Defining and Modeling the Synthesis Essay

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SWBAT prepare for writing a synthesis essay by analyzing a model essay that has been annotated to identify key structural elements in building the argument.

Big Idea

It is okay to closely follow a model essay the first time you write your own.


Defining and Modeling the Synthesis Essay

55 minutes

Students will come in having read two sections in their The Language of Composition textbook (pgs. 148-154, 160-166) that explain the synthesis essay and also provide a model.  Up to this point I have often mentioned that this was where they were going, and much of the teaching has been in part to practice this skill of connecting ideas from multiple texts in order to form their own educated ideas on issues (writing standard 7!).  The synthesis essay, to me, is the most important of the essays required in AP Language and Composition, because synthesizing information—creating a unique argument through evaluation of a number of ideas—is a skill students will use throughout their academic careers in writing, and one they will use in their own lives all the time (making purchasing decisions, for example).    Given this, we are going to spend a couple days on the pre-writing activities (we’ve actually been doing a lot of that work during the thematic unit leading up to this point via discussions, such as during the two days with Emerson) to give students a simple process they can use for this type of writing.

Today will be largely teacher led rather than in groups because it is a matter of explaining what the synthesis essay is and how it is constructed.  I will, however, have them talk with a peer next to them for about five minutes to explain to each other what they understood the synthesis essay to be, and to identify one sentence from the textbook that best defines it.  This lets everyone review what they read for homework, and also acts as an assessment for me to see who read (lots of reading rather than talking will be a good indicator that it wasn’t read the first time!).  After they’ve had a chance to share ideas, I will ask for a couple responses for the sentence that best explains what it is.  This activity also acts as practice for identifying main ideas in textbooks, which have a rather standard organization (in this case, the text is rather obvious:  the text writes “and that’s what synthesis is all about:  entering the conversation that society is having about a topic” on the first page of the section). 

Once we’ve established the basic idea of the synthesis essay (which shouldn’t take long, because I’ve been talking about it for weeks), I will further define some characteristics by looking at a couple pages of the textbook that talk about the types of evidence that is most appropriate for the genre of writing, and also establishing the role of appeals (academic ethos, heavy on logic and subtle on emotion).     These ideas will be introduced, but will be emphasized more specifically as we look at the main part of today’s lesson, the model synthesis essay provided in the textbook on pg. 165 and 166 regarding schools having a requirement of community service.  This one is annotated for students, showing the role different passages have (thesis statement, quotation of a source, counterargument, etc.).    We will read each paragraph out loud and specifically discuss the organization of ideas, the integration of evidence, and also the times where the writer uses diction that provides voice.  This paragraph by paragraph look should give students a strong sense of how these essays should look as they think about their own papers and the topics they will write about.

Pre-Writing Activity: Evaluating Resources

20 minutes

Once they know where they are going, we will turn to pgs. 160 and 161 and look at a nice two part method for determining how to synthesize and determine a topic for entering an argument.  First, students will select texts they think may provide evidence (or counterargument) for their topic, and write a brief one to two sentence summary of how it connects (I will require them to choose at least five texts for this part to push them to be thorough).  Once they’ve done this, they can analyze the pieces and write a series of questions that emerge for them regarding their argument.  These two steps allow them to take stock of the issues and start synthesizing ideas into a stronger, more cogent argument.

Next Steps:  students will complete the pre-writing activity described above, with an eye toward the next step of the process, where they will write a synthesis summary of their topic and three or four questions they have about it (I will also give them a model I wrote so they know the next step, though I will go over this more tomorrow when they write their own).