Posts Tagged ‘argumentative essays’

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Literacy Centers

Writing Academic Literacy Centers

As most teachers have now adjusted their writing instruction and practice into the narrowed focus of the Common Core State Standards (more research and essays and less stories and creative writing), I see a renewed interest in developing the skill sets of student writers.

Teachers have, understandably, focused on the first three Common Core Writing Standards: 1. The argumentative (essay) 2. The informational/explanatory (essay or report) 3. The narrative (story). Most teachers have had professional development in these three genre and teach all three at some time within each school year.

Additionally, most teachers are now implementing Writing Standards W.6, 7, 8, and 9 by using technology for short or extended research writing projects.

However, teachers are less familiar with the other three writing standards and few are well-acquainted with the relevant language standard. Teachers usually refer to these standards as writing skills or strategies. Typically, teachers have taught these tools in isolation as writing openers/worksheets or in the writing context as mini-lessons/editing. These skills or strategies are ideally suited to literacy center (station) lessons.

Following are the often-neglected writing and language standards:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Range of Writing:

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Teachers have used three research-based strategies to teach these writing skills or strategies: 1. Frequent, short, and focused writing practice 2. Sentence revisions 3. Literary response

How to Teach to These Standards

Fortunately, #s 2 and 3 are best accomplished by #1.

Sentence Revision (called by many other names) includes quick, focused instruction and repetitive practice in precise word choice, sentence structure (grammar, usage, and syntax), and sentence variety (varied grammatical forms, sentence combining, sentence length, parallelism, etc.)

Literary Response includes learning from accomplished writers. Teachers have used both expository and narrative mentor texts for years to model how writers communicate artfully and memorably. Typically, students respond to mentor texts in different rhetorical modes (rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form) to develop their own writing style.

If you glance back at the often-neglected writing and language standards above, you’ll see how sentence revision and literary response activities address the components of these standards and can be taught and practiced in frequent, short, and focused writing practice.

One great way to teach sentence revision and literary response writing skills is in literacy centers (stations). The social nature of collaborative writing is especially conducive to literacy centers.


The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

Get the Writing Academic Literacy Center Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Writing is Taught and Caught

Writing Skills: Taught and Caught

Now that teachers have had plenty of professional development in how to write arguments (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1) and informative/explanatory texts (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2), teachers are looking at their students’ essays or narratives (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3) with a collective sigh. Students just cannot write.

Students seem to understand the content, they know the demands and constraints of the writing genre, they can dissect a writing prompt, they know the writing process… but the words they use, the sentences they construct, and the intangible feeling our student writers convey simply do not engage their readers (teachers especially).

The Problem

Many teachers are not equipping their students with the tools they need in their tool belts. Or, just as bad, teachers introduce the tools, but don’t provide the practice students need to master the tools.

The Solution

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

Fortunately, the Common Core authors do acknowledge the importance of teaching both sentence revisions and literary response in both the Anchor Standards for Writing and the Anchor Standards for Language (highlighting my own):

Writing Anchor Standards

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Language Anchor Standards

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


Keep your focus on both the content and process of writing. Maintain a balance of extended writing process assignments (especially essays and stories) and short, say twice-per-week writing skill development, especially using sentence revisions and literary response activities.

The author of this post, Mark Pennington, provides grades 4-8 teachers with grade-level sentence revision resources and literary response resources in two instructional formats: twice-per-week writing openers (or writers workshop mini-lessons) and literacy centers.

Both sentence revision and literary response lessons are provided in Teaching Essay Strategies, the Writing Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 and in the Academic Literacy Center Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLE.

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The Parts of an Essay

To be able to teach our students how to write effective essays, we first have to identify the underlying problem.

I think we are the problem. We confuse students. We don’t mean to do so, but we do. The problem is compounded by the fact that students are exposed to many different teachers, each with a different knowledge base, a different set of teaching experiences, and a different language of instruction.

This article will pose questions and only hint at a possible solution. If all your questions about essay terminology have been answered, read no further.

The Parts of an Essay


Let’s begin with the thesis statement. We all have different expectations as to what is and what is not a thesis statement. The Common Core writers compound the problem by using confusing terminology and reducing all exposition to Writing Standards 1 and 2.

To pose a few questions: Is a thesis the same as a claim? or include a claim? Does a thesis apply to both argumentative and informational writing? Is a thesis the main idea/purpose of the writing? Does a thesis always state a point of view? Is a literary thesis different than one in science, or one in the humanities, or one in social science/history? Can a thesis pose a question to be explored? Does the thesis always have to be arguable?  Does a thesis statement have to be placed in an introductory paragraph? Does a thesis statement have to be placed last in the introduction? Does a thesis statement have to include the topics/claims/main points of each of the body paragraphs? Is a split (divided) thesis permissible? How general or how specific should a thesis statement be? Should a thesis statement use as many of the words from the writing prompt as possible? Is it realistic/possible to apply a generic definition for a thesis statement to all genre/domains of exposition? For example, a pro-con, cause-effect, compare-contrast, personal essay?

Then to muddy the water a bit: What is the purpose of the introductory paragraph(s) with respect to the thesis statement? Do non-narrative essays have “hooks?” Must introductions be ordered from general to specific (a.k.a. funnel paragraphs)? Are rhetorical questions permissible? Is background/context/a brief summary required? Are there different introduction strategies for different genre/domains of writing?

Then… to muddy the water even more: What about the purpose and terminology of body paragraphs? Is it a topic/ or topic sentence, claim, or reason? Does evidence always precede analysis? Is a concluding statement ever/always included? Are counterclaims and refutations best included as separate body paragraphs or as embedded within body paragraphs. Is a variety of evidence preferred? Are direct quotes preferred over indirect quotes when textual evidence is cited? When is textual evidence needed and when is it not?

Of course this leads to conclusions. The Common Core writers seem to discount conclusions. Are concluding paragraphs necessary? Is a thesis restatement necessary in a brief five paragraph essay? Does a conclusion always include a summary? Does a conclusion always include a “call to action?” What is the purpose of a conclusion? What does “give a finished feel to the essay” mean?

We all know that “cookie-cutter” approaches to complex tasks, e.g. writing, are rarely effective; however, I’m still interested in them. Some are clearly more useful than others.

The most useful set of terminologies I’ve found to be effective with students is a numerical hierarchy. An argumentative or informational explanatory essay might look like the following:


(1) (1) (2)  

Body Paragraphs

(3) (4) (5) (5) (4) (5) (5) – (4) (5) (5) (4) (5) (5) (3) – (4) (5) (3) (4) (5) (5) (5)


(2) (6) (6)

Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

The numbers take away (or at least limit the damage of) years of confusing languages of writing instruction. Placing prior learning in context makes instructional sense. To be able to say, “You know how Ms. Johnson called ‘this’ a thesis statement last year; how Mr. Poindexter refers to ‘this’ as a claim in history; while Dr. Sterling labels ‘this’ as an hypothesis in science? These are all good terms, but we’ll just call ‘this’ a (2) this year. So simple.”

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies uses this numerical hierarchy to teach the parts of and structure of the essay. This full-year curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets,  8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory) with complementary reading resources, 128 writing openers, 64 rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, writing posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in this comprehensive writing curriculum.

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Free Essay Strategies Resources

In my first year of teaching, I assigned a group of eighth grade students what I thought was a rather straight-forward assignment: a five paragraph essay on the causes of the Civil War. I had brilliantly lectured on the three chief causes of the war and so had high expectations that my students would be able to both regurgitate my content and then analyze with a modicum of creative thought. I even was kind enough to jot down this brief organizational structure on the board: Paragraphs: #1 Introduction #2 First Cause #3 Second Cause #4 Third Cause #5 Conclusion. Stop laughing.

The results were not as I expected. Most students came up with five paragraphs. Well, at least they were indented. The introductory paragraph largely consisted of either “In this essay I’m going to talk about the chief causes of the Civil War” or “Once upon a time there was a great Civil War.” The body paragraphs briefly summarized their notes on what I had said. The concluding paragraph largely consisted of “In this essay I talked about the chief causes of the Civil War.” The structure was relatively easy to master, but there was no analysis. The students had no clue about what to put into an introduction and a conclusion. I confess I had no clue either. I could “do them” (at least my college professors seemed to think so), but I certainly could not “teach them.”

Many intermediate, middle, and high school teachers fall into the same trap. Our content papers, on-demand writing fluencies, and standardized tests push us to teach the various domains (genres) of essays as end-products. We wind up teaching these structures, but fail to scaffold the essay strategies that enable students to write coherently with originality and authentic voices. Let’s spend more time on the process, rather than on the product, with respect to essay instruction and practice. It’s hard and sometimes tedious work for students and teacher, but the pay-off is worth the effort.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How to Teach Essay Strategies

Coaching writing, especially essay strategies, is a lot like coaching football. Ask any football coach what wins football games and you are likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

What is the Essay Counterclaim?

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what? Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay. 

Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)? The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? Five placements serve different purposes within the argumentative essay.

Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frame

Transitions within the counterclaim paragraph are extremely important to master in order to create clear connections between the counterclaim and refutation. Check out these sentence frames to teach your students the counterargument and rebuttal.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

This article discusses the important differences between a fact and a claim. Plus, learn how knowing the differences should affect your teaching the argumentative essay.

Using Evidence in Writing

Teaching students to use appropriate evidence in argumentative essays is a difficult task. Students generally understand how to use textual evidence in direct and indirect quotations, but are less adept at creating reasons apart from the text itself. Teach your students the eight types of essay evidence with the memorable FE SCALE CC strategies.

Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Check out a common sense approach to save you grading time and do a better job of writer response.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

Many teachers take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Work smarter, not harder, while focusing on efficiency and outcomes.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while doing a better job providing essay response.

438 Essay e-Comments

The Pennington Manual of Style, sold as a separate product and also as part of the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program, enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

The Parts of an Essay

We confuse students about the parts of an essay by the labels we use. The problem is compounded by the fact that students are exposed to many different teachers, each with a different knowledge base, a different set of teaching experiences, and a different language of instruction. One solution is to eliminate the labels and substitute a simple numerical code.

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

So, to summarize how many essay comments and what kind, writing research would suggest the following: Comment on rough drafts, not final drafts. Limit the amount of comments and individualize those to the needs of the student writer. Balance the types of comments between writing errors and issues of style, argument, structure, and evidence. Hold students accountable for each mark or comment. Comments are better than diacritical marks alone. Comments should explain what is wrong or explain the writing issue.

How to Write an Introduction

Few teachers know how to teach essay introductions. Simply stating a “hook” or a “lead” and then stating the thesis make a rather weak introductory paragraph. The article shares the best strategies to include in an essay introduction in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write a Conclusion

Few teachers know how to teach essay conclusions. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing make a rather weak conclusion. The article shares the best strategies to include in a conclusion in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

Writing good body paragraphs is more than using proper paragraph structure. That structure should also provide the evidence to develop the points of the essay. A variety of evidence is necessary to convince the reader of your thesis. This article teaches how to write effective body paragraphs with eight different types of evidence.

How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

Many developing writers get lost in the jargon of writing instruction. Simplify the terms and anyone can write a well-structured multi-paragraph essay. Using an intuitive numerical system, this easy-to-understand and teach system of essay development will quickly take writers from complete sentences to the five-paragraph essay and beyond. It just makes sense.

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

How to Write a Summary

Learning how to write a summary is a valuable skill. California even includes the summary as a writing application on its CST writing exam. Learning how to teach what is andwhat is not a summary may be even more valuable. A summary is the one writing application that focuses equally on what should be included and what should not be included.

How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science. However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing styles.

How to Teach Thesis Statements

The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. Learn how to teach the thesis statement and get three thesis statement worksheets to help your students practice.

How to Teach Proofreading Strategies

Writers make errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of quotes, paragraphs, usage, and word choice for a variety of reasons. Effective proofreading strategies can help writers find and make corrections to improve their writing.

How to Teach Students to Write in Complete Sentences

Developing writers often have problems writing in complete sentences. Three teaching techniques will help your students write coherent and complete sentences.

How to Write Complex Sentences

Writers can increase the maturity of their writing by learning how to convert simple sentences into complex sentences. The article uses easy-to-understand language and clear examples to help developing writers.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog


Teaching Essay Strategiesis the comprehensive writing curriculum, designed to teach your students how to write coherent multi-paragraph essays. Students progress at their own pace through 42 sequential essay strategy worksheets and  skill lessons (including writing style, parallelism, coherency, unity, and writing evidence) to compose 8 complete essays in the different essay genres. Also get 64 sentence revision (sentence combining and grammatical sentence patterns) and 64 rhetorical stance“opener” lessons, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, remedial writing worksheets, writing posters, holistic and analytical rubrics, graphic organizers, The Pennington Manual of Style with insertable e-comments, and extensive editing resources. No other writing program matches the comprehensive resources of this curriculum. Truly individualize  instruction with the resources found in this large three-ring binder. 

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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