning.  I think its important to do it this way here rather than me stating the difference, so they are, in a way, participating in editing their own work rather than me stating why mine is better.

From here I will show some other examples, asking students to analyze the original and why it is not a strong sentence, then showing a stronger example.  With each example, I'll hand more of the analysis to the students as their responses get stronger (when they are naming parts of speech, using more descriptive words than "feeling," etc.).  The PDF attached Using AL examples and prompt.pdf gives a couple examples and the prompt for writing, though I may add some other examples as we going along in the activity.

Once we have jointly constructed meaning with a few examples, I will have them practice on their own by showing an example on the board and having students re-write the statement into a stronger one by use of word choices and syntax that create more clarity (they will have a couple minutes to write a new version).  

When they are done, I'll ask for volunteers to first point out words and phrases of the example that could use a bit of a make-over, then ask them to read their new examples.  We will do a couple examples like this as practice and as formative assessment before moving on to the next part of the lesson.



Re-writing With Academic Purpose

30 minutes

To further assess whether they got the message regarding academic writing, students will answer an analysis prompt of the poem "War."  I'm continuing to use the same poem because they know it, and know the general answer to the prompt already.  This is to assess their ability to use appropriate language in academic discourse, so doing it with a text they are comfortable with eliminates other variables that may "pollute" the assessment, allowing for them to focus on the language and not worry about "getting it right."  Additionally, they will practice close reading and selecting appropriate evidence through the filter of their new academic language knowledge.

Students will write an analysis of "War" to the following prompt:

"First, state the main claim Charles Simic makes about the influence of war on all of us.  Then, explain how he constructs this argument in the poem through word choices and syntax."

After everyone is done, I will ask students to read each-other's responses, underlining strong academic statements of analysis and discussing observations with each other.   Even with short writing assignments, I try to have students share with each other whenever possible so they feel like they are writing for an audience and not just for a teacher.  Additionally, the underlining will give me another layer of assessment, since I will not only see how they use academic language in their writing, but also what they see as academic writing in someone else's (I will know who read whose because there are 13 students in the class and will remember the pairings; this could be done more formally by having students 'sign' the one they read and annotated if it was a larger class). 

Next Steps:  To assess the students' understanding that an awareness of the function of language in texts is important for their own writing, as well as to challenge them to apply what they've learned thus far to their own writing process, I will have students write a reflection on their own writing process in light of the 5 principles laid out by Constance Hale in Sin and Syntax.  The goal is really for them to think deeply about their own writing in terms of language--the things we've reviewed the past few days; internalizing the parts of speech and syntactical constructions will go on throughout the year--the first step is to recognize the importance of doing this.