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How to Grade Writing

How can we effectively assess student writing? Should we grade upon effort, completion, standards, achievement, or improvement? Is our primary task to respond or to grade?

Here’s my take. We should grade based upon how well students have met our instructional objectives. Because each writer is at a different place, we begin at that place and evaluate the degree to which the student has learned and applied that learning, in terms of effort and achievement. But, our primary task is informed response based upon effective assessment. That’s how to grade writing.

For example, here may be an effective procedure for a writing task as it winds its way through the Writing Process: Read more…

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How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science, including the categories of transitions and what each transition means. Teachers can also help students learn how and where to use them with appropriate punctuation.

However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. Teachers do well to point out the effective use of transitions in exemplary writing models and help students mimic these in their own writing. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing voices.

Before teachers launch into instructional strategies, they need to make the case for their students that transitions are necessary for effective writing.

Transitions are Necessary

Transitions provide connections between words and ideas. They also signal change. Without transitions, reading comprehension is minimized. Here are a few classroom-tested activities that will help students see how transitions are essential.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bring in the materials: bread, peanut butter, jelly, a butter knife, and plenty of napkins. Tell students to write detailed instructions about how to make this American classic. Then, collect the instructions and call on a few students to follow the directions exactly as you read them. If the transitions are not perfect, you will definitely need the napkins.

Learn and play a new game. Gather a bunch of different board games and/or decks of cards, each with a printed set of directions. Find different card game directions at this site.  Match students to games they have never played. Students learn and play the new game. The teacher directs the students to put away the game and directions and students are to compose their own directions for the game from memory, using effective transitions. Great for sequencing skills, too. Extension: Jigsaw students and have them follow student-created directions to try and learn how to play a new game. Further extension: Have students “tweak” the directions of an existing game and play it as revised. Even further extension: Have students create their own board or card games.

Learning Transitions

Students must understand the definition of the transition words and their categorical relationships.

Instructional Strategies: Teach the meanings of transition words in the context of transition categories. Have students read passages that use different transition categories and discuss. Have students complete a Cloze Procedure, using those same passages. Following are the transition categories (What You Need to Signal) and the common transitions:

What You Need to Signal                  Transitions

definition

  • refers to, in other words, consists of, is equal to, means

example

  • for example, for instance, such as, is like, including, to illustrate

addition

  • also, another, in addition, furthermore, moreover

sequence

  • first, second, later, next, before, for one, for another, previously, then, finally, following, since, now

analysis

  • consider, this means, examine, look at

comparison

  • similarly, in the same way, just like, likewise, in comparison

contrast

  • in contrast, on the other hand, however, whereas, but, yet, nevertheless, instead, as opposed to, otherwise, on the contrary, regardless

cause-effect

  • because, for, therefore, hence, as a result, consequently, due to, thus, so, this led to

conclusion

  • in conclusion, to conclude, as one can see, as a result, in summary, for these reasons

Using Transitions

Students must understand basic sentence syntax, to know where to place transition words.

Transitions can open paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be placed mid-sentence to connect ideas. Transitions can close paragraphs and sentences. Transitions can be used to place emphasis on a certain sentence or paragraph component.

Instructional Strategies: Assign students a variety of writing tasks that will each require the use of different transition categories. Have students practice sentence revisions in which they place existing transition words at a different part of the sentence. Have students change transition words ending paragraphs to the beginning of the next paragraph and vice-versa. Have students compose compound and compound-complex sentences with transition words and then revise the placement of these transitions for different emphasis.

A Few Things to Avoid

Remind students that overusing transition words is almost as bad as not using transition words. Don’t teach structured transitions, such as these: Always place transitions at the end of an introduction. Always place transitions in a concluding statement ending a body paragraph. Always begin a conclusion with a transition. By the way, although most teachers insist upon a thesis restatement, most published essays do not have them. Two good rules of thumb apply: If the thesis restatement is expected, such as on the SAT 1® essay, write one. If the essay is long, use one; if it is short, don’t. Don’t use transitions solely as an editing skill.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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How to Teach Thesis Statements

The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. The topic sentences of each succeeding body paragraph all “talk about” the thesis statement.

  • When the essay is designed to inform the reader, the thesis statement states the author’s purpose for writing and serves as the controlling idea or topic throughout the essay.
  • When the essay is designed to convince the reader, the thesis statement states the point to be proved and serves as the argument or claim throughout the essay.

A good thesis statement will accomplish the following:

1. It will state the subject of the writing prompt.

2. It will repeat the key words of the writing prompt.

3. It will directly respond to each part of the writing prompt with a specific purpose (for informational essays) or point of view (for persuasive essays).

4. It will justify discussion and exploration; it won’t just list a topic to talk about. For example, “Elephants are really big mammals” would not justify discussion or exploration.

5. It must be arguable, if the thesis introduces a persuasive essay. For example, “Terrorism is really bad and must be stopped” is not an arguable point of view.

For short essays, a good thesis statement is characterized by the following:

1. It is one or two declarative sentences (no questions).

2. It is placed at the end of the introduction. This is not a hard and fast rule; however, the thesis statement does appear in this position in fifty percent of expository writing and the typical organization of an introductory paragraph is from general to specific.

3. It does not split the purpose or point of view of the essay into two or more points to prove. It has a single purpose or point of view that multiple topic sentences will address.

4. It may or may not include a preview of the topic sentences.

Helpful Hints

1. Spend time helping students to dissect writing prompts, showing different forms and examples.

2. Teach the key Writing Direction Words (see attached) most often used in writing prompts.

3. Teach students to “borrow” as many of the words as possible from the writing prompt and include these in the thesis statement. Doing this assures the writer and reader that the essay is directly responding to the writing prompt. Additionally, using the same words flatters the writer of the prompt. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

4. Practice thesis turn-arounds in which you provide writing prompts in the form of questions that students must convert into declarative thesis statements.

5. Teach and have students practice a variety of introduction strategies to use for both informational and persuasive essays.

6. Teach transition words and help students practice these throughout the introductory paragraph.

7. Help students re-word their thesis statements, using different grammatical sentence openers, for their thesis re-statements at the beginning of conclusion paragraphs.

8. Constantly remind students that a thesis statement is part of exposition–not the narrative form. No “hooks” or “leads” as part of thesis statements, please.

See the three attached lessons on Thesis Statement Practice at Thesis Statement Practice.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, at www.penningtonpublishing.com.

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