Students Prepare For the First Timed-Writing Assignment

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SWBAT prepare to write an essay by evaluating and modifying their evidence and reviewing sample student writing.

Big Idea

Sample writing from anonymous students of their same age helps students assess their own writing skills and strive for improvement.


During the previous day’s lesson, students took a position on a quote we selected from Thoreau’s Walden, "from Where I Lived And What I Lived For," and they came up with two pieces of evidence to support their position. The evidence is to come from their own personal experience, observations and reading. We discussed what qualifies as good evidence. Today, I am giving students the opportunity to evaluate the evidence they have already selected. This is preparation work for a complete written response where they will explain the quote we selected, take a position on what is stated in the quote and support it with evidence. This written response will be completed in the next couple of days. This is also practice for a writing assessment they are all taking in class in a couple of weeks. The assessment will ask students to read a quote and, in an essay, they are to explain the meaning of the quote, take a position on what is communicated and support their position with evidence. The writing assignments I am assigning in the next couple of weeks in class will all be shaped following this format, starting with a response to Thoreau’s Walden, which they are preparing to start writing. The requirements of this writing assessment are in line with the Common Core and, as such, fit well in my curriculum. To help students understand what is expected of this type of writing, I am sharing with them a set of student writing samples today that have been scored using the rubric that will be used to score what they write for the writing assessment. 

Students Evaluate Evidence

20 minutes

I open class by addressing the importance of selecting good evidence, as I explain in this video. I write the following criteria I want students to apply as they evaluate the quality of the evidence they have selected:

Good Evidence is specific, strongly supports position, and belongs in an academic paper

The first item on the list was addressed in detail in the previous lesson. The second item is very familiar to students and is simply a reminder. The third one needs a little explanation today. In past years, I have found that it is necessary to make it clear to students that they are writing academic papers and that this calls for certain language and information. I share a story about one of my previous students whose response to a prompt addressing a serious issue used a Disney show as evidence to support an argument. An example of a Disney show would be necessary to support an argument on a topic like entertainment shows, but the story I share today is of a paper on something much more serious, like the value of solitude. This is the first time this school year that I ask students to select evidence from somewhere other than a text I provide. I can expect a mixed bag of evidence that varies in quality. This quick warning is one attempt at minimizing the amount of poor evidence students will inevitably cite on their first try.

I give students time to make sure their evidence meets criteria listed on the board. Students begin to work on their own. This is good thinking time as they apply the criteria I gave them to their evidence. It is also important that they discuss their evidence so I then instruct them to share with classmates they sit with and I walk around and assist as necessary. I ask them to be ready in a few minutes to share the best evidence they came up with, based on the given criteria. Listening in on their conversations allows me to notice that there is lots of confusion. I keep hearing explanations and no specific examples. I interrupt their discussions to explain the difference between explaining and providing examples. The way I explain it is by differentiating the source of each. I tell them that an explanation comes from their mind, and that it is basically their way of making sense of something. An example, on the other hand, is not a product of their thought process, but rather, it is a piece of information that already exists and that they are using to illustrate a point. I use basic language like, “an explanation comes from your mind, an example is not made up, an example already exists somewhere out in the world and you’re just borrowing it to support your argument,” to simplify this idea that is pretty abstract for them.

I let them go back to their discussions and work at making sure their evidence is evidence. 

Students Share Good Evidence

15 minutes

I ask students to share the best evidence they came up with or the best one they heard from a classmate. They share some good examples but they also share what sounds like an explanation of their position. This is not terribly surprising. It is often necessary to explain new information several times before it sinks in.

Some of the best evidence that stands out among what is shared in support of living a life of simplicity and not focusing on details includes the following:

The Spartans lived a simple life. Their entire life was devoted to prepare to become soldiers.

Native American lifestyle was simple.

Some of the best evidence that stands out among what is shared against living a life of simplicity and the importance of life details includes the following:

Human nature is complex and we have too many vices.

Chemists need to focus on details or there will be an explosion.

The instances when students share a lengthy explanation instead of a specific example are opportunities for me to further clarify what we are looking for when we ask for evidence. By the end of this sharing session, I have explained what qualifies as specific evidence so many times that I can now expect students to be able to modify the evidence they have on their paper at this point. I ask students to do this and give them some time to make adjustments to the evidence they selected. Once they evaluate and improve on the evidence they selected, students will have solid evidence as well as claims, which were drafted in the previous lesson, and they will be ready to draft a written response to the Thoreau's quote. The time we are spending discussing, evaluating, and editing evidence and claims is meant to ensure that their written argument is cohesive and strong.

I instruct students to make sure they have two pieces of good evidence and are ready to write at the beginning of the period tomorrow. I have them do this for homework because I want to move on to something else that will help them write their paper tomorrow, review writing samples.

Examining Sample Student Essays

20 minutes

I want students to take a look at some student writing samples for a prompt similar to the one they will be getting for the writing assessment they are taking in a couple of weeks. I made a copy of a writing prompt from the website that contains information on this assessment. I also made a copy of a sample essay for each of the six scores on the rubric. I made a short packet of these sample essays for us to review and use as models. Models of good and not-so-good writing are very helpful for students as they work to develop their own writing skills. I do point out to students that the sample essays that received a score of 6,5 and 4 are pretty long and I decided to only print the first couple of paragraphs. I did that because the introductory paragraph and the first body paragraph clearly illustrate the reasons why they received the higher scores. There is no need to read the entire essay. Before we begin to read these essays together, I also explain that a passing score on the corresponding rubric is a 4.

We begin by reading the prompt. I want to give students an initial experience with the first task of this writing assignment, which is to explain the argument the quote is making. I ask them what they think this quote is arguing. Someone says that it means we should not fall for advertising. I say that this is close, but that we have to go back to the quote and pay attention to the specific language used and to be able to recognize that this quote is arguing something more significant and provocative than a warning against falling for ads. I guide students to focus on the last part of the quote and guide them to focus on the author’s call for a “boycott” of ads that use celebrities and her belief that we need to “legislate rules and guidelines for advertisers.” This first step of making meaning of the quote will be addressed again repeatedly in the next few lessons.

We then move on to read the intro paragraphs of the essays that received a 6, 5, and 4. I ask students to verbalize the difference between those intros. They are all able to see that the level 6 sounds much more sophisticated than the other two. They also note that the level 4 sounds strong but not impossible for them to accomplish. This is a good realization. We also look at the first body paragraph and identify the evidence. I point to the three criteria on the board to help them see that this is good evidence.

We then spend some time reading the other three essays. The essay that received a score of 1 does not need much discussion as it is clearly poorly written. Students are able to see that between the essays that received a score of 3 and 2 there is a decrease in control of language, with increasing grammatical errors and less clarity and that they are both limited in development of the argument. I also point out that there is no evidence in either one of these essays. Students are curious about the amount of evidence that they are expected to include in order to receive a passing score. This is a good question and my response is that it depends on what score they hope to earn. I tell them that an essay with one piece of evidence per body paragraph can easily earn a 4, the lowest passing score, as long as everything is thoroughly explained and they maintain good control of language. An essay that earns a top score tends to have multiple pieces of evidence as is the case with the top essay in this packet.

I ask students to hold on to these packets and refer to them as they write tomorrow.