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How to Develop Thesis Statements from the Writing Prompt

Dissect a Writing Prompt

How to Dissect an Essay Writing Prompt

Students often struggle with writing effective thesis statements. Often, their difficulties result from failing to know how to dissect the essay writing prompt and formulate their purpose (for informational/explanatory) or point of view (for argumentative) thesis statements from the writing task itself. Following are a few teaching tips and a FREE Download to help your students practice.

First, Dissect the Writing Prompt

1. WHO: Underline any words which identify the audience or the role of the writer.

2. WHAT: Circle any words which identify the topic, context, or purpose of the writing task.

3. HOW: Bracket any words which identify the writing format or the resources to use.

4. DO: Box any words which identify key writing direction words.

Need more details on the WHO, WHAT, HOW, DO strategy. Check out this article.

Next, Write a One-Sentence Thesis Statement

1. It will leave room for the WHO and HOW introduction strategies to flow into the thesis statement as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. An essay introduction doesn’t use a hook or lead, as does a narrative introduction. An essay introduction builds reader interest and understanding of the thesis statement, but keeps a formal essay tone. So, avoid “It was a dark and stormy night.” Need help on teaching essay introduction strategies?

Get the Essay Introduction Strategies FREE Resource:

2. Include the key word from the WHAT of the writing prompt in a declarative statement about that WHAT. In essay that requires the writer to inform the reader, the thesis statement should state your specific purpose for writing. The thesis statement serves as the controlling idea throughout the essay. In an essay that requires the writer to convince the reader, the thesis statement should state your point of view. The thesis statement serves as the argument or claim to be proved throughout the essay.

3. It will directly respond to all components of the specific writing task and nothing beyond that task.

Following are the typical response comments I use to respond to student thesis statements. No sense in re-inventing the wheel. I use the alphanumeric codes to simplify comment insertions.

  • e7 Thesis Statement does not respond to writing prompt. Re-read the writing prompt and dissect according to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word).
  • e8 Thesis Statement does not state the purpose of the essay. Dissect the writing prompt, focusing on the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the   resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) to specifically state the purpose of your essay.
  • e9 Thesis Statement does not state the point of view of the essay. Dissect the writing prompt, focusing on to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) to clearly state your specific point of view.
  • e10 Thesis Statement is too general. Get more specific in your thesis statement. Example: There were lots of causes to the Civil War. Revision: Although many issues contributed to problems between the North and the South, the main cause of the Civil War was slavery.
  • e11 Thesis Statement is too specific. Your thesis statement needs to be a bit broader to be able to respond to the demands of the writing prompt. A good thesis statement is like an umbrella-it must cover the whole subject to be effective. Save the specificity for the body paragraphs.
  • e12 Thesis Statement is inconsequential. The thesis statement must state a purpose or point of view that can be meaningfully developed in the essay.
  • Example: People in France really enjoy their cheese. Revision: The French especially enjoy four types of cheeses.
  • e13 Thesis Statement cannot be argued. An essay designed to convince a reader of the author’s specific point of view must provide a thesis statement that is arguable.      Example: Blue is the best color. Revision: Blue is the best color to complement a bright white background.
  • e14 Split Thesis Statement Don’t write a split (divided) thesis. A split thesis includes two purposes or two points of view. Focus on only one purpose of point of view       throughout the essay. It may be necessary to reference or refute another purpose or point of view in the body paragraphs or conclusion.
  • e15 Thesis Statement responds to only part of the writing prompt. Dissect the writing prompt according to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) and include each part.

Interested in more of these Essay e-Comments? Check out this video to get all 438 comments.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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 (works great with Google Docs), 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.

Check out the FREE Download teaching summary of the WHO, WHAT, HOW, and DO strategy for dissecting writing prompts for display and practice.

Get the Dissecting a Writing Prompt Practice FREE Resource:

 

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How to Dissect a Writing Prompt

Dissect a Writing Prompt

How to Dissect an Essay Writing Prompt

Using Google Maps is a life-saver. However, we’ve all had the experience of misreading or miswriting our destination. If we don’t have the correct or precise destination in mind, we can wind up hopelessly lost. For example, in my town we love trees. You had better carefully input “Pine Tree Street,” not “Pine Tree Court,” “Pine Tree Avenue,” or “Pine Tree Lane.” Otherwise you might be knocking on the wrong door.

The same attention to detail is necessary when reading a writing prompt and planning your writing destination. Learning how to dissect the Writing Prompt is the first step in writing an effective essay that will get you where you’re headed. Knowing exactly what the writing assignment requires in terms of the audience, role of the writer, topic and its context, purpose of the essay, essay format, resource text, and key writing direction words are all necessary components of this task.

Following is a step-by-step procedure for dissecting a writing prompt. These directions are carefully designed to work with the Common Core State Standards Writing 1 (arguments) and 2 (inform or explain) standards with brief explanations why each step is important. Don’t leave out a step or you might wind up on Pine Tree Blvd. in Australia.

Let’s use the following as our writing prompt example:

Creating a town culture and identity is important to the success of any town. Towns that have clear cultures and identities don’t just evolve-they are carefully planned. Town planners help craft the ongoing vision of a town. Town planners know first-hand the truth of the old adage-“You can’t please all the people all of the time.” Effective planning involves saying “Yes” to some things and “No” to others. For example, many towns have enacted ordinances limiting the number of fast food restaurants. Take on the role of a town planner in a newspaper editorial to persuade businesses and residents that your town needs such restrictions, referring to the reading resource: Pine Town Business Ordinances.

How to Dissect the Writing Prompt

1. WHO

Underline any words which identify the audience or the role of the writer.

Good writing is a dialogue between author and audience. Writing is not a one-way task. First, find out who your audience will be. The audience may or may not be clearly stated. Don’t assume that you are writing just to your teacher or grader. Consider your audience’s level of expertise and degree of familiarity with the subject. This will help frame your word choice, which terms need to be defined, your audience’s point of view, and how much prior knowledge you need to tap into to create a coherent dialogue. In the writing prompt example, you should underline “businesses” and “residents,” because these are the two audience members in the writing task.

Look for words that help define your role as the writer. Are you to be an information provider, a thought-provoker, a teacher, a persuader, or ? Are you to remain objective and even-handed to treat all sides of an issue fairly? Or are you to be subjective with your primary task to convince or change your audience’s mind to your position? The answers to these questions will determine your writing voice. Your writing voice is your personal attitude toward the subject of the writing and your audience; it’s the way you come across. Of course, the writing voice must be consistent throughout your writing response so as not to confuse your readers. You never want to send mixed messages to your audience. In the writing prompt example, you should underline “town planner,” because this is your assigned role in writing assignment.

2. WHAT

Circle any words which identify the topic, context, or purpose of the writing task.

As you read the writing prompt, search for words or phrases that clearly state the topic of the writing. The topic is the main subject about which you are to write, not the detail that explains the subject. For example, in this portion of the writing prompt example: “Many towns have enacted ordinances limiting the number of fast food restaurants” the topic would be “laws” and “fast food restaurants,” not “towns” or “number.” Stick to the main ideas, not the details that are parts of the whole or too general.

The context refers to the necessary background or situation that explains the significance of the topic. In the writing prompt example, the words “culture,” “identity,” and “planned” should be circled because they indicate the necessary context to understand why the topic is important. If your circled topic seems trivial, re-read the writing prompt to ensure that you’ve circled the correct topic.

The purpose of the writing task is the main focus of your writing task. As a writer, you are limited to this focus. You may not want this to be your focus, but you are stuck with this assignment. Keep the focus narrow and don’t “read into” the purpose of the writing task what is not stated. In the writing prompt example, the words “persuade,” and “restrictions” should be circled.

3. HOW

Bracket any words which identify the writing format or the resources to use.

The format of the writing task simply means how the writing response is to be shared with your audience. It is the form in which the writing task is to be composed. Again, the writer is limited to this form; there is no choice here. Often the writing format is assumed to be an essay. In the writing prompt example, the writing format is a newspaper editorial. Now, this assumes that the writer knows what an editorial is and is not. Prior knowledge is a harsh master; if you don’t know the characteristics of the format, you are in some trouble. Using the rest of the language of the writing prompt and the clue word “newspaper” will at least get the writer in the right ballpark of the writing format. Bracket the words “newspaper editorial.”

If a reading resource is stated, you should bracket that resource. In the writing prompt example, “Pine Town Business Ordinances” is that resource.

4. DO

Box any words which identify key writing direction words.

Often there is some overlap here. In the writing prompt example, “Persuade” should have been circled in the second WHAT step. Go ahead and box over the circle to emphasize exactly what you are to do as the writer. Knowing the academic language of key writing direction words is critically important. Following are the most often used writing direction words.

After dissecting the writing prompt with WHO, WHAT, HOW, and DO, CHANGE the WHAT into a QUESTION TO BE ANSWERED. The answer to this question will be your thesis statement. Check out this article to learn how to teach thesis statements.

Writing Direction Words

Writing directions words for essays designed as argument…

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

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

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

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

Writing directions words for essays designed to inform or explain…

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

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

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

8. 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.

__________

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies, includes 42 essay strategy worksheets corresponding to 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 Common Core Standard informative/explanatory and 4 Common Core Standard persuasive), 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.

Check out the teaching summary of the WHO, WHAT, HOW, and DO strategy for dissecting writing prompts for display and practice.

Get the Dissecting a Writing Prompt Practice FREE Resource:

Literacy Centers, Study Skills, Writing , , , , , ,

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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