"Teachers Write": Sharing the Persuasive Essay Writing Process with Students

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SWBAT inform their writing process as the teacher models writing the persuasive essay in class.

Big Idea

As the best essay writer in the room, the teacher should model his/her writing process with students.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

Now that students understand the structure they will use for their persuasive essays on a banned book, I want to show them my writing process. As noted in the previous lesson in which I included a video of Kelly Gallagher discussing the teacher as writer, I believe in modeling. That's the focus of this lesson. 

In the lesson, 

  • I offer an additional rationale for the teacher modeling,
  • I show students my process for composing an essential question and a thesis,
  • I model composing an essay on a banned book, 
  • I show students my published piece on my blog. 

Dear Teacher, You are the Expert: A Rationale for Modeling

5 minutes

Begin the class with an admission: I struggle with writing, too. I have cried over papers, had a red pen bleed on my papers, made egregious errors in my writing, and find writing well frustrating at times. Still, I write. 

Because writing is so important, and to help my students see me as a writer, I often model my writing process--at least in part--with students. 

I tell students that they need to copy what I write into their notebooks so that they are, as much as possible, experiencing writing the way I do as I write. 

Do What You Do First: Writing the Thesis

15 minutes

I tell students that the first thing I do when writing an essay is compose a question that I will answer in the context of my essay. 

For this example, I use The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I choose HF because it's a book that has been challenged often and because I have a polished essay about banning HF on my blog. I save the reveal of this until later in the period. 

Essential Question:

I remind students that as an English teacher, I rarely think a book should be banned. Here's the question I wrote: 

Should HF be banned? 

I invite students to write a question for their essay and suggest they follow my model. Since I'm not yet ready to compose the essay, I put the question on the board. 

Next, I tell students I'm ready to answer the question, and this will become my central idea/position/opinion about banning HF.

My controlling idea:

We should include HF in our classrooms and school libraries. 

I like keeping things positive, which is a more manageable way to approach writing essays, especially when advocating a policy. The word should is inherent in policy issues. 

Next, I tell students that I nee to answer the question "Why should we have HF in classrooms and libraries?" Then I suggest we give three reasons and list them. I write these on the board like a list:

1. fabulous lit

2. misunderstood

3. race is an issue

At this point in the lesson, a beautiful thing happened: Cameron raised her hand and asked, "Isn't this the same thing we're doing with our infographics?" 

I responded: "That's an excellent question, and the answer is 'yes.' I figured if I could get you to buy into the infographic, you'd actually plan your essay in the process of creating the infographic. It's my way of getting you to prewrite. I admit that and am impressed that you figured it out!" 

Once I have the list on the board, I can write the thesis.

My Thesis: 

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn belongs in America's classrooms because of its literary merit, because misunderstanding does not justify banning it, and because race still matters in our country. 

I ask students:  "Would you drive down the road with your windshield covered?"

They say, "No" in unison. 

I then tell them that I don't write an essay with out a guide just as I don't drive down the road with the windshield obscured. My thesis tells me where I'm going with my writing. 

Modeling the Essay

30 minutes

After writing the thesis, I'm ready to compose a draft of the essay. 

I begin by reviewing the parts I'll put in the introduction, so it's important that students have the Guide to Persuasive Essay out so they can follow along. 

I have my thesis on the paper, and I instruct students to write (copy) my writing into their notebook. 

They don't want to! So I stop and explain to them that they can experience the process I use just a little by writing what I write and that by doing so they will be able to improve their writing, which is the ultimate goal. '

I have to prod students several times because they have not yet developed faith in this method of teaching that's so new to them. I can live with that for now--as long as they write. That's why I move around the room and check to make sure they are writing. For many, the only essay they have "written" this year is the one I am writing in class. 

Since I want students to see writing as recursive, I begin with the thesis and then add in the introduction. I tell students that I can reference parts of the book unfamiliar to them since I have read it. I identify the parts of my introduction for the class once I finish the intro. 

I don't mind students seeing me stumble, and I have to hit the backspace key several times to correct typos, to change information, and to move information around. 

Because the class time is limited, I did not write a complete essay, but I did write enough to show students how to use the essay guide and how to think about the essay in parts. This is easier for me than writing the essay from first word to last word.

The  Persuasive Essay with the Class.docx is obviously incomplete in many ways, and that's okay. I want students to realize that my writing always needs more work, too.  


A Polished Piece

10 minutes

To end the class, I share a blog post I wrote about banning HF in schools. This post specifically deals with omitting the troublesome "N-Word" from the novel. 

I read Leave Poor Huck Alone to students and tell them why I wrote it and show them the links and evidence I use to support my position. I also explain that the blog post is an informal persuasive mode and that blogging gives me an audience beyond writing just for an assignment. It allows me to have a voice. I also tell students that most blog posts take me two to three hours to write but that I generally think about the post for much longer.