November 2019 Blog
The November Blog will take the concept of planning further and will focus on the importance of the drafting as well as the importance of the single paragraph outline, which looks at the power of the topic and concluding sentences as the main framework of a plan. There will also be some examples teachers have shared with me about how they have trialled this with their classes so you can ask questions or have a chat with colleagues who are giving this a go.
Writing is a process, or at least it should be. It involves thinking, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking about the structure, linking ideas and much more. One problem is that writing is often neglected in the classroom – it’s seen as time-consuming and ends up being relegated to a homework task with little or no proper preparation. This is not going to help our students in these more rigorous, writing-based exams.
If we want our students to become good writers, then we must spend more time in the classroom teaching them how to write. This doesn’t simply mean getting them to write more, as that isn’t teaching. Of course, practice is important, but you can only practice something if you have a clear idea of what your goal is and how to reach it. One of the key things to good writing is a willingness to go back over what you’ve written, edit, receive feedback, revise and rewrite. At first, it can be difficult and sometimes even painful (especially with our students), but, with practice, students will come to realise that what they are producing is improving by leaps and bounds. It’s not simply a matter of reading through a piece of writing looking for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; it’s about reading through it to see how it can be made better. In a way, a piece of writing should never be finished – it should just be one step further on.
Even if students sit down with a blank piece of paper in front of them (or, more likely nowadays, a blank screen such as I had at the start of this!), they need to have some idea of what they want to write. For most writing, there needs to be a purpose and an idea of who the reader is going to be. This is all part of the planning stage. Often the planning will take longer than the actual writing, but if the result is a better piece of writing then there is nothing wrong with that at all. Planning can take all sorts of shapes and forms, such as brainstorming ideas; noting down important facts or pieces of information to be included or annotating a piece of text with important inferences that can then be ordered into a piece of critical and evaluative writing.
When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualise a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus non-essential material and, importantly the sequencing information.
An outline has the following benefits:
- Provides Structure
- Eliminates Repetition
- Improves Adherence to Topic
- Aids in sequencing
Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.
Before beginning outlines, you might give students a Topic Sense (TS) and Supporting Detail (SD) and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:
__________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.
__________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.
This might be a do now for a science class put on the whiteboard before the students come in. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.
Another activity would be to give students four sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:
_______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.
_______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.
_______ The anti-slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.
_______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.
A third strategy that can be used as a quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.
All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.
The Hochman Method Quick Outline is, therefore, this simple formula:
TS; 4 details from the t + CS.
Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that they do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include keywords and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.
The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.
Additional lessons for outlining include:
- Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.
- Generating a concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.
- Given a paragraph and convert it into a quick outline by picking out the key details
- Given a topic, generate a Quick SPO (Single Paragraph Outline) independently.
Once students start writing, they need to understand that this is just the first draft – that finishing the writing is only the first step to getting a piece that is good enough. Drafting is a kind of practice exercise for a final draft. What you are asking them to produce in a draft is a rough version of how their final writing will look like.
It is most unlikely that their first attempt will be outstanding, and so you should plan to get them to re-write the draft at least once. The process of making changes to a draft is called re-drafting. Before this, they must develop their understanding through feedback.
It is vital to firstly check that students understand the feedback you have given them. If they do not understand, they will not make the necessary improvements needed. If you are giving feedback through live marking, then it is easy to check for understanding. If they are responding to feedback you have given them in your written marking, then make sure you target students who you know might need further support immediately as you circulate the room. Ask them to let you know if they do not understand their feedback which will help you know where to go first. Ask the students to identify the major problems which they need to work on. There might be many problems but try to get students to focus on the main problems through your feedback as that will help them make the greatest improvement to their work. They then redraft the writing or a section of the writing again.
My thanks to Caroline Nailor and Katy King for providing some excellent examples of how they have started using this in their lessons which have been photocopied for you and come with this blog. If you would like to speak to them further about how they have introduced this, please do go and speak to them and gain their insight.