Students are about to begin a full length essay and it is important for me that they spend some time deconstructing each of the texts I selected for this unit. That is what they are doing today. However, given that this text is a bit longer than all the other ones in this unit, I have students split the work. I use the document titled Structure of "Just Walk On By" to have students record their study of the structure of this text. I give each group the responsibility of formulating the structure of each given section, following a jigsaw method. Small groups in my class are made up of four members. For this activity I assign two paragraphs per group, but ask that the group split the work by having one pair work with one of the two paragraphs.
I give pairs about 4 minutes to talk about the structure of their assigned paragraph and to explain it in writing in their chart. I highlight that they are to explain the "how," meaning that they need to find the language to communicate what Staples is doing in each paragraph. For instance, I would want them to be able to say that in the first paragraph, Staples is providing an image of people treating him like a dangerous man. I let them do this on their own and just answer questions if they have any. I want them to get help from each other. Additionally, they are getting help from the other two members of their group. In this manner, they can cash in on the advantages of talking about the text, important to the Common Core.
I then give groups about 10 minutes to share with each other by having pairs present what they wrote on their chart and discuss. Their purpose is to make sure that all four members agree with the explanation of structure for both paragraphs before they present it to the rest of the class. Once they agree, all four members can write the same thing on their charts for their assigned paragraphs. During this time, my students call me over and ask me questions about their work. Some students simply had not discussed their work with their group members so I instructed them to get help from their group before I help them. Some had already discussed and had a specific question they wished to address before presenting. For example, one particular group asked for help explaining why their paragraph was effective. I asked them what they thought was interesting in that paragraph and they stated that it was the fact that the author stated he was an avid night walker. I asked them why that was interesting and after some thoughts they were able to say that it was unusual. This is what they ended up writing in their chart. I took this opportunity to interrupt the work of the entire class to share this conversation with them because I sensed that many were having a difficult time discussing the effect of the writing. I was right. Sharing that conversation made many say, "Aah." They felt they had a better understanding of the task. Specifically, it helps to ask the questions: What do you think is interesting in this paragraph? Why is that interesting?
Students are now ready to share their work with with each other so that everyone in the class records the structure of this text on their own chart. Each group takes a turn to share what they wrote on their chart. I ask the rest of the class to listen attentively and to check the text to make sure what is being shared makes sense. Essentially, I am asking students to evaluate each other's work. As groups present, the rest of the students record what is being presented on their own charts. By the end of the presentations, all students have a detailed study of the structure of this text on their chart and they will have done this in collaboration. Also, a discussion about the text will have organically taken place as they evaluate each other's work.
Some groups will do an excellent job of verbalizing things like, "...and it was effective because it has so many details and it helped us understand what he was going through." Some will still resort to simply paraphrasing or even using the author's exact words without having explained why those words are effective. Because of this, I also use this time to help them develop more ways of explaining the effect of an author's writing, and it is easy to do that because the words they borrow from the text tend to be effective and I just have to help them explain why. Specifically, as students present, I ask more probing questions, such as, "Why did you guys find that interesting?" and help them come up with words to describe that.
I end by pointing out to students that they have now engaged in close analysis of the structure of three strong written arguments and that they should make mental notes of what we discovered because they are about to begin drafting their own written argument.