It’s time for the Secondary Smorgasbord again, and this month’s topic is fresh ideas. So by now you may be scratching your head at my title. An essay? You might be thinking: There’s nothing fresh about that!
However, it’s not the product that’s fresh in my room, it’s the approach I’m trying. My advanced grade tens are starting to venture into some work that is more difficult than what I’ve given them before. So, I decided to mix things up a bit and try a more collaborative approach.
We started yesterday with Caitlin Tucker’s thesis throwdown. Students were given the prompt for the essay and then, in groups, they had to construct a thesis. Five minutes later they went head-to-head as we chose the best ones. It was a blast, and we had so many good discussions about what makes a good—and better thesis.
Next, I divided them into five groups and gave each group a topic to explore that would develop the thesis. Their homework was to meet on Google Drive to brainstorm. Today, we went to the lab and I “dropped in” to each group as they worked to write a focus statement and collect evidence based on their topic. I gave them a little nudge or suggestion if they were getting off track. Tonight they are using Drive again to plan a brief presentation on how their topic develops the thesis.
Tomorrow, we will have the presentations and discuss and debate the points made. The next step will be for each student to use the knowledge they gained to write a paragraph based on their topic. They will complete those in the lab on Thursday.
Friday, we will bring it all together. I will put students in different groups this time, so all five topics are represented. They will use their individual paragraphs to construct a full essay. I plan to give them a couple of pages of chart paper and they will have to decide on what order the paragraphs will appear, write an intro and a conclusion and tie the whole works together with transitions. We will tape all of them on the wall and the kids will do a gallery walk to see how others put it all together.
My hope is that by working together and by having good dialogue about the choices they make, my students will have a better understanding of the process they need to follow to write a thoughtful, well-developed essay. They’ve been skimming the surface of late, and I want them to start digging deeper. And hey, it is spring. A great time for digging!
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