The vocabulary quiz is followed by a prewriting session that will prepare my students for the argument essay they will be writing for To Kill a Mockingbird. Already they have addressed the themes inherent in the book; today they will perform a half-page prewriting exercise in which they complete the sentence "To Kill a Mockingbird has taught me/reminded me/shown me . . . ".
I have written this sentence starter on the whiteboard and instruct my students to write about any and all "lessons" they have taken away from reading this book. I explain that the term"lessons" can be applied loosely, if necessary, as what they elect to write about may or may not fit neatly into that description.
When enough time has passed to give each student a chance to reach half a page (approximately ten minutes, hopefully), we will transition to whole-group sharing, in order to generate a web of ideas for my students to copy down on the bottom half of their paper. I generate a whole-group web for each class--here, here, and here--on the document camera as student volunteers share their ideas. As students share, I help them shape their ideas whenever necessary so that they are understood by all.
When my students are out of ideas to share, I thank them and tell them that they are lucky, because I will no longer be teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to future eighth-graders. I explain that the "school" has decided to take it off the required reading list.
This, of course, is not true. It is my way of getting their attention before introducing the prompt for their argument paper (plus it's a real treat to witness their reactions). Capitalizing on their expected outrage, I then distribute a copy of the essay prompt and requirements to each student. We read through it as a whole group, so that I can address any questions or concerns that may arise:
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Before my students leave for the day, I explain to them that our next class session will be devoted to a writer's workshop, where they will be developing their rough draft for the essay.