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How to Write a Good Thesis Statement

The Common Core State Standards Writing Strand includes the argumentative essay (W.1) and the informational/explanatory essay (W.2). Each genre requires a different form for its thesis statement. 

Of course, the thesis statement is dictated by the demands of the writing prompt. The writing prompt tells you what to write about and how to do so. A good thesis statement directly responds to the writing prompt. For an argumentative essay, the thesis statement states the claim(s) of the essay. For an informational/explanatory essay, the thesis statement states the specific purpose of the essay.

How to Write a Good (2) Thesis Statement

To make sure that you directly respond to the writing prompt, include the writing topic and key words of that writing prompt in your (2) Thesis Statement. Usually place the (2) Thesis Statement at the end of the introductory paragraph. The (2) Thesis Statement should be as specific as possible, but general enough to permit more than one (3) Topic Sentence to support the purpose or point of view.

Mistakes to Avoid in a (2) Thesis Statement

The (2) Thesis Statement does not state your specific purpose for informational/explanatory essay.

The (2) Thesis Statement does not state your specific point of view for an argumentative essay.

(2) Thesis Statement introduces evidence (4) or (5).

(2) Thesis Statement refers to only part of the task of the writing prompt.

(2) Thesis Statement refers to the essay and to the writer.

(2) Thesis Statement includes a split (divided) focus which either argues against itself or introduces more than one focus of the essay.

(2) Thesis Statement confuses the writing genre. For example, the writer states a point of view for an informational/explanatory writing prompt.

(2) Thesis Statement is too specific and does not allow the writer to address the broader demands of the writing prompt.

Practice #1

Directions: Carefully read the Writing Direction Word and Writing Prompt. Study the Bad (2) Thesis Statement and the Explanation. Then revise into a Good (2) Thesis Statement.

Writing Direction Word: Analyze means to break apart the subject and explain each part.

Writing Prompt: Service to one’s country is true patriotism. President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to “…ask not what your country can do for you−ask what you can do for your country.” Analyze what President Kennedy meant by this statement in his Inaugural Address from January 20, 1961 to share during class discussion.

Bad (2): President Kennedy meant Americans should not view their country as existing for their benefit when he said “…ask not what your country can do for you…”

Explanation: This (2) Thesis Statement refers to only part of the task of the writing prompt.

Good (2): _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Practice #2

Directions: Carefully read the Writing Direction Word and Writing Prompt. Study the Bad (2) Thesis Statement (Claim) and the Explanation. Then revise into a Good (2) Thesis Statement.

Writing Direction Word: Persuade means to convince the reader of your argument or claim.

Writing Prompt: The editorial from the Reno Times includes research studies and statistical data to demonstrate the benefits of regular exercise. The editor claims that elementary school students do not get enough exercise. Write a letter to the editor to persuade the editor and readers that elementary schools need more money to buy playground equipment.

Bad (2): Every elementary school must have a jungle gym, ten swings, and four seesaws.

Explanation: This (2) Thesis Statement is too specific does not address the broader demands of the writing prompt.

Good (2): _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

For more thesis statement and essay practice, check out the author’s Teaching Essay Strategies. This curriculum includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to teach the Common Core State Writing Standards, an e-comment bank of 438 prescriptive writing responses with an link to insert into Microsoft Word® for easy e-grading, 8 on-demand writing fluencies, 8 writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informative/explanatory), 64  sentence revision and 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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How to Teach Helping Verbs

English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns.

“Now wait a minute (I can hear some of you thinking). Some writing necessitates using helping verbs to precisely communicate.” Quite true. Helping verbs can be useful to the writer. There… I just used two (“can be”). Feel any better? However, in most instances helping verbs tend to weaken writing, so students who master strategies to eliminate these “writing crutches” learn to write with greater precision and purpose. This article will help your students learn when to use helping verbs. Students will also learn when not to use them and how not to use them.

When to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Use these helping verbs: will and shall* before the base form of the verb to indicate the future tense. The future verb tense is used for an action or state of being that will definitely (according to plan) take place in the future. For the future verb tense, add a helping verb in front of the base verb form.

Example: Mr. Thomas will go to the meeting tomorrow.

* In American English, the helping verb shall is becoming archaic. Originally, shall was used for first person pronouns and will for second and third person pronouns. Example: I shall go, but you and he will remain. Additionally, shall implies a necessity, while will indicates an intention.

The helping verb will can been combined with has or have + the present participle (a verb ending in d, ed, or en for regular verbs) to form the future perfect verb tense in which the verb form refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future.

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

2. Use these helping verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been (the “to-be-verbs”*) when the progressive form of the verb is necessary.

-The past progressive describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past.

Example: Amanda was entertaining her guests when her grandmother arrived.

-The present progressive describes an ongoing action happening or existing now.

Example: She is walking faster than her friend.

-The future progressive describes an ongoing action that will take place over a period of time in the future.

Example: Amanda will be taking reservations over the holidays.

* The “to-be” verbs can also serve as linking verbs in predicate adjectives such as in “She is nice” and in predicate nominatives such as in “I am he.” See How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs for helping teaching strategies.

3. Use these helping verbs: may, might, must, ought to, used to, need to, should, can, could, and would (the “modals”) before the main verb to modify that verb by in order to communicate respect, politeness, permission, possibility, necessity, a command, or state an opinion.

Example: I should know better by now, but I just might ask her anyway.

4. Use these helping verbs: do, does, and did to form negatives with the main verb.

Example: I said do not go in there alone.

-Also use do, does, and did to form interrogatives. Notice how these helping verbs can be separated from the main verb when used in questions.

Example: Did you go in there alone?

-Also use do, does, and did to show emphasis.

Examples: Did you break that? Do visit your grandmother.

-Also use do, does, and did to avoid repeating verbs.

Example: I enjoyed our visit and so did he.

5. Use these helping verbs: has, have, and had to form the perfect verb tenses.

-The past perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that was completed before a specific time in the past. The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: Cecil and Rae had finished their study by the time that the teacher passed out the test study guide.

-Another form of the past perfect verb tense is the past perfect progressive. The past perfect progressive describes a past action that was interrupted by another past event. It is formed with had been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: My dad had been driving for two hours in the snowstorm when the Highway Patrol put up the “Chains Required” sign.

-The present perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being happening or existing before the present. The present perfect is formed with has or have + the past participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: He has already started his science project.

-Another form of the present perfect verb tense is the present perfect progressive. The present perfect progressive describes the length of time an action has been in progress up to the present time. It is formed with have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students have been writing for over an hour.

-The future perfect verb tense refers to a physical or mental action or a state of being that will be completed before a specific time in the future. The future perfect is formed with a helping verb such as the modals: cancouldmaymightmustshallshouldwill, and wouldhas or have + the present participle (a verb ending in ded, or en for regular verbs).

Example: We will have walked six miles by three-o’clock this afternoon.

-Another form of the future perfect verb tense is the future perfect progressive. The future perfect progressive describes the length of time an action will be in progress up to a specific time in the future. It is formed with will have been and the _ing form of the verb.

Example: The students will have been playing the same video game for two hours by the time their friends arrive.

When Not to Use Helping  Verbs

1. Don’t use helping verbs when an ongoing action is not meant. An ongoing action is the progressive form of the verb.

Example: Don’t say “I am watching cartoons every day.” “I watch cartoons every day” is correct.

2. Don’t use helping verbs when an action does not indicate some event that takes place before another action. An action that indicates that some event takes place before another action is the function of the perfect tense.

Example: Don’t say “I have watched the five cartoon shows today.” “I watched five cartoon shows today” is correct.

3. Don’t use helping verbs when the passive voice is not necessary.

Example: Don’t say “Canned foods were collected by me to feed the hungry.” “I collected canned foods to feed the hungry” is correct.

4. Don’t use helping verbs when a more specific verb form can make an action less vague.

Example: Don’t say “That point guard is good.” “That point guard dribbles, passes, and shoots well” is more specific.

5. Don’t use an unnecessary helping verb when an active, “show-me” verb will communicate the same thought in a more concise manner.

Example: Don’t say “John never does clean the house.” “John never cleans the house” is better.

Problem-Solving Strategies to Eliminate Helping Verbs

1. Substitute-Sometimes the writer can think of a stronger verb to directly replace a helping verb. For example, instead of “That apple pie sure is good,” substitute the “to-be” verb is with tastes as in “That apple pie sure tastes good.”

2. Rearrange-Start the sentence differently to see if this helps eliminate helping verbs. For example, instead of “I could see the monster was creeping down the dark tunnel,” rearrange as “Down the dark tunnel I saw the monster creep.”

3. Change another word in the sentence into a verb-For example, instead of “Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip and did serve as its illustrator,” change the common noun creator to the verb created and illustrator to illustrated as in “Charles Schulz created and illustrated the Peanuts cartoon strip.”

4. Combine sentences-Look at the sentences before and after the one with the “to-be” verb to see if one of them can combine with the “to-be” verb sentence and so eliminate the “to-be” verb. For example, instead of “You should complete your math homework. You must have studied for the math test. Then you can go outside to play,” a writer could revise as “Complete your math homework, study for the math test, and then go outside to play.”

A Teaching Plan to Eliminate the Helping Verbs

1. Post a list of the helping verbs and the problem-solving strategies/examples listed above for student reference.

2. Share and practice the strategies one at a time.

3. Use teacher think-alouds to model the revision process, using the selected strategy on student writing samples. Demonstrate flexible problem-solving and don’t be afraid to show how you can’t always think of a solution to revise helping verbs.

4. Next, turn the revision chore on over to the whole class with student writing samples. Ask students to volunteer their revision solutions.

5. Then, require students to revise student writing samples with helping verb individually. Correct whole class and praise the variety of effective revisions.

6. Next, have students revise their own sentences from their own writing samples.

Teaching the strategies to eliminate unnecessary helping verbs and practicing them in the context of student writing samples will help students recognize and avoid these “crutches” in their own writing. The results of your instruction? More precise and purposeful student writing with active, “show me” verbs.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

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How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

Teachers can help students practice the elements of Rhetorical Stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form. Learning these elements will enable students to flexibly address any writing assignment with dexterity and flair. Students need to be able to adjust their writing to a wide variety of genre in order to communicate effectively.

Find clear models of the elements of rhetorical stance and share these with your students. Help students to identify each of the elements in the model. Discuss how each interacts with the others. Make sure to use a wide variety of models.

Then, have students mimic the voice, audience, purpose, and form of the model to respond to an engaging writing prompt. Share their creative triumphs and correct shortcomings.

Voice—Some would define voice at that intangible which makes one’s writing unique, personal, and honest. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing style, point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). Students need to practice mimicking other voices to refine their own voices. Additionally, students need to be able to manipulate their voices to best suit the audience, purpose, and form. Choose student models to share that will broaden your students’ understanding of voice and encourage students to mimic these examples and the voices of other writers. Check out another article I have written, titled “How to Develop Voice in Student Writing” for plenty of instructional strategies. Why not introduce a video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. to inspire students to mimic his poetic, emotional, and hopeful voice prior to a relevant quick write?

Audience—Students need to understand that all writing is interactive communication. The other is the writer, himself, as reader and any others with whom the writer shares the work. Students all too frequently learn to write to the teacher as their exclusive audience. This practice tends to de-personalize student writing and limit development of voice. Choose student models to share that use a voice that engages and is particularly appropriate to the audience. Ask students to identify which parts of the writing response specifically address the defined audience and why. Why not select a class of third graders as an audience to encourage controlled vocabulary, brevity, and appropriate word choice?

Purpose—My comprehensive essay curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, uses eight key writing direction words (describe, explain, discuss, compare-contrast, analyze, persuade, justify, and evaluate) as the action words of each writing prompt in leveled writing strategy worksheets. These same writing direction words are used on a rotating basis (eight times each) as the purpose components in the 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes. Check out the attached example of a Rhetorical Stance Quick Write and use to guide your instruction in the elements of rhetorical stance. Why not have your students describe the ideal world that they hope to live in as adults?

Form—Although the academic essay becomes the predominate form of composition beginning in the intermediate elementary years and continuing through college, facility in other writing forms is certainly necessary to develop voice, writing fluency, and writing dexterity. Additionally, writing practice using a variety of forms will improve reading comprehension across a wide variety of genres. Use a wide variety of form, from anecdotes to classified ads to help students adjust their writing form and voice to the purpose of the writing and their audience. Why not mimic the rhetorical style, including the parallel “I have a dream” refrains from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a two minute speech?

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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Process vs. On Demand Writing

Writing research has shown that one key ingredient to writing success is time. Developing writers need time to learn the writing craft, time to research/brainstorm, time to draft, and time to revise. However, ironically, time may in-it-of-itself be the greatest impediment standing in the way of writing profiency and fluency for many of our students.

Since the return of phonics-based reading instruction in the 1990s, elementary teachers have had to allocate more instructional time to direct instruction. With greater diversity in most states, more pressure to differentiate instruction in reading has compounded the problem of instructional minutes at all grade levels. Science, art, social studies, physical education, music, and writing have become the casualties of this time-theft.

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students both learn to write and succeed on these tests with no additional time allocated for writing instruction. The three approaches are 1. process writing 2. on demand writing and 3. a mix of the two.

Advocates of the process writing approach (Six Traits, National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, etc.) argue that frequent practice in all phases of the writing process i.e., research/brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing best helps writers develop writing fluency and proficiency. Advocates of the on demand approach argue that the above components can be streamlined into an integrated process, which teaches the writer to concurrently multi-task the drafting, revision, and editing steps with the quick bookends of planning and proofreading. Those teachers trying to please both masters have limited their process pieces and upped the amount of on demand writing tasks when the standardized writing test looms on the horizon.

Process writing proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics (punctuation, capitalization, and spelling) incidentally throughout the writing process or via targeted mini-lessons. On demand proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics explicitly through an established instructional scope and sequence. Those who try to combine process and on demand writing wind up relegating most grammatical and mechanics instruction to test preparation out of sheer time constraints.

A brief readers theater (tongue firmly planted in cheek) may help teachers of all writing approaches greater appreciate the challenge of teaching writing today.

Narrator: Here is a familiar scene in the teachers’ workroom. Two teachers kill time while waiting in line for the laminating machine. Their subject of discourse: an ongoing discussion of Process Writing versus On Demand Writing.

Teacher 1: I can’t believe that Mildred accidentally threw out my Writing Process charts when she rotated off-track. I’ve got to get new ones laminated and back on the wall. I’m lost without them!

Teacher 2: Are you still using those dumb charts? I thought that you must have dumped them by now. The Writing Process is “old school.” We dropped that with whole language years ago. Get with the program! It’s On Demand Writing, now. Oh by the way, I put back your Lucy McCormick Calkins book in your box; I have enough paperweights for my desk, thank you.

Teacher 1: You and your on demand writing tasks… You’re not teaching—all you are really doing is testing. Are you still passing out those grammar worksheets for homework? Remember, the research about writing says—

Teacher 2: Don’t give me that research stuff—I know what works for my kids. My language expression scores on the state test were much higher than yours. You’re lucky you’ve got tenure.

Teacher 1: Even when I didn’t, I never kissed the principal’s butt like you do. And I don’t teach to the test, like you do. My kids are learning how to think. They are writing to learn. Who cares if they know their subjects and predicates!

Teacher 2: Kids are going to have to spell, punctuate, capitalize, and use grammar correctly if they want to make it in today’s world. They’ve still got to be able to write in those blue books in college for a timed one-hour exam. They can’t just pick their own writing subject and do multiple drafts for a mid-term. You really need to get a Red Bull® and wake up to the real world.

Teacher 1: In the real world, students need to have the brains to say something. Outside of school, people have time to revise and edit. They have the time to be reflective. That’s what real authors do… They don’t have someone forcing them to write to a contrived prompt and then hovering over them with a stupid yellow timer.

Teacher 2: Now, you’re getting personal. My aunt gave me that yellow timer… Who writes your paycheck? Last I checked it was the school district. All our principal cares about is higher test scores. If you can’t show it, they don’t know it!

Teacher 1: That’s not why I got into teaching. I want to develop the whole child and nurture a love for learning. I just completed a trimester-long unit on the Haiku and its place in Japanese society…You should come in and see our published poems on the wall. We used real 24 carat gold to highlight—

Teacher 2: I bet I could find some punctuation mistakes—you with your peer editing groups. Talk about the “blind leading the blind.” I have students write one paragraph each day in indelible ink—no changes. I time them and have their desk partners count how many words the student has written in the 10 minutes. It sure saves a lot of teacher grading time. All I have to do is record the number of words in my grade book program. I can show you huge gains in words per minute.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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The Seven Essay Writing Rules

Essays have different rules than do stories, letters, poems, or journal writing. Essays respond to a writing prompt or writing topic. The writer is required to develop a thesis statement in the introductory paragraph, then follow with at least two body paragraphs which address the thesis statement, then end with a concluding paragraph.

The Common Core Writing Standards divides essays into argumentative and informational/explanatory. Argumentative essays argue a position or point of view; informational/ explanatory essays explain and analyze. Each of these types of essays focuses on the subject of the writing prompt and follows the following essay writing rules.

Keep in mind that essays are a very formal type of writing. Although they may certainly express opinions, essays present evidence in a fair and balanced manner. Think of presenting evidence in an essay as an attorney would present evidence in a court of law. All of the traditional rituals have to be followed. The attorney (writer) has introductory remarks (introductory paragraph) in which a verdict (think thesis statement) is stated. Next, the attorney (writer) presents the main points of the case and the evidence that supports them (body paragraphs). Finally, the attorney (writer) presents the closing arguments (conclusion paragraph).

Here are the seven essay writing rules:

1. Write in complete sentences. Intentional fragments, such as “Right?” don’t belong in essays.

2. Write in third person. Talk about the subject of the essay. Don’t personalize with first person pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours, ourselves. Don’t talk to the reader with second person pronouns such as you, your, yours, yourself, yourselves. The essay is to be objective (fair and balanced), not subjective (personalized). Rid essays of “I think,” “I believe,” and “In my opinion.”

3. Do not abbreviate. Abbreviations are informal and serve as short-cuts, so they don’t belong in essays. So write United States, not U.S. in essays.

4. Do not use slang, such as kids. Use official, or formal, words, such as children.

5. Do not use contractions. Again, essays are very formal, so write “do not” rather than “don’t.”

6. Do not use figures of speech. Be direct and precise in essay writing. Essays do not use poetic devices or idiomatic expressions. For example, don’t write “He let the cat out of the bag.” Instead, say “He shared a secret.”

7. Do not over-use the same words or phrases. For example, avoid over-use of the “to-be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

How to Eliminate "To Be" Verbs Poster

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs Poster

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

 

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Why Johnny Can’t Write

“Johnny is a creative story-writer, but he can’t write an essay to save his life.” Does this ring true for your child or student?

Johnny has had some good writing instruction. He can recite the steps of The Writing Process from the posters he has seen in every classroom throughout his elementary school years. He knows all about Writers Workshop. He would know what to expect if the teacher had written “Writers Conferences” or “Response Groups” on the white board as parts of her daily lesson plans. Johnny’s writing portfolio is chalk full of fanciful stories and writing pieces in the sensory/descriptive or imaginative/narrative writing domains. He has been encouraged to unleash his creative mind-although that story that he wrote last year about the student boycott of the cafeteria may have been a bit too creative for the principal’s tastes.

However, if you give Johnny a writing prompt, asking him to “Compare and contrast the cultural roles of women in Athens and Sparta,” sixth grade writing paralysis would surely set in. Or worse yet, Johnny might begin his essay with “Once upon a time in a far-away land called Greece, two young women from Athens and Sparta…” His difficulties would, no doubt, increase if this were a timed assessment.

Unfortunately, most of the writing that Johnny will need to complete throughout his academic and work careers will not take advantage of his story-writing experience. Instead, most of what Johnny will be required to compose will be some form of writing that informs or convinces his reader. Additionally, most of his writing will be subject to some kind of time constraint. Johnny has just not had the instruction and practice in this kind of writing. His college professors probably will not hand him a “blue book,” tell him to write a story of his own choice, and then turn it in after multiple revisions when his final draft has been published and properly illustrated.

Students need to learn how to write structured essays designed to inform and convince their teachers and professors. But how do you transform a creative, non-linear thinker like Johnny into an organized and persuasive writer? Take the mystery out of essays by replacing the confusing terminology of thesis statements, topic sentences, concrete details, and commentary with simple numerical values that reflect the hierarchy of effective essay structure. For example, assign a “1” to introductory strategies, a “2” to the thesis statement, a “3” to the topic sentence, a “4” to the concrete detail, a “5” to the commentary, and a “6” to the conclusion strategies. Telling a student that a “5” is needed to support a “4,” which supports a “3” is much more intuitive-and students get it! Teach structural variety by having students write 3-4-5-4-5 paragraphs and revise with 3-4-5-5-4-5-5 paragraphs. Have students analyze text structure by numerically coding their science book or a newspaper editorial. Use this approach to develop sequenced writing skills, incorporating different grammatical structures and sentence structure.

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

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The Top 15 Errors in Reasoning

Good readers analyze the quality of written and spoken evidence and can spot fallacious reasoning. Thinking and reading critically will allow you to debunk faulty reasoning and improve your ability to argue effectively.

Get the FREE 15 Fallacious Reasoning essay e-comments, formatted for essay response. Set up to automatically insert into student essays in Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

1. Synonym Errors

A synonym reasoning error occurs when the writer substitutes one term for another in the argument, yet the terms are not same.

Example: The undemocratic government of Mexico had only one political party with real power. This dictatorship has been in control of Mexico since 1919.

Explanation: The writer substitutes dictatorship for undemocratic. However, not all undemocratic forms of government are the same as dictatorships.

2. Non Sequitur Errors

A non sequitur reasoning error means that the argument does not follow logically. In other words, the conclusion cannot be reached from the facts presented.

Example: If the sky is blue, and blue is the color of the ocean; then the sky must be made of ocean water.

Explanation: The conclusion that “the sky must be made of ocean water” does not follow logically from the facts presented.

3. Red Herring Errors

A red herring reasoning error means that an unconnected reference is used to distract the reader from the argument. A red herring refers to a smelly fish that was sometimes used to throw hunting dogs off the track of the fox in English foxhunts.

Example: The politician suggests that poverty remains the most important problem in the world today; however, the world has always had its share of poor people.

Explanation: The statement “the world has always had its share of poor people” attempts to distract the reader from the issue of poverty as the most important world problem.

4. Unsupported Generalization Errors

An unsupported generalization reasoning error applies specific facts to a broad generalization without justification.

Example: Bobby and Amanda have blonde hair. They both excel at sports. All blonde children excel at sports.

Explanation: The fact that specific children who have blonde hair are good athletes does not justify the broad generalization that “All blonde children excel at sports.”

5. Poisoning the Well Errors

A poisoning the well reasoning error means that an argument is weakened by a criticism in the argument itself.

Example: The president’s plan to reduce taxes in order to encourage taxpayers to spend more money to help business has been harshly criticized as “unworkable” by all leading economists.

Explanation: The president’s argument that reducing taxes will encourage taxpayers to spend more money is weakened by the comment that all leading economists have criticized the plan.

6. Cause and Effect Errors

A cause and effect reasoning error occurs when the writer assumes that something directly causes something else, but the result is actually a matter of coincidence.

Example: An irritating commercial aired after my favorite television show. I sneezed twice. Irritating commercials always make me sneeze.

Explanation: Sneezing after a commercial is a matter of coincidence. Commercials do not cause sneezing—there is no logical cause-effect connection.

7. Begging the Question Errors

A begging the question reasoning error takes place when the writer assumes something to be true, that has not been proven, in order to support the argument.

Example: No one likes the poor musicianship of country music.

Explanation: The statement assumes that country music has poor musicians to support the argument.

8. Either-Or Errors

An either-or reasoning error sets up a false choice between two ideas or issues and ignores other options.

Example: Either you support the president, or you are not a true American.

Explanation: The statement ignores other options that true Americans might choose.

9. Comparison Errors

A comparison reasoning error attempts to find similarities or differences between two unrelated ideas or issues.

Example: The price of Chinese tea has increased and so has the price of American gasoline.

Explanation: The price of tea and gas are unrelated issues and cannot be compared.

10. Questionable Authority Errors

A questionable authority reasoning error refers to a source that is not a specific expert on the idea or issue.

Examples: Experts say that the world will run out of oil in 20 years. A Harvard mathematician claims that love at first sight is impossible.

Explanation: In the first example, the expert is non-specific. In the second example, a mathematician is not an expert in matters of love.

11. Contradiction Errors

A contradiction error says the opposite of what has already been stated in the argument.

Example: Skateboarding is the safest of all individual sports. Skateboarding injuries account for more hospital visits than any other sport.

Explanation: Skateboard injuries contradict the claim that the sport is safe.

12. Inconsistency Errors

An inconsistency reasoning error refers to parts of an argument that are not in agreement.

Example: Children should be required to wear helmets while riding bicycles, but not while in-line skating.

Explanation: The arguments that children should be required to wear helmets while riding bicycles, but not while in-line skating, are not in agreement.

13. Omission Errors

An omission reasoning error means that a necessary piece of information is missing in the argument.

Example: The Folsom High School Band has the best band in the city.

Explanation: The fact that the Folsom High School Band is the only band in the city has been omitted.

14. Oversimplification Errors

An oversimplification reasoning error reduces a complicated idea or issue to something simple.

Example: Baseball is a simple game of pitching, running, hitting, and fielding.

Explanation: This oversimplification ignores the complicated components such as baseball strategy, substitutions, and statistical probability.

15. Sampling Errors

A sampling reasoning error refers to the data from which conclusions have been drawn. A sampling error may relate to an insufficient sample size or an unreliable sample group.

Example:  Three out of four dentists surveyed agree that people should floss twice per day.

Explanation: Only four dentists made up the sample group—hardly enough people upon whom to base a conclusion. Also, perhaps three of the dentists are paid by dental floss companies to promote their product.

Find 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets and quickly move students from simple three-word paragraphs to complex multi-paragraph essays. With 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources, the teacher can differentiate instruction with no additional prep with Teaching Essay Strategies. Also check out Critical Thinking Openers Toolkit. Both available from Pennington Publishing.

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How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

Writing an effective essay prompt requires equal shares of art and science. The prompt must allow room for creative interpretation and analysis. However, the prompt must also provide organization and boundaries for the writers’ responses. Finally, the prompt should provide ample room for post-writing criticism to help students improve their writing.

Writing Prompt Guidelines

1. The prompt should be brief. Wordiness only serves to confuse the writer.

2. The prompt should be focused. A prompt that rambles in an attempt to explain or motivate is counter-productive.

3. The prompt should require only the prior knowledge that has been emphasized in class instruction. Isolate the variables of personal experience to best assess the outcomes of instruction.

4. The prompt should be age appropriate. Know the developmental capabilities and interests of your students and translate these into the writing prompt.

5. The prompt should avoid issues which students or parents would find objectionable. Save the PG-13 issues for older students. Don’t let the subject interfere with the writing task.

6. The prompt should not be so personal that the privacy of the writer is jeopardized. A writing prompt should not inhibit the writer from answering honestly and comfortably.

7. The prompt should not embarrass the gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background of the writer. Stay sensitive to these variables within your classroom. Words have different meanings according to one’s perspective.

8. The prompt should allow students of varying abilities to respond effectively. An ideal prompt allows all students to experience success in their writing.

9. The prompt should be interesting enough to motivate the writer. A prompt that does not provoke thought will reap a thoughtless response.

10. The prompt should allow “room to breathe” for divergent thinkers. Expect the unexpected in student responses, and design prompts to allow for a variety of responses.

11. The prompt should enable the writer to respond with a thesis that states the purpose of the writing and/or the author’s point of view. If you can’t turn the writing prompt into a thesis statement without effort, your students will never accomplish this task.

12. The prompt should not artificially force the writer into a certain thesis. A one-sided prompt that demands a certain thesis will not produce original thought.

13. The prompt can provide a writing situation to set the writing directions in context. However, the writing situation should not overwhelm or confuse the writing instructions.

14. The prompt should have clear writing instructions. Writers are the best judges as to whether the prompt has clear instructions. Avoid vocabulary and terms that will confuse the students. Don’t use writing direction words, such as “analyze”, if your students do not understand them.

15. The prompt should be one that will afford your writers plenty of evidence with which to prove or elaborate upon their topic sentences. Picking narrow or obscure writing subjects will not allow your writers to weigh easily accesible evidence. They will also be tempted to plagiarize or invent when little evidence is available.

Writing directions words for essays designed to inform the reader…

1. Describe means to show the characteristics of the subject to the reader through visual details.

2. Explain means to make something clear or easy to understand.

3. Discuss means to talk about all sides of the subject.

4. Compare means to show how things are the same, and contrast means to show how things are different. If the writing prompt only mentions compare, you must still do both tasks.

Writing directions words for essays designed to convince the reader…

5. Analyze means to break apart the subject and explain each part.

6. Persuade means to convince the reader of your argument or claim.

7. Justify means to give reasons, based upon established rules, to support your arguments.

8. Evaluate means to make a judgment about the good and bad points of the subject.

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

Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions.

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