Deconstructing a Critical Essay to Determine the Traits of Good Writing

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SWBAT analyze in detail how an author's ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences and paragraphs by using a critical essay to name the traits of good writing.

Big Idea

What does good writing sound like?

Getting Started

5 minutes

At the beginning of class, I will arrange students in pre-determined groups of three. I assigned according to where I see their strengths in writing, meaning that I tried to match a student who is good at citing evidence with a student who is good at transitions. I also took personality into consideration; I want to make sure that this hour is productive, meaning that students are on task and focused.


When in their groups, I will distribute the worksheet for today's activity. Students will also need the critical essay that we annotated at the beginning of the week.

6 Characteristics of Good Writing

40 minutes

Each group will determine 6 characteristics of good writing, using the Kerschen essay as their example. They will have to analyze the essay at the sentence level in order to determine these elements (RI.9-10.5). They will use this worksheet to organize their ideas. I will write sentence starters that might guide them on the board:

  • Good writing has...
  • Good writing is...


First they will work in their groups to fill in the worksheet completely (W.9-10.5). They will need to work together and discuss all their options (SL.9-10.3). Take a look at their work.



I have high hopes for this assignment because it could awaken students to both the difficulty and beauty of good writing (L.9-10.3). I chose the number six because when I sat down to do the same activity that I am assigning the students, I came up with 6 elements. I don't expect the groups to come up with all the same elements, but I felt like it was a good base number.

Group Share

15 minutes

Once the groups have determined their six traits, they will assign a delegate to add them to the board. Once every group had added to the lists, we will read them over and discuss some of the vague areas, like "strong vocabulary." I know that will be one of the first traits they list, especially since I harp on it so much, but what exactly makes vocabulary strong? This is a difficult question and it's tempting to just say "I know it when I see it," but I am going to force students to apply some more specific adjectives to illustrate what "strong" means (SL.9-10.1).

Here's what each list looked like: Good Writing Is and Good Writing Has. The check marks indicate areas of overlap.