Final Revision: Improving Readability & Grade Level Appropriateness

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Objective

SWBAT improve sentence construction by incorporating transitions, varying syntax, avoiding dangling modifiers, preserving accurate use of commas, and elevating word choice through revisions informed by data from a readability scorer.

Big Idea

Are your students refusing to incorporate grade-level appropriate words & varied syntax? Win the fight with data from a readability scorer!

Introduction

15 minutes

Today's focus will be on improving sentence variety and word choice so that students can continue revising their argumentative research papers in the quest for essay perfection! Both of these areas have been a source of trouble to some degree or another for most of my students, so I will take time today to address them using the following question series:

  • What is your process of thinking when constructing sentences?  How do you go about it?  Is it a thoughtful process or something that just happens?  (Students rarely have any "gameplan" for creating sentences that are varied or structurally complex.  Most will reply that they just write down whatever is in their head, then move on.)
  • So if you don't have a cohesive plan to incorporate varied, complex structure while writing, how do you go back and revise for it?  (Students will typically point to peer reviews and rereading as their only way to revise for structural complexity.  They usually only revise to make sentences shorter or less complex, however, and I have never had a class tell me that they purposefully go back through their drafts to ensure that they have varied their structure to include both long and short sentences with various constructions.)
  • If I wanted to go back and make some longer, more complex sentences, what kinds of structural elements could I add to do so?  (Students will probably start off by saying things like including lists or using compound sentences, but I will press them further to come up with other more-complex methods.  Even if they can't tell me the specific name for the terms, they can give me examples of sentences utilizing features like subordinate clauses, complex transitions, prepositional phrases, adding adjectives and adverbs, or adding verbial phrases.)
  • When you're composing essays, how do you choose the best words?  (Again, students probably don't have a clear plan for this.  They will probably relate that they write down whatever pops into their heads.  A few might leave a blank for the word they want to improve, then come back to it later, which is a strategy I've given to some of my "perfectionists" who find themselves getting stalled out on issues of word choice.)
  • At what point do you go back and revise for the best word choice?  What resources do you use?  How do you ensure consistency with the rest of your paper?  (Students that actually DO go back and revise for word choice likely utilize a thesaurus to help them.  I will hopefully hear that these students are also checking that they have done additional research where necessary to determine that the word they have chosen is actually supposed to be used with that particular connotative meaning.  Many students who are inexperienced with using a thesaurus simply choose a bigger word and replace their own words, but this is a practice that will certainly be obvious to the reader and get them into trouble by making their writing less clear.)

At this point, I will give students two resources to help them with improving sentence structure: OWL's Strategies for Sentence Variation and the Odegaard Writing and Research Center from the University of Washington's "Using Transitions Effectively" handout, which organizes transitions by their relationship function.  They will use these handouts and our discussion today to revise their papers later in the hour.

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Because students will be running their papers through a readability scorer today (and then will be expected to revised based on the results), I want to make sure to prepare students for some potential problems that reckless-revising may CREATE.  Without this "front-loading," students will be tempted to make changes to their papers simply to drive their numbers up instead of carefully considering legitimate ways to add to their structure's complexity (or simplicity, depending on the student).  

The biggest problem I anticipate seeing will be with inappropriately added clauses.  To that end, I will play the following (adorable) video about spotting and correcting dangling modifiers. 

After viewing, students will take a quiz formative quiz about dangling and misplaced modifiers, and we will go over as a class any questions with which students struggled.  Finally, I will share Grammarbook.com's Guide to Comma Use as a refresher for when to use commas.  Since we've been over commas SO MANY TIMES, I will not devote a huge amount of time for this here, but I will make sure students have resources at their disposal to check their usage.  I will also make sure that we discuss that while the Oxford comma is considered "optional" in many content areas, I still want to see them using it in their research papers to improve clarity.

Application

50 minutes
Next, students will copy and paste their draft (EXCLUDING the Works Cited section) into Readability-Score.com's text analyzer in order to get a better understanding of their sentence complexity and word choice.  While I don't always have students submit papers to readability scorers, I am noticing a fairly large number of students who are making language choices that are either well above or well below their grade level.  I want to reinforce the idea of reading and writing at and (reasonably) above grade level, and I believe that an unbiased source like this website might force students to more objectively assess their writing and make meaningful changes.  I will not require that all students have a certain set of numbers that they must earn in each assessment, but I will give students range that I should be seeing on their essays.  I will also stress that our purpose in revising based off the information this tool gives us WILL NOT be to randomly exchange small words for big words or degrade appropriate sentence construction by arbitrarily changing periods to commas!  We will have worked in the first part of the hour to ensure that all students know legitimate ways to improve their syntax, so they should use THOSE skills to revise their essays.  The basic ranges that I would like to see for these readability scores are between 30 & 50 for the Reading Ease and between 11.0 and 13.0 for all other indicators.  I will also point out that each readability score tells you something slightly different about your paper's content based on the algorithm they use to calculate it.  Those differences are outlined below.
 
Flesch Reading Ease & Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level
-words per sentence
-syllables per word
 
Gunning Fog Index
-sentence length
-number of complex (multi-syllabic) words
 
Automated Readability Index
-characters per word
-words per sentence
 
  • IF ANY OF ABOVE ARE LOW:  Replace very short, general words with more specific, longer words.  For example, if you say words like "great," "good," "bad," etc., those can all be jazzed up to be clearer and more descriptive.  Also, try to combine sentences with the techniques we talked about earlier in the period for a greater sentence variety of both long and short sentences.
  • IF ANY OF ABOVE ARE HIGH:  Make sure you don't have run-on sentences cluttering up your paper, and see if you've included enough short sentences to have a good mix of sentence lengths in your paper.  Also, make sure you haven't over-used technical words or other really long words that may be inappropriate for your audience.
  
Coleman-Liau Index
-characters per word
 
SMOG Index
-words with three or more syllables
 
  • IF JUST THESE NUMBERS ARE LOW:  Leave your sentence structure alone, but look to incorporate some more complex, specific, grade-level appropriate vocabulary into your paper to replace words that are below your audience or the formality required in an academic research paper.
  • IF JUST THESE NUMBERS ARE HIGH:  Leave your sentence structure alone, but evaluate your word use to ensure that you're speaking in an audience-appropriate manner.  When this number is high and the rest of them aren't, it can signal that you're using inflated, overly-formal, or technically-specific language that is unnecessary.  If your audience doesn't understand what you're saying (or how you're saying it), you've completely failed your purpose as an author.

 

After students evaluate their initial results, they need to email a screencap of their results to me.  This way, I can get a better understanding of where my students are at with their revision process, and I have a record of their statistics at the beginning of the hour for comparison if need be.  I have included three of these screencaps in the resources section to show numbers that are too low, about right, and too high.  After emailing me their screencap, they should use the remainder of their hour to make revisions, checking to be sure that they have not inadvertently created grammar issues like comma splices, dangling modifiers, or inappropriate word usage.  If they complete this activity before the end of the hour, they should resubmit their revised research paper draft to Turnitin.com's "Revision 2" assignment slot and revise for possible plagiarism and grammar errors once more.  

Closing

5 minutes
In the last moments of class, I will assign two final pieces of homework for students, which will be to go through their revised drafts to complete a final outline of their argument and research and to complete a self-evaluation of their final draft.  The outline should be detailed enough to provide students with major presentation points, as they will be using them to present an extemporaneous speech after they submit their final research paper drafts and materials next class period.  This final outline should NOT be written over the preliminary outline, as I will want to see both outlines when I am grading their papers.  Instead, it should be attached after the Works Cited page on their final drafts.  The self-assessment will be completed using the same form they used for the peer evaluation form, and a completed copy needs to be placed in their shared folder before they submit their paper.  They will have to complete the bottom portion of their rubric (counting instances of 1st/2nd person, etc.), so I will give them the "Editing Self-Checker" to help them identify, count, and fix these errors.  This will be one last check to be sure that they have included all of the necessary pieces of their paper.
 
Ultimately, students should make sure that they have each of the following pieces of information available to be either in Google Drive, Evernote, or on Turnitin.com, as they will all be given credit in the final grading of the research paper:
 
In Google Drive:
  • Peer-Reviewed Preliminary Outline
  • Working Bibliography
  • Peer Reviewed Rough Draft (named like McCoy_Rough_Draft)
  • Peer-Completed Rubric (named like McCoy_Peer_Rubric)
  • Final Draft (with Works Cited & Final Outline included)
  • Completed Self-Evaluation

 

In Evernote:

  • 80 appropriately-tagged notecards
  • Every piece of information used in your paper needs to be on a notecard
  • Every notecard used in paper needs to be tagged with "Used" as well
  • 3-5 clipped, tagged sources

 

In Turnitin.com:

  • 3 submissions of drafts that you revised (including the one you will revise tonight)
  • We'll upload our final drafts to Turnitin.com next class period in class

 

I will also remind students that their research paper is due at the beginning of next class period for full credit, regardless of their attendance to school.  My late policy will officially begin after we submit them as a class, with all papers turned in before midnight graded as a B-maximum, the next day before midnight a C-maximum, and the following day before midnight a D-maximum.  These due dates are firm and the policy with late work for the research paper late work was articulated way back in my classroom syllabus, so it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Next Steps

Between this class period and next, I will plan on being next to my computer and at school for extended periods of time to help students who have just realized that this thing is ACTUALLY DUE get their papers where they want them.  I will also send out a mass email to all parents that the due date has officially arrived, so they should be seeing their children working on this project or at least asking their children about it between this class period and next.