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Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I knew little about life in the country. Newly married, I agreed to follow my wife’s dream and apply for teaching jobs in the Gold Country of Northern California. I sent out my resume, highlighted by my three-whole-months of substitute teaching experience and hoped for the best.

Four days before the start of school, I got a call from Sutter Creek Elementary, a K-8 school, in picturesque Sutter Creek. The principal asked two questions: “Could you be here and ready to teach by Monday?” and “Are you willing to coach our eighth grade basketball team?” I gulped and said, “Yes.” Little did I know what I was in for…

The teaching part of the job was challenging. I taught six periods of history and English to the seventh and eighth graders. My principal asked me to focus on their weakest area: writing. I jumped in with the Five-Paragraph Essay. I lectured them about all of the component parts and had them write one final draft essay most every day. That’s all I knew about writing instruction, but I struggled in silence–too embarrassed to ask for help. However, compared to the other part of my job as basketball coach, teaching writing seemed “a walk in the park.” The basketball part of the job was a nightmare.

My Sutter Creek students pummeled me with questions on the first day: “Why did you leave Los Angeles?  What’s it like having McDonalds®, Burger King®, and KFC® all on the same block?” “Do you know any of the Los Angeles Lakers?” There wasn’t much for kids to do in Sutter Creek, other than basketball.

Basketball was pretty much an entire-school-year affair. We began practicing a few weeks after the beginning of school. More than half of the eighth graders tried out, and I had to “cut” the team down to the number of our uniforms. This was a difficult proposition because the kids were really quite good, having played in community leagues for years. In fact, I had a bonafide superstar: David Dalton. David could dribble between his legs and do both right and left-handed lay-ups. And he could shoot the “lights-out.”

I knew little about basketball. Baseball had been my game. So, I turned to the experts. I called up my six-foot-five-inch best friend and asked his advice; I read books; I watched video tapes; I studied diagrams; I learned how to teach the game.

We had three months to practice before our season was to begin. I taught a motion offense and set-plays, full-court and half-court traps, and complicated zone defenses. I fancied myself the “sage on the stage.” Our practices consisted of eighty-five minutes of walking through my complex plays and five minutes of scrimmage at the end of practice. My principal left me to my own devices and supported me when a few of the parents began grumbling about my rigorous practices.

Our season began and we won every game. I don’t think we scored more than a few points off of my elaborate motion offense or set-plays. We did, however, score plenty of points when the plays broke down and on opposing team’s turnovers. David Dalton was incredible. He consistently doubled the score of the opposing team all by himself. We even handily beat our archrival, Jackson Elementary, in our one seasonal match-up. Victory was sweet, but after that game, the opposing coach took me aside and asked me if he could give me one small piece of advice. “Of course, I said.” He advised, “Perhaps you should teach less and coach more.” I thanked him, but really didn’t understand the difference.

In the final game of our championship tournament, we once again faced our archrival, Jackson Elementary. The high school gym was packed with 800 spectators. We again were winning handily after the second period of play. As the third period began, Jackson’s defense had changed. Two of their guys were stationed “under the bucket,” but three guys were glued to David Dalton. Frustrated, David began picking up fouls. I did not know how to adjust. None of my six-foot-five-inch friend’s advice, the books I had devoured, or the video tapes I had watched had said anything about adjusting to a triple-team.

At the beginning of the fourth period, David fouled-out. I kept calling out plays, but we couldn’t score. I called time-outs and reminded the players about everything I had taught them. Nothing worked. Jackson crept closer. With time running out and the score tied, a Jackson player hit a “buzzer-beater” and Jackson Elementary earned the championship. The parents and my players were disgusted with me. Jackson’s coach had out-coached me.

After assuring me that I would not be fired, my principal “suggested” that he would coach next  year and I could serve as his assistant. Quite humbling. However, the next year, with my principal’s help I learned how to coach, not teach basketball. And learning how to coach basketball made me a much better writing teacher.

Here are  ten tips that my principal shared with me about coaching basketball that helped me change from a teacher of writing to coach of writing:

1. My principal had me practice with the boy’s eighth grade basketball team. It was embarrassing not being the best player. I learned the value of doing each of the writing assignments that I assigned to my students. By doing each writing task, I began to see things from the students’ perspectives. I caught my instructional mistakes, realized how much I assumed students already knew, and re-worked my instruction accordingly. I began doing Write-Alouds with my classes to model my own writing problem-solving.

2. My principal had me shoot free-throws with the team. The boys all shot better percentages than I did, but I did improve. I learned to share my own writing with students. Some of it was quite good; much of it was poor. But, the  writing assignments were authentic and provided reachable models for the students. Solely reading great works of literature does not help students improve their writing skills. The reading-writing connection is not the magical “be-all,” “end-all” solution to literacy.

3. My principal emphasized drills: passing, dribbling, rebound, and defensive positioning. I learned to teach writing inductively—from the part to the whole. I spent time coaching students on sentence structure, modeled sentence combining, had students work on grammatical sentence variety, and paragraph development. I took classes from mentors through the Area 3 Writing Project and began to help students practice the components of the Writing Process. I put the five-paragraph essay on hold for a while.

4. My principal scrimmaged a lot. Of course the boys loved this, but I noticed something else. They were incorporating what they practiced in their drills, with a few reminders. I learned to allot more time to actual writing in a wide variety of voices, to different audiences, for different purposes, and in different forms to build writing style and fluency. Students got better at manipulating the elements of rhetorical stance and their writing coherency significantly improved.

5. My principal kept things simple. He taught very few basketball plays. He did demonstrate and practice “the pick and roll” and “the pick and pop,” but not much else. Mostly, he told the boys to “free lance.” I learned to relax and stick with the “main and plain” components of writing instruction. I dropped my demands that “the devil is in the details” and stopped obsessively red-marking every mechanics and spelling error.

6. My principal didn’t force every player into the same box. He didn’t have any David Daltons that next year, but he let players go with their strengths and interests. He even let our only six-footer play the guard position, and not the center position. I learned to differentiate my writing instruction. Some students wrote three-page narratives, while some wrote one-page narratives. I still slept at night and the sun still rose and set. I discovered grammar diagnostic assessments and stopped teaching parts of speech to my students who had already mastered their parts of speech.

7. My principal never taught from the sidelines during our basketball games. He knew that coaching was for practices and not for games. I learned to use judicious error analysis and criticism in writers conferences with students during the prewriting, drafting, revision, and editing stages of the writing process. But, I focused only on what students did right on their final “game time” published products.

8. My principal was a motivator. Instead of focusing on the myriad of things our players did wrong, he focused on the few things they were doing right. He built up their self-confidence. He let the kids play. I learned that students could write better, if they perceived themselves as effective writers. I praised student work, published student work in the local paper, made parent phone calls.

9. My principal knew about successive approximation. He pushed his players to do “do-able” process tasks on the court, not product tasks, and then asked them to “do a bit more.” He had his son keep track of “do-able” tasks, like running down the court during transition defense and “boxing out” during our games, not product tasks like points scored, rebounds, turnovers, or assists. I learned to use detailed analytical rubrics to help students self-evaluate their writing and specifically inform them how to improve upon their strengths.

10. My principal planned his practices well, but he was flexible. If a drill did not go well, he knew when to devote more time to the drill, at the expense of another. He also knew when to “ditch” the drill and do something else. I learned to adjust my writing instruction to what students were and were not learning. Some carefully planned week-long lessons were accomplished in two days. Many mini-lessons turned into multiple-day lessons as I re-taught and struggled to find ways to get my students to learn what seemed so easy for me to teach. I learned the value of quick, informal formative writing assessments. I learned the value of asking students “thumbs up” if you understand, and “thumbs down” if you don’t.

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

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Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

Dissect a Writing Prompt

How to Dissect an Essay Writing 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 (claim or argument). 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 accessible evidence. They will also be tempted to plagiarize or invent when little evidence is available.

16. The prompt should be able to be boiled down into a question to be answered. That answer will be the thesis statement.

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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Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach the Essay Introduction

Although the three components of the essay introduction (introducing the topic, engaging the audience, and transitioning to the thesis statement) would seem to suggest a three-sentence paragraph, this application may work nicely with some essays, but not with all. The problem with teaching formulaic introductory paragraphs for argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays is that the square peg does not always fit the round hole.

Teaching students how to write an essay introduction is challenging work. The thesis statement is not usually the issue; most teachers do a fine job of teaching the most important sentence of the essay. More often, teachers need help teaching their students how to introduce the topic and engage the audience. Some teachers refer to these introduction strategies as the hooklead-in, or transition. The instructional challenge is that some introduction strategies work for some writing tasks and some work for others. Students need to learn a variety of introduction strategies to begin their essays and transition into their thesis statements. The following introduction strategies and examples will equip teachers with a flexible, not formulaic approach to teaching How to Write an Essay Introduction.

How to Teach Essay Introduction Strategies

Essay Introduction Strategies

Introduction Strategies: DQ REPS BC

1. Definition: Explains the meaning of an unfamiliar term or makes a general essay topic more specific.

Examples: Prior to the Civil War, the term popular sovereignty referred to the policy of allowing the voters of individual states to determine whether slavery should be legal or not. The issue of sports-related concussions requires special consideration with youth contact sports.

2. Question: Asks your audience to think about why the essay topic is important or relevant.

Example: Why has the President issued the executive order at this point of his administration?

3. Reference to Common Knowledge: States an idea or fact that is known and accepted by your audience in order to build consensus.

Example: Most Americans favor some form of tax reform.

4. Expert Quotation: Provides an insightful comment about the essay topic from a well-known authority.

Example: Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, called youth e-cigarette smoking “a major public health concern.”

5. Preview of Topic Sentences: Lists the main point from each topic sentence before or within the thesis statement.

Example: Both positive consequences and negative effects of the new law require close examination.

6. Surprise: States an unexpected fact or idea, one that is unknown to your audience, or one that provokes curiosity about the essay topic.

Examples: Women live longer than men. Few Americans know that the number of Supreme Court Justices has changed throughout history. The report offers new clues about how to improve memory.

7. Background: Describes the relevant problem, historical circumstances, or literary context of the essay topic.

Examples: Gang-related murders have increased dramatically over the last decade. Over the past 100 years the average increase of Arctic temperatures has nearly doubled that of the rest of the world. In Sharon Creech’s novel, Walk Two Moons, the main character, Salamanca, learns to cope with the unexpected death of her mother. 

8. Controversy: Sparks interest because many might disagree with what is being said.

Example: However, freedom of speech extends to the rights of speakers as well as to the rights of protesters.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Introductions

Do…

  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the topic and tone of your essay. For example, the Expert Quotation and Controversy introduction strategies might serve as perfect lead-ins to this thesis statement: State and local governments should pass legislation banning the use of plastic grocery bags. However, the same two introduction strategies would probably not be used as lead-ins to this thesis statement: Americans have changed taste preferences for their favorite ice cream flavors.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph argumentative essay would not include references to the argumentative strategy of the writer, but a half-hour argumentative speech certainly should. A five paragraph informational-explanatory essay would not include a separate introductory paragraph on the research methodology, but a five page research paper might necessitate such an explanation.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match your audience. For example, the Background introduction strategy may be essential if writing a response to literature essay to an audience unfamiliar with the novel; however, identifying the main characters and setting may be unnecessary or even condescending to an audience of students and teacher who have already read the novel. Furthermore, the Reference to Common Knowledge introduction strategy might be necessary for an audience of fourth graders, but not for eighth graders.
  • Place the thesis statement last in short essays. The audience (your reader) expects the purpose or point of view of the essay to be in this position. Don’t disappoint your audience unless you have a specific reason for placing the thesis statement elsewhere.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer.
  • Pad the introductory paragraph with overly general statements or say what does not need to be said. For example, The fact of the matter is that Americans have differences of opinions on this issue. Of course, Americans believe in freedom and justice.
  • Be uncertain or apologetic. For example, saying “it may or may not be true” or “more research needs to be done to reach a firm conclusion” does not build confidence in your audience that your essay will be convincing or informative.
  • Use anecdotes for short essays. For example, take this often-used anecdote: “When Abraham Lincoln was working as a clerk in a store, he once overcharged a customer by 6 1/4 cents. Upon discovering his mistake, he walked three miles to return the woman’s money.”  This anecdote might work nicely for a long essay or speech on the subject of honesty, but not in an introductory paragraph for a short five paragraph essay. The anecdote might serve better as evidence in a body paragraph. Plus, confusing narrative elements with exposition when establishing the voice of the essay in the introduction can be confusing to the audience.

The Big Picture

Think of writing an essay introduction much as how a prosecuting attorney might design an opening statement. The attorney would take time to consider which introduction strategies would best fit the nature of the case, the character of the defendant, and those listening and deliberating in the courtroom. The attorney begins by explaining the crime. (The crime is the topic.) Next, the attorney connects that crime to the defendant and engages the jury. (The defendant and jury are the audience.) Finally, the attorney states the assertion (or claim) that the defendant is guilty of the crime. (The assertion or claim of “guilty” is the attorney’s thesis statement.) Now that you have mastered How to Teach the Essay Introduction, your students will need the evidence strategies to convince their juries. Check out the FE SCALE CC to learn how to teach these types of evidence strategies.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Introduction Strategies in your classroom?

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Get this resource plus 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 (works great with Microsoft Word and Google Docs).

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How to Teach the Essay Conclusion

Few teachers feel comfortable teaching students how to write a conclusion paragraph for an essay. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing the main points of an essay make a rather weak conclusion. In a related article on How to Teach the Essay Introduction, I compare the essay introduction to a prosecuting attorney’s opening statements. Using the same courtroom scene, the essay conclusion can be compared to the attorney’s closing arguments.

If the prosecuting attorney followed his high school English teacher’s advice to “give a finished feel to the essay” by adding a conclusion paragraph that re-states the thesis and summarizes the main points, the closing arguments would be as follows:

“As I said in my opening statement, the defendant is guilty of grand theft auto. The fingerprints on the stolen car, the DNA evidence on the driver’s seat, and the two eyewitnesses conclusively prove the defendant to be guilty.”

Most defense attorneys would relish following such a weak closing argument with their own more effective closing arguments.

It’s not that re-stating the thesis and providing a summary of main points are poor conclusion strategies… The point is that by themselves, they do not accomplish the purpose of an essay conclusion paragraph: to analytically comment, synthesize, and make judgments about the evidence presented in the body paragraphs.

Plus, the conclusion strategies which work for some essays will not work for all essays. Teachers need to teach a variety of conclusion strategies, so that student writers can match the appropriate strategies to the essay topic and evidence presented. Formulaic conclusions often wind up trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

The following conclusion strategies will help you learn how to teach the essay conclusion strategies which are appropriate to the writing task.

How to Teach Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies GQ SALE SC

Generalization-Broadens a specific point of the essay into a more general focus.

Example: The issue of state lawmakers refusing to vote on controversial issues by encouraging statewide votes brings up the question as to whether our system of representative democracy still serves a purpose.

Question for Further Study-Asks about a related topic or question that is relevant, but beyond the focus of the essay.

Example: If concussions present such a danger to professional football players, why do schools and communities continue to support youth football?

Statement of Significance-States why the proven thesis statement is important or relevant.

Example: With the extinction of one species, the web of nature may be disrupted in unexpected ways.

Application-Applies the proven thesis statement to another idea or issue.

Example: If celebrities and politicians are excused from the consequences of lying to authorities, students may assume that lying to their parents or teacher should be excused as well.

Argument Limitations-Explains how or why your conclusions are limited.

Example: Although the evidence clearly suggests that the student cheated on this test, it does not prove that the student  cheated on previous tests.

Emphasis of Key Point-Repeats specific evidence and explains why it is the most convincing or important evidence.

Example: Most importantly, slavery caused the Civil War because it was the one division between the North and the South which could no longer be compromised.

Synthesize-Combine the main points of the essay to create a new insight proving the thesis statement.

Example: Her natural talent, work ethic, and luck contributed to her surprising success.

Call to Action- Challenges the reader to take a stand, make a difference, or get involved.

Example: The evidence suggests that public protest may stop this abuse of the mayor’s power. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Conclusions

Do…

  • Re-state the thesis as the first sentence in your conclusion paragraph. Although redundant and unnecessary in a short argumentative or informational-explanatory essay, the audience (the reader) expects to be reminded of the thesis and the re-statement signals the concluding paragraph.
  • Use the GQ SALE SC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph informational-explanatory essay on trending ice cream flavors would not include a Statement of Significance or Call to Action; however, an argumentative essay on changing the electoral college system of electing the President certainly could use these strategies.
  • Comment on and evaluate evidence. For example, not all evidence is equally convincing. Commenting on the quality of evidence and prioritizing evidence is a mark of good scholarship and writing.
  • Synthesize and apply evidence. For example, “The combination of unseasonably warm storms and lack of levee maintenance contributed to the flooding.” The sum of the evidence parts can be greater than the whole.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer. Instead, use qualified modifiers such as maymightprobably, most likely, generally, etc.
  • Simply repeat. A cleverly worded thesis re-statement will transition to the analysis, insights, and judgments of an effective conclusion paragraph. Even the Summary Statement should be selective, not repetitive.
  • Add new evidence. For example, the conclusion paragraph is not the place to add on “forgot to mention” or “Additionally” or “one more” statements.
  • Begin the conclusion paragraph with unnecessary transitions. Avoid phrases like “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These phrases can be useful–even welcome–in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You’ll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious (Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University).

The Big Picture

Think of an essay conclusion as a vital part of demonstrating how you have proven your point of view in an argumentative essay or achieved the purpose of your essay in an informational-essay.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Conclusion Strategies in your classroom?

Get the Essay Conclusion Strategies FREE Resource:

Get this resource plus 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 (works great with Microsoft Word and Google Docs).

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How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

Numerical Hierarchy Essay Structure

Essay Structure Numerical Hierarchy

Using numerical values to identify and apply expository writing structure has proved an effective tool in identifying expository text structure and helping writers organize essays. The numerical values eliminate the writing jargon that varies from teacher to teacher and curriculum to curriculum. Instead, writers simply apply the implicit hierarchy of the number system to that of reading and writing. Writers just seem to intuitively “get” the idea of a number system applied to their expository writing in essays.

The Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum uses following number system:

(1) for the introductory strategies of an essay introduction—for example, a definition or a preview of the topic sentences.

(2) for the thesis statement that “talks about” the introduction strategies.

(3) for the topic sentences that “talk about” the thesis statement.

(4) for the major details that “talk about” the topic sentence.

(5) for the support details that “talk about” the major details.

(6) for the conclusion strategies—for example, a thesis re-statement or summary.

For Developing Recognition of Text Structure

Try analyzing expository reading by numbering the sentences. Critique the writing by analyzing the structure and whether there is sufficient evidence, e.g. enough (5s) to back the (4s).

For Essay Writing

Using your own writing prompts, practice varying sentence order within the numerical hierarchy to help students develop a flexible writing style to address the demands of the writing prompt and improve the quality of your essays. Try the following paragraph organizations and watch your students improve their writing structure and recognition of text structure at the same time.

1. (3)-(4)-(4)

2. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)

3. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

4. (4)-(5)-(3)-(4)-(5)

5. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(3)

6. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

7. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

8. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)-(5)

9. (3)-(4)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

10. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(5)

11. (Transition Statement)-(3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

12. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(Concluding Statement)

13. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

14. (6)-(6)-(6) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

15. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs (6)-(6)-(6)

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

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.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

 

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How to Write Body Paragraphs

Many writers have not learned how to write body paragraphs for an essay, article, formal research paper, or business letter. All too often, students only received this limited instruction about how to write body paragraphs: “Write a topic sentence; write major detail sentences; then, support the major detail sentences with minor detail sentences.” Not much help with that limited instruction…

The following strategies will help you write learn how to write body paragraphs that will be appropriate to the writing task, provide pertinent evidence to prove your thesis, and also show off your writing skills. The FE SCALE C memory trick will help remind you of the evidence strategies you need to use on timed writing tasks. Not every evidence strategy fits the purpose of every writing task, so learn and practice these options to increase your writing skill-set.

Body paragraphs are organized around the topic sentence, which is the main point, reason, or argument to prove the thesis statement. Always place your topic sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph. Writing research indicates that the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of the body paragraph 80% of the time in published works, so don’t re-invent the wheel. Write in the way your reader expects to read.

Then, use the FE SCALE C evidence strategies to provide the evidence to support the topic sentence. Think of writing body paragraphs much as a prosecuting attorney uses evidence to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime. Connect your body paragraph evidence strategies with effective transition words to maintain coherence. The body paragraph should flow together as one whole. Every word should move the reader toward the demanded verdict, which is your thesis statement.

Use a variety of evidence to support your topic sentence in each paragraph. I suggest that two or three types of evidence per body paragraph is most effective. A good attorney uses a wide variety of evidence. Limiting evidence to one form will weaken your overall argument and not win your conviction. Think of the O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century.” The prosecution overly relied on DNA evidence and failed to convince its jury. All it took was “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” to provide enough doubt to the jury to acquit the defendant.

After composing the topic sentence, flesh out each evidence strategy in a compound-complex sentence or two separate sentences. Then, analyze the evidence in another sentence. Of course, sometimes it is also appropriate to do the reverse: state a major detail that addresses the topic sentence and then provide the evidence strategy to support that detail.

A good body paragraph might be structured in this way:

  • Topic Sentence

  • Evidence Strategy #1 Sentence

  • Analysis Sentence

  • Evidence Strategy #2 Sentence

  • Analysis Sentence

  • Major Detail

  • Evidence Strategy #3 Sentence

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE C

1. Fact means something actually done or said.

Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

2. Example is a part of something used to explain the whole thing.

Peas, beans, and corn are examples of vegetables.

3. Statistic is an amount, fraction, or percentage learned from scientific research.

The world has over 7 billion people; half live in Asia; only 5% live in the United States.

4. Comparison means to show how one thing is like or unlike another.

Both automobiles are available with hybrid engines, but only one has an all-electric plug-in option.

5. Authority is an expert which can be quoted to support a claim or a topic.

According to the Surgeon General of the United States, “Smoking is the chief cause of lung cancer.”

6. Logic is deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning.

All fruits have vitamins and apples are fruits, so apples have vitamins. The first 10 crayons I picked were red, so the whole box must be filled with red crayons.

7. Experience is a personal observation of or participation in an event.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back requires careful planning and takes most of the day.

8. Counterclaim is the argument against one’s point of view, which the writer then minimizes or refutes (proves wrong).

Some argue that a high protein diet is healthy because… However, most doctors disagree due to…

E-Comments for Essay Body Paragraphs

Essay Body Paragraphs e-Comments

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a set of 14 prescriptive e-comments to respond to student body paragraphs? Click HERE to get these comments along with directions about how to insert them permanently into Microsoft Word.

Want to download and print 8 colorful types of evidence posters with explanations and examples? Click Types of Evidence Posters.

Teachers may also be interested in these three articles: How to Improve Writing StyleHow to Write an Introduction and How to Write a Conclusion. Each article includes a link to different writing posters. All are free to download, print, and use as reference tools for your students.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

Need the step-by-step resources to teach the argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays? Find 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, 64 rhetorical stance openers, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency practice, 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.

Now you have the right strategies to make your case, using a variety of effective evidence. Using the FE SCALE C evidence strategies will help you convince your jury.

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:

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Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

With the inclusion of essays on high-stakes tests such as the SAT® and ACT®, as well as many state standards tests and high-school exit exams, the need to improve writing fluency has recently surfaced as a desired goal. Which approaches to writing fluency work best?

1. Teach students to read a variety of writing prompts. Expose students to different content area and writing domain prompts. For example, using social science, literature, and science content with informational, expository, analytical, and persuasive domains. Teach students to read the writing prompt twice—the first time for understanding and the second time to circle the subject and highlight key words.

2. Give students ample practice in turning writing prompts into effective essay topic sentences. “Thesis Turn-Arounds” can be a productive “opener” to any lesson in any subject area. For example, if the prompt reads “Analyze the causes of the Civil War,” students could begin their theses with “Many causes contributed to the Civil War.”

3. Give students practice in developing quick pre-writes to organize a multi-paragraph writing response. Teach a variety of graphic organizers and review how each is appropriate to different writing prompts.

4. Give students practice in writing introductory paragraphs after pre-writing. Give students practice in writing just one timed body paragraph to address one aspect of the essay after pre-writing.

5. Provide immediate individual feedback to students with brief writers conferences.

6. Use the display projector to use critique real student samples. Write along with students and have them critique your writing samples.

7. Teach how to pace various allotted essay times. For example, the SAT® essay is only 25 minutes. The Smarter Balance and PAARC tests provide unlimited writing time. Brainstorm and allocate times before a full essay writing fluency for the following: analysis of the writing prompt, pre-write, draft, revisions, editing.

8. If a brief reading passage is part of the background for the writing task, teach students to annotate the passage with margin notes as they read.

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

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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How to Improve Writing Parallelism

Writing parallelism refers to the repeated usage of words and grammatical structures in a well-designed pattern. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing.

Most all writing is structured and writing parallelism improves writing structure. The structure changes according to the domain of the writing, but when an author consistently follows a plan, the reader can clearly follow what the author intends to share or to prove. Check out the multi-day Core Assessment lessons HERE to add on to the following Gettysburg Address lesson on parallelism.

Hints to Improve Writing Parallelism

  1. Repeat key words throughout an essay to help the reader maintain focus.
  2. Use the same grammatical structures for phrases within lists, for example, verb endings.
  3. Repeated transitions can also produce interesting writing parallelism.

One of the greatest examples of writing parallelism in American literature is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

-Carefully read the address and then examine the phrases listed below to identify the writing parallelism Review the text to see how the parallel structures are repeated.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground.

a new nation

conceived in liberty

we are engaged

so conceived

that nation

we can not dedicate

Free Lesson on How to Improve Writing Parallelism

How to Improve Writing Parallelism

-Now, pick out the writing parallelism in the remainder of the text on your own.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity, coherence, and parallelism.

The author’s Teaching Essay Strategies provides 11 Transition Worksheets, one for each purpose. Each worksheet requires students to identify, select, and apply the

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

transition words in the context of sentences and paragraphs. Great practice! Check out the free samples below.

Get the Transition Worksheets FREE Resource:

Teaching Essay Strategies 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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