Class begins by introducing the writing prompt that is the culminating activity for all the work students have done in an effort to better understand the problems that arise when an alien species becomes established in a new environment.
What I have found is that student work improves when they have a clear understanding of the purpose of the task they are expected to complete. With this in mind, the “Argument Writing Activity: Invasive Species” worksheet was created. One item to take note of is a checklist for students to refer to throughout the task. Some students recognize the value of such organizational tools and ask for them if they do not come along with an assignment. Many even create one of their own if it is not available! But for most students, checklists become a way for the teacher to hold them accountable because it provides an easily accessible reference point as I circulate around the room while students write.
Be sure to make the connection between the items on the checklist and the requirements of the rubric. According to the Common Core State Standards, proficiency with argument writing is met when students at the sixth grade level introduce a claim and support it with evidence that demonstrates understanding of a text or texts. In reviewing the items on the rubric, students in my class ask for a review of the difference between stating the issue and making a claim.
Fortunately, students arrive to class well prepared for this lesson with materials previously passed out. They include the packet of articles on invasive species, the T chart that identifies the pros and cons of issue, and the argument map worksheet for planning their writing.
What remains to be done is filling in the supporting reasons and evidence sections of the graphic organizer. For some students this is a straight-forward task since the pros and cons chart already lists the reasons. However, that is not the case for everyone. It becomes a challenge when students do not make the connection that the list of reasons on the pros and cons chart can easily be plugged into the graphic organizer as supporting reasons. Even after going over this with the whole class, I find a number of students who have not adopted this strategy, so I make a point of checking in with every table group and touch base individually with all of the struggling writers in the room. This actually becomes more challenging for them than going back into the text to find supporting evidence and I expected it would be the opposite!
After the work we do with supporting reasons, acknowledging the opposing claim is easily accomplished. Students realize that this information is readily available from the t-chart.
Before going on to writing rough drafts of their arguments, students must show me their graphic organizers. There are a few who use the same evidence twice – mostly around the cost of dealing with an invasive species—but most are ready to go on with the task. An example of a completed organizer appears here.
To support struggling writers, I supply a list of sentence starters and vocabulary lists that strengthen persuasive writing. It was originally created for writing a persuasive essay about ancient Greece, so I point out those items and we X-out a few places that do not relate to this task.
After about 35 minutes of quiet writing time, students engage in a peer review process with a partner. This person adds their initials to their partners worksheet and checks off items on the checklist using a red pen. Do make sure their input is useful, we talk about the need for honest feedback. How much help are you to your friend if you do not encourage him or her attain the best grade possible?
Next up? That’s easy. Final copies are due the next day.