Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ask Why, Not How - Part 2

Your kiddos have now worked with the thesis and seem to have a pretty good handle on it. You've practiced a sufficient bit, with peer reviewing, editing, etc. and each time you practice, more and more of them are producing solid thesis statements that coherently meet the criteria. Fabulous. But we don't write thesis statements to just leave them, do we? Now they gotta prove it.

This was difficult for my students, though I'm not sure why. They are already familiar with the theory of a thesis - it guides your paper and sets out what you intend to prove. But when they would write about the literature, they just gave me plot summaries. They weren't going back and LOOKING at their thesis statements and saying "OK, I have to give an example of Direction 1. It is..."

Thus, I developed the Literary Analysis Breakdown. I took 2 good student responses from our Animal Farm test, and wrote up a worksheet/activity that has them evaluate the information and break down the steps of an analysis, finalizing the lesson with the synthesis of their own literary analysis paragraphs.

Materials: Copies of Literary Analysis Breakdown, one for each pair of students; highlighters of various colors; pens/pencils
  1. Tell students that this lesson is set up in Parts - which they will see on the worksheet. Inform them that you are going to go through the parts as a class. They are NOT to go on to part II until you tell them to do so.
  2. Have students divide into partners, pass out worksheet and highlighters (2 different colors).
  3. Read directions to Part I - remind students that they are to do that for BOTH paragraphs. This takes them about 5 minutes.
  4. Go over Part I as a class.
  5. Read directions to Part II - again, remind students they do this for BOTH paragraphs. This also takes about 5 minutes.
  6. Go over Part II as a class.
  7. Read directions to Part III. Discuss Part III by talking about the fact that everything is supposed to relate back to the thesis - always always always trying to prove the thesis. Not only are you pulling your examples from your thesis, but they must be examples with a purpose. Do not just choose something that's has to be ironic in some relation to the universal idea.
  8. Segue into Part IV in your waxing poetic about Part III: Therefore, those examples must be SPECIFIC. Do NOT assume your reader knows anything (I love to play this up - they like to hear me expound prolifically that I know nothing, they know everything). If you're playing "connect the dots," you don't want to leave it up to your reader to connect your dots - they might mess it up. YOU draw all the lines for your reader and tell him/her what to think. Leave no dots unconnected.
  9. Read directions to Part IV. Teacher answer - up to you on how specific you think the examples are. In A, most of my classes agreed that the examples were specific. In B, most classes agreed that both directions were not specific enough.
  10. Part V - Synthesis! You can have them write it on a fresh sheet of paper or on the back. We wrote ours on the back of the worksheet. I had them copy the thesis, just to make sure they got that extra practice. Depending on how much time it took to talk about each part, they had about 10 minutes at the end of class to write the paragraph. It was their ticket out the door.

Not to toot my own horn, but honestly, the little light bulbs were going on (or blazing more brightly) like CRAZY after this activity. They "got it" for sure.

You may ask, why only a paragraph? Why not an essay? A couple reasons:
  • Practical: I only have 50 minutes in a class period. I don't want to sacrifice 2 days to test-taking, so for the sake of time: a paragraph.
  • Writing Skills: It forces them to be concise. In their essays, if they don't know what to write, they just start blathering on and on, mostly just giving me plot. They feel like they have to use up the space, but they don't really know how to. A short paragraph - and I emphasize no more than 10 sentences - forces them to pare down the language and content to what is MOST important.
  • Building Blocks: The paragraph is a good foundation. After all, what is the standard 5-paragraph essay except MORE examples? If they know how to give me solid examples with specific language, they can easily just add more examples to a given idea, right?
There's my Ask Why, Not How approach. Any questions?

1 comment:

  1. I liked this post and chose to include it in this week's EduCarnival. If you would like to have it removed, please email me at uncomfortableadventures (at) yahoo (dot) com to let me know, and I will delete the link.

    You can submit an article to the next issue of EduCarnival v2 by using the handy-dandy carnival submission form. Past carnivals and future scheduled editions can be found on the blog carnival index page.

    I love getting to read posts from people I'm not familiar with, so it'd be awesome if you'd put up a quick note encouraging your readers to submit as well!