Today we are coming back to school after a 3-day weekend so I open by reminding students that they have already written an introductory and a body paragraph for a couple of writing prompts. I let them know that today we are revising the response they drafted for the writing task in which the quote is on the topic of solitude. I point out that we have focused more on the introductory paragraphs in this series of writing tasks. I let them know that today we will spend some time looking at their body paragraphs. Specifically, we will be reviewing elements that make for a strong essay and then spending some time editing their own essays.
To review, I have written a list on the board of the elements of a strong essay. This list includes some of the things we have been working on in the last week with this series of writing tasks. Other elements have been discussed throughout the school year. I direct students’ attention to this board and use it to review. This is the list:
The first bullet point refers to the following tasks: explain the quote, take a position, and support your position with evidence. I ask students to verbalize this as we review. I tell them that the second and third bullet point go together because they basically refer to the same thing. Specifically, a level 2 or level 3 idea is a big, significant idea. They already know that these refer to ideas we can include in our list on the wall titled big ideas that are significant to human beings. In the fourth bullet point, I have underlined the words “you can control” and point this out to students as I explain that they should use the best vocabulary they have access to but they need to be confident in their ability to use it correctly. The last two bullet points include terms I have addressed throughout the year and have been trying to get students to understand so this is another opportunity to test them. I ask the class to explain what each one refers to and some are able to say that cohesion refers to the idea that everything in the essay is connected and that elaborate means to say more. These are the simple definitions I have given them of these terms and I am happy if they can remember this.
I let them know that we will be using this list to evaluate a couple of student writing samples.
I have asked a couple of students in advance to let me use their paper to engage the whole class in the evaluation of a writing sample. I project the first paper on the board. I preselected this paper because it is a good example of one that is close to a point where it can earn a passing score on the California State University rubric. Particularly, this student paper includes a few things from the list I provided in the introduction of the elements of a strong essay: thinking big, establishing level 2/3 ideas, and good control of language. I discuss these points in the video. I want us to spend more time on the body paragraph because we haven’t yet so I begin by reading the student’s position, which is that “Solitude isn’t bad. When someone goes into solitude, they have a wider range of thinking methods.” I then move on to reading his body paragraph and students evaluate it, as I explain in this video. I also do the same with a second student’s body paragraph. This student’s argument was in support of the quote because “only you can decide what is best for you and what is not.” In this video, I also discuss how students evaluate the development of this argument as well. I selected these two papers as the focus of this discussion because each one allowed us to talk about a different set of issues and these issues cover the most common issues in the class. The first one was an example of good control of language and good thinking, but needed support. This student gave himself a score of 4 and I believe that once he provides some support, an essay that sounds like this would get a 4. The second essay was an example of a paper with good thinking but one that lacks control of language.