Thursday, November 19, 2009

Creating an Essay

In my last post, I wrote about using Nicola Davies' book Surprising Sharks as a mentor text for introductions and conclusions. This week, we've jumped into writing the rest of our essays. What a task! To make it easier, I give students a page with the paragraphs mapped out. I'm all for free and expressive writing, but students also need to learn a structure that they can adapt for their purposes. (If you'd like a copy of the paragraph map, write me an email and I'll send it to you)

When students are in the thick of writing, I try to direct them to resources that they can use to help themselves. Quite a few students got to the point of writing an introduction. A student would stare at the page, sigh, and raise a hand. "I'm stuck. How do I write an introduction?"

And--here's the big lesson that I've learned--telling students how to write an introduction doesn't work all that well. Showing students how I write an introduction doesn't work all that well.

But showing students lots of samples of introductions actually worked. "Why don't you go back to Surprising Sharks?" I suggested. Or, "Look at the example that I gave you. Where is the introduction there?" (I wrote a sample to share with the students.) As several good introductions bloomed, I directed students to one another--"Why don't you go over and check out Michael's introduction?"

The multitude of examples was what got some students through. For the students who found Nicola Davies' introduction unattainable, my simpler introduction gave them a nudge in the right direction. And, later in the afternoon, a student showed me a book he was reading. "Look!" he said. "It has an introduction."

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