Today We Write: Strategies for In-Class Argumentative Essay Writing

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SWBAT produce an argument to a support claim using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence by writing an in-class essay on “Trees for Democracy” by Wangari Matthai.

Big Idea

In an explosion of logic, students explain how environmental practices solve social and political problems in Kenya.

Let's Get Started: Culture Wheel presentations continue

30 minutes

We begin class today with some more of the students' Culture Wheel Presentations.

The goal of the cultural wheel presentations is for students to share with the class the five most important aspects of culture, such as Artistic Expression, and how these aspects make the student an individual. The class takes notes on what they learn about their peers (SL 9-10. 4).  

Applying Knowledge: Writing an In-Class Essay

35 minutes

In the last class, students completed a pre-writing activity for the prompt: 

 ž"How can environmental practices address social and political problems?"

They have to use evidence from "Trees for Democracy" by Wangari Maathai. Today they will use the text as well as their pre-writing material to write an argumentative response to the prompt (W 9-10.1).

As we transition from the presentations to the writing activity, I  predict that certain questions wil fills the room before I can finish giving the directions.

"How long does it have to be?" 

"Yeah, how many paragraphs?"

The students  will rustle around looking for their pre-writing charts. I will ignore the questions because I despise those questions. It is a personal mission to strike those questions from my students' list of need to know information. 

Once the students have the necessary tools for writing, the pre-writing, text, paper, pencil, etc, I will say "Let's think about what you need to accomplish in 30 minutes.  All essays must contain...?"

I am looking for them to respond that all essays much contain an introduction and a conclusion. Now in in order to estimate how many body paragraphs you need, how many examples of environmental practices do you have.  Most students have four.  I write them on the board.  Next I ask them do all four address both social and political problems? I put an 'S' next to social solutions and a 'P' next to political solutions.  We have reached the last stages of prewriting. The students have their inferences and evidence, now they have to organize it so they can begin to write (W 9-10.5).

 Then I ask, "Do you need a paragraph for each environmental practice?" 

A possible reply is "Yes, that is one possible way to organize the essay. One body paragraph for each point."

Next I put a couple of other organizational strategies on the board such as chunking block by block. This strategy organizes the essay by topic. Students would write all the information about one topic (environmental practice) and then transition to the next topic (social solutions). I also show them point by point where they would alternate between a detail on environmental practice and social solutions until they have presented all their evidence.   The goal is to get the students to consider a logical order to the body of the essay.  I tell them to choose an organizational pattern and stick to it.  If you deviate you risk going off-topic.  

In-class essays are better when the students develop a plan.  

Writing time has arrived, I say, "Use your chart on environmental practices problems/solutions to write an essay that responds to the prompt: How can environmental practices address social and political problems?" (W 9-10. 1)

The students have the reminder of class time to write their essay. 


Closing: Tell me a strategy!

5 minutes

I give my students a five minute warning. 

When time is up, I ask my student aid to collect the essays.  While she is collecting, I ask the students to tell me the strategies they used to write their essay. It is my final check in to make sure that they are internalizing the writing process (SL.9-10.1). 

I am looking for these types of verbal answers from my students,.

"Figure out the prompt."  "Yep, what does the question mean?"

"So you broke down the question, what's next?"

"Find the answer."  Laughter... "How?"

"You got to look in the text for examples that answer the question."  "Write it down with the page numbers so you don't forget."

"OK--now what?"

"Pick the order you want to put it in and write."

Now, my students have a basic structure for responding to an in-class writing.  These strategies also work with document based questions in AP classes.  I hope my students are developing quality writing habits that they can apply in other classes.