One of the simplest methods for teaching kids to think and write analytically is also one of the most effective: show them a sample paragraph and use color coding as a writing strategy.
My tenth graders have been exploring the ways that point of view and perspective affect the novels they are reading. After several skill building activities, it was time for them to start learning to write an analytical paragraph.
The assignment was to explain how some aspect of a character’s background or experiences affects his/her outlook, attitude, or behavior. I wrote two sample paragraphs and included them on a handout for students. At the top of each page was a breakdown of the steps I wanted them to follow in the paragraph – including how I wanted them to label it.
We read the first model paragraph together, and color-coded and labelled as we went. Then, I asked them to do the same thing with the paragraph on the back of the page. After they did, I projected my version of it, so they could see if they did it correctly.
Immediately after this, the students chose one thing that influences how a character from their novel views themselves or the world. They answered the two short questions I provided to find a focus, and found the evidence that they needed from the novel to back it up. Then, they identified and explained a language choice made by the writer for effect. Finally, they wrote a rough draft of the paragraph for homework and took it to class the next day.
First, I asked them to re-read their draft and fill in the blanks next to WHAT? HOW IT AFFECTS? LANGUAGE CHOICE? This was so they could make sure that the paragraph was focused and that they had included all of the components of the assignment. Then, they color-coded and labeled their drafts to make sure they had set it up properly.
The end result was fabulous! I’ve never had so many kids nail an assignment, and I know that the process made a huge difference. I’ve always used exemplars, so students could see what the end result looked like. But the color-coding and labelling allowed them to really focus on all of the elements of the assignment. And, by having them do they same thing with their own assignment, they were able to see what was missing or misplaced.
This will now be a go-to step for all of my assignments. Color coding takes a little more class time, but it’s time well spent.