Breathing Life into Essays, Session 9 Tailoring your Teaching



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Breathing Life into Essays, Session 9

Tailoring your Teaching

If your students need a push into revision . . . you might tell them a story like this: “Writers, yesterday at lunch I was talking to my colleagues about writing. As we ate our sandwiches we shared our experiences with revision. After a lot of discussion we realized that writers need courage to be good revisers. When we figured that out, it was like a light bulb went off in my head! I realized that this is what had made revision so difficult for me for so long. I would go to revise and find myself physically tightening up because I was so afraid to lose what had taken me so long to write. I would make teeny tiny changes to my old ideas and then I would reread what I’d written and wonder why it had not gotten any better. Writers, all that time I didn’t realize that what I really needed was courage. I needed the courage to erase and make big changes. I needed courage to trust that I could write better. I needed courage to believe that my first work was not my best work. Finding that courage has changed my writing so today I want to tell you: be brave writers!”

If your students are writing supporting ideas that are too long, too detailed, or too much like personal narratives . . . you’ll probably need to revisit the difference between telling a story as a personal narrative and using a story as a way to support a claim. One of the ways you can demonstrate this is to show the difference between the two in your own writing. It helps to have a focused personal narrative entry that you’ve adapted so that it can work as a story within an essay paragraph. You may decide to show the two pieces of writing side-by-side so students can see and name the differences themselves. Inevitably, you’ll notice that the thesis-supporting text is shorter, leaner, and to the point, whereas the personal narrative entry offers the reader the whole story.

For active engagement, during the lesson, you might decide to have your students go though their notebooks and find an entry that could, if it were leaner and more to the point, support one of their claims. Each writer could tell their partner about plans for revising that entry.



If your students need more help making sure their entries, narratives, and outside sources support their thesis statement and topic sentences…it may be helpful to show them another strategy for checking that the narratives they’ve written do, in fact, support their topic sentences. As we’ve suggested elsewhere in this book, students could underline the parts of their narratives that support the topic sentence. For some students, it might be more helpful to monitor their narratives as they write them. One way to do this is to create a thesis mantra they can repeat to themselves as they write.

You may decide to create a lesson where you show students how to do this. You could say, “Writers, something happened to me yesterday that made me think about your writing. I called directory assistance to get a phone number. I didn’t have a pen with me, so when the operator gave me the number, I had to keep saying it over and over and over so I wouldn’t forget it. Has that ever happened to you? It was sort of like chanting a mantra, the way I was saying that number over and over— 555-3894, 555-3894, 555-3894.”

“It made me think of our essays. We’re trying hard to make sure our narrative stories support our topic sentences and our theses, and we already learned that we can go back after we write a story to check that it goes along with the topic sentence by underlying key words and phrases. Well, I have another strategy that you could try. You could chant a thesis mantra to make sure you don’t forget it, just like I had to chant the phone number to make sure I didn’t forget it. I want to teach you that as you write, you can keep your thesis in mind by saying some key words out loud. That will help you make sure your narrative goes along with the thesis. Let me show you what I mean.”

“I want to show you how I create a thesis mantra and then write my narrative, repeating the mantra to remind myself to make my story fit. This is my thesis, ‘My dog is part of my family,’ and the topic sentence I’m supporting is ‘My dog is part of my family because he’s with us always.’ First I need to create a mantra.”

“How about, ‘Dog…family…always…Dog…family...always.’ OK, I’ve got my mantra. Now I am ready to write my story about the time my dog was sick.” Then, you’ll begin writing your story, stopping every once in a while to say the mantra out loud. You may decide to throw in some kind of meandering, such as details about the fact that you also like your cat. As you repeat the mantra, you’ll say something like, “Oops, that bit about the cat doesn’t fit there. Let me cross it out.” You’ll want to wrap up this demonstration by pointing out what you hoped they’d notice.

For the Active Engagement, you could ask children to create a mantra for your next topic sentence or for one of their own topic sentences, and then teach them to repeat it a few times, mantra-like.


If your children are struggling to find story ideas to support their claims…you might want to teach a minilesson to help them. You could help them by saying, “Usually stories come, especially when we are obsessing about an idea, but what happens if a story doesn’t come? Usually stories come like mice come out of holes, but mice are more likely to come out of a hole when certain kinds of bait are waiting for them. We can learn how to bait for stories too. Today I want to teach you a few ways to help make stories that help your theses come out of their holes more quickly.” Then you could teach children that they can talk to people about their claim. Remind them to ask for stories from people...

who agree with their thesis.

who disagree with their thesis.

who are part of their claim.

who are not part of their claim.

who are older they are.

who are their age.

who are younger they are.



You could show them what this might mean, “For instance, if my thesis is “All girls should play sports,” then I can look for stories about sports from athletes and non-athletes, from boys and girls. From girls who don’t think they should have to go to gym and from girls who only want to go to gym. I could look for stories from my little sister who isn’t old enough to join a sports team, from my best friend who grew up in another culture, or from my mom who tried to play sports but wasn’t allowed because her mom thought it was gross.







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