Today's lesson was in the computer lab. Time in the lab is precious, so I tried to be as efficient as possible with the directions.
On the SmartBoard, I pulled up the ReadWriteThink site, and I accessed the Compare/Contrast map. The map is great because it walks the students through the steps of constructing an essay, and it prompts with helpful questions. For example, it asks the student to select what kind of compare/contrast essay he/she is doing. In our case, I told the student to select "Similarities and Differences." If my class were more experienced, or if it were later in the year, I might let them choose the structure. But, we are definitely not there yet and I wanted them to spend their time thinking about the stories (and later crafting really good paragraphs, rather than making structural choices.
I had the students work in pairs for practical reasons (my classes are large and a bunch of our computers were being serviced), but it worked out really well. The students knew that they would not be writing the final draft together, so they basically had another person with whom to talk through ideas. Though this doesn't always produce a better product, I do think the working in pairs worked this time.
My students had a hard time with condensing their ideas down to the allotted characters on the template. This is mostly because my students like to just write and write and write and hope the right answer/thesis/idea is in there somewhere. The planner forced them to be concise and think about ideas. I told them to use the planner in such a way that it was USEFUL to them, since I was only going to give it a process (classwork) grade.
A nice feature on the template is that you can have the students e-mail their work to themselves and to you, rather than printing. This helped them the next day, because they could use a split screen to see the planner and their essay page at the same time.