Was tempted to call this – How to move beyond the 5 paragraph essay. So often we are using this basic concept, of 1 paragraph for the introduction, 3 paragraph body, and 1 paragraph conclusion that we forget to encourage pupils to play with the writing format, to focus on the content and to use the 5 paragraph scheme as a version of an outline. Because, the reality check is, did the piece of writing share information, rather than merely regurgitating something? For so many students offering opinions is a scary position to find themselves in. Yet every piece of writing does share an opinion.
It can be fun to begin with informal debates; using a randomized system to divide up the the class into groups and then have each group practice responding to both real issues and nonsense ones. By “randomized system” I suggest drawing straws, names in a hat, sounding off with numbers…, the options for adding opportunity for different students to work together are numerous. And it is through the scrambling of expected norms in a classroom, that students may find themselves more willing to share an idea- when one is no longer “the quiet kid” or the “outspoken one”, the brainstorming that must take place to plan an argument – academic argument, using a logical progression- can begin to take hold. I have noticed so many students attempting to write any piece in one “perfect” sweep; rarely do the results merit the hard work such students are actually doing. The students who are more freely aware of the process that writing entails, are less likely to ponder their initial attempts, knowing well that brainstorming is just that – a beginning.
From the brainstorming, a move to construct an argument while recognizing what might be the counter argument (in a debate it is best to be prepared) provides the thinking in action that moves an in -class exercise towards a life skill. Students must challenge one another, defend a position, and accept when an argument or position will not be the winning one for that session. The process itself may be examined, and when students take turns as the voting judges, learning to question why they approved of one position over another, the “higher level thinking” begins to be displayed. Turns may even be taken, with various students assigned to be the “devil’s advocate” within a group. Higher level thinking skills are brought to the fore, and this ability to both challenge themselves and challenge others, can be put into written responses. In effect, the students themselves are modeling the process, sharing in selecting the more strongly supported position, and recognizing what is meant by offering “proof” in an essay.
Personal admission: strong proponent of experiential knowledge. For any learner, regardless of age, recognition of a concept comes through the application. When writing is demystified, and shown to be a means for communicating a point of view, regardless which genre we are highlighting in a class at the time, it is possible to have learners find the argument. By using academic vocabulary even with younger pupils we allow the learners to hear the actions, while doing the exercise. Underlining the theses statement and commenting on the supporting paragraphs ought to be more than supplying a visual with a sample essay already commented upon. The importance of all students being able to identify main idea is not merely to increase Ministry mandated test scores, but is another life skill. If students can read instructions and then describe in their own words how to play an online game, they can also offer an opinion as to what they believe makes one game more challenging than another, and thereby join in a “debate” with peers on a topic of their interest. Being able to support their opinion becomes crucial to comfortable communication. As does being able to walk away from an argument and maintain one’s opinion- the ability to agree to disagree.
Today’s blog was inspired by a comment that preceded a recipe- an unusual comment as most cooking sites offer the recipe with the expectation that the recipe itself is “king”. This website chose to remind readers to improvise. While many of us do “tweak’ recipes based on personal preference and family eating habits or restrictions, I was struck by the thoughtful wording that preceded the instructions: “A recipe… cannot pretend to replace the practiced hand and telling glance of a watchful cook. For that reason feel free to stir your own ideas into this dish. When you cook it once, it becomes yours, so personalize it a bit.”; my sentiments, exactly!
FYI the recipe was for Cornbread- and I have changed it by adding a little less of the butter/margarine/oil component- and it is delicious 🙂