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Since I want the writing to be high quality and the subject matter to be high interest, I might choose pieces like Jessica Lahey’s Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need it Most and David Bulley’s School Suspensions Don’t Work.
I would ask students which author they feel did the best job of influencing the reader, and what suggestions they would make to improve the writing.
I would also ask them to notice things like stories, facts and statistics, and other things the authors use to develop their ideas.
Unlike the mentor texts we read on day 1, this sample would be something teacher-created (or an excellent student model from a previous year) to fit the parameters of the assignment.
Before letting students loose to start working on their essays, I make sure they have a solid plan for writing.
Next, we’d have a Philosophical Chairs debate (learn about this in my discussion strategies post), which is very similar to “This or That,” except students use textual evidence to back up their points, and there are a few more rules.
Here they are still doing verbal argument, but the experience should make them more likely to appreciate the value of evidence when trying to persuade.
Yes, I was certified to teach the full spectrum of English language arts—literature, grammar and usage, speech, drama, and so on—but my absolute favorite, the thing I loved doing the most, was teaching students how to write.
Most of the material on this site is directed at all teachers.
To help them make this connection, I would have them do some informal debate on easy, high-interest topics.
An activity like This or That (one of the classroom icebreakers I talked about last year) would be perfect here: I read a statement like “Women have the same opportunities in life as men.” Students who agree with the statement move to one side of the room, and those who disagree move to the other side.