But now I find myself wanting to use frameworks...bones to hang thinking upon...I want to give my students the opportunity to use writing to help them THINK. For me, the problem with a 5 paragraph essay is that it assumes the student has already got a thesis and a conclusion. You can't write one of those suckers if you don't have a clear thesis and 3 pieces of evidence. In this case, writing is not a tool for thinking, but rather, an end product of thought.
Last year I read, and fell in love with, Thomas Newkirk's Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts. Newkirk suggests asking students to begin with a question.
Here's the sample paragraph I had on my white board. You can see I begin with a genuine question...and it's a bit racy to get my students interested. How can they not be, with "slut" and "sleazy" and "greasy glove" all in one paragraph?!
(Click on pic to make larger)
We talked about the work of coroners to identify cause of death. I assured my students that by the time we were done autopsying this paragraph, it would be dead! The autopsy check list included:
- question...is there a question seeking an answer?
- import or matter...is there a statement explaining why the question matters?
- is there an example from the text?
- is there a page number for the quotation from the text?
- CTQ is there a deliberate, explicit, directly stated, overt Connection to Question?
We worked on the sample paragraph together, and I made boxes and labels on the white board around the parts of the paragraph from our autopsy check list. Then I set my "coroners" loose on this paragraph, to be completely autopsied individually:
Why does Ms. Montgomery read Lennie’s voice as though he is a complete moron? This matters because it helps students decide what kind of man Lennie is. I wonder if she hams it up to help students understand that Lennie has the mind of a child inside the body of a very large and strong man? For example, on page 14 when Lennie gets excited and interrupts George to shout, “An’ live off the fatta the lan’ …. An have rabbits, [sic]” Ms. M makes Lennie sound like an idiot. I think she intends to make Lennie sound like a child. He’s full of innocence and enthusiasm for rabbits, but because he’s so big and an adult, Lennie seems moronic.
So the paragraph isn't perfect. There's a second question in there that throws off some "coroners" and their reports. Some have trouble identifying the example. Because we've just started connection to thesis, that was particularly challenging. BUT students are labeling and noting some of the key parts of a paragraph written to aid thinking.
You can do this in any content area. What is the framwork, the bones, of a well-written paragraph in your content area? As a writer, consciously noticing this framework and how it works makes for stronger writing. This isn't a formula. My paragraph isn't done. It's the bones of a literary analysis. Any kid could hang her/his hat on these bones and flesh out thinking into a thoughtful analytic paragraph.
Evaluation note: quick to check for real understanding of paragraph framework. Kids are high-lighting or drawing boxes and labeling.
Want help thinking about this specifically in your content area? Shoot me an email.