I usually ask students to draft an outline of their essay before they start drafting. This is not a step students would take on their own, but it is an important one that increases the chances of a successful essay. It is an important step where students are able to organize their thoughts. This is necessary to produce the type of wiring expected in the Common Core. Their reluctance for this step has to do with the fact that it feels like an extra step that is not necessary and they are pretty vocal about this. I have to remind them that we have a problem with unorganized essays and that creating outlines can solve this. It is also a habit of good writers.
I use a visual that I have used throughout the year to explain what is expected of their outline.
This student was able to draft a thesis statement and two topic sentences in her outline but no evidence yet. This is a good start since she can refer to the lines she highlighted in the actual story for evidence. The idea with this outline is that once students have planned this much, their essay will have a good direction. I make sure to tell them that they can always change their mind on the central claims stated in their thesis and topic sentences as the essay draft is developed.
During this time, students ask questions about wording, clarification with the prompt, as well as clarification with the actual story. As I assist them, I find myself repeating things like, “The prompt is asking you to draw connections…” and “Your job is to pay attention to the way Hemmingway describes the decline of Hortons Bay and think about how the language you can use to describe this can also be used to describe the end of Nick and Marjorie’s relationship.” I find that getting similar questions from students as they work on their outline is useful because I end up repeating things that I want them to focus on, such as paying close attention to language.
I give students time in class to draft their essay. 30 minutes is not enough to finish it, especially one with a challenging task like this one, but it is a good start. I often give students time in class to work on essays because I know that many have a difficult time finding a quiet place at home where to sit and write for extended periods of time. The time I give them in class is never enough to complete the entire writing assignment, but it helps.
During this time, students continue to have questions about the prompt and the details of the story, but they mainly work in silence. I answer questions of individual students and interrupt the entire class once in a while to briefly address issues many are brining up. For this prompt, I find myself explaining again that their job is to draw connections and that to do this, they must pay attention to the language used to describe the decline of Hortons Bay.
The writing today moves very slow. By the end of the period, most only have an introductory paragraph and part of one body paragraph. I ask them to work on it at home tonight.