The opening question I began with for this lesson was, "Which is better writing a paragraph from memory or writing with facts from the book/article?" I want them to debate this question with as little help from me. Right away the class confirms that writing with evidence and using the article is much easier than just trying to remember it. This is reassuring, and I am sure that after this lesson, most students will be more likely to use evidence in their writing.
We review quickly the three main groups we have been discussing in history, the Mayans, Incas, and the Aztecs. I keep this review very brief because I do not want their ideas to sway their writing. i hand out a lined piece of paper to each student, and I ask them to choose one of the three groups. I ask them to choose why they like this group the best, or why they would prefer to be from that group. The expectations for the assignment are to try to come up with two facts you know about the group and how the group was changed by Cortes.
It is now about giving them time to write. I let them know that I am going to only let them write for about 10 minutes. In that time they should be able to write about four to five sentences.
Once the timer goes off, I want them to write a new paragraph using their history book. Before they open it, I go over the expectations. I want them to use the same group as they chose before. They still need to include two facts and how the group was affected by Cortes.
The difference is being able to use their book to get facts to support their thinking and reasoning. I am not going to give them the page numbers, but only tell them that their facts will be found in chapters 3 and 4 of their history book. I am going to give them five extra minutes to write this part. The reason, I tell them, is to have time to find facts and read from their book.
With both parts done, I ask them to read both paragraphs to themselves. I want them to rate the better one with a star or smiley face. I give them a few minutes and even catch a few trying to edit their work. I then ask them to share them with their elbow buddy. Many students realize that when they wrote from memory some of their facts were not from that particular group. This was eye opening right from the start.
I then asked them to have a student-led discussion explaining which writing is better and why. They take turns calling on each other and explaining why the paper that held evidence was better. Some students said, "It was correct and the other writing had errors." Other responses varied from making more sense, sounding smarter, and even that evidence might be harder but will get you a better grade.
It appears to have made the point I was trying to make. We shall see how they respond to their next writing piece.