Julianne Beebe , ,
8th Grade ELA : Unit #13 - To Kill A Mockingbird Part III : Lesson #5

Whole Class Writer's Workshop

Objective: With guided practice, SWBAT begin writing a rough draft for an argument essay about whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird should be required reading.
Standards: W.8.1 W.8.4 W.8.8 W.8.9
Subject(s): English / Language Arts
60 minutes
1 Working Outlines - 15 minutes


I begin class by instructing my students to take out the whole-group brainstorming web each class generated in the previous lesson.  As they consult the web, I task them with selecting the three reasons they feel most strongly about as to whether or not To Kill a Mockingbird should continue as required reading in schools.

Next, I instruct them to turn their webs over and arrange their reasons in a five-point outline.  I sketch a general outline for them on the document camera for them to follow:

I.Introduction (include TAG and clearly state your stance)

II.Reason #1 (specific to each student)

III.Reason #2 (specific to each student)

IV.Reason #3 (specific to each student)

V.Conclusion (restate stance and recap reasons; ask/invite reader to accept your position)

I introduced the concept of outlines to my students in this earlier lesson, as I find it invaluable for assisting students of all abilities with organization.  As they arrange their reasons in their outlines, I remind them to stay conscious of what they deem is the strongest order to address their reasons, though through the drafting process, they always have the ability to rearrange them.

2 Guided Drafting - 50 minutes

Now the fun begins.

I give each student a copy of the drafting template and explain that similarly to the way they began drafting their theme essays for Of Mice and Men, we will begin generating their rough drafts for this essay as guided practice for the remainder of the period.  

I keep a blank copy of the template on the document camera as I guide my students through each step of their paragraph development.  As mentioned, the process is one in which they have participated before, with customized changes for an argument essay.  

The most notable change is in the acknowledgment of any relevant counter-argument(s) that may accompany the reason around which the body paragraph centers.  I have made the decision to organize this essay by addressing counter-arguments as they occur within body paragraphs, instead of within a separate paragraph, which is another popular organizational structure.  This is in part due to the necessity of selecting a uniform way to teach argument writing to my students, and I explain this to them so that they are aware that there is more than one way to successfully organize an argument essay.

Beyond that, however, I explain to them that I believe this organization has potentially more power in debunking counter-arguments, in that if they are dismantled one at a time, as support for an argument progresses, as opposed to addressed at once, in a separate paragraph, then I believe that a writer's ethos can be strengthened along the way as well.  This is especially reinforced with an addition I have made to this drafting template (as a result of a tendency I noticed in my students' Of Mice and Men theme essays), which is the final tip of "return to your reason" at the end of each body paragraph.  By so doing, each paragraph allows for the reasonable acknowledgment of any relevant counter-argument(s), only to then swing back to "countering the counter" at the closure of each paragraph.

Having guided my students with drafting templates before, I expect that each will work at his/her own pace, once I get them started, and hopefully, the addition of bonus points will keep the pace steady. As they are drafting, I am able to circulate and address any questions or concerns of individual students, as well as offer feedback and suggestions as the drafts begin to take shape.



3 Bonus Points! - 5 minutes

When five minutes of class is left, I begin my rounds, adding my initials next to each completed paragraph with a pink highlighter.  Since student rough drafts will be turned in with their completed final drafts, I can postpone the calculation and recording of bonus points until then.  

My students will complete their rough drafts to five paragraphs for homework, in order to participate in a peer response workshop scheduled for the next lesson.

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Bonus Points = Student Motivation?

In a word, YES!  This was probably the most productive writer's workshop of the year, which may have had something to do with it being the end of the year, and some of my students are desperate for points before their grades become final.

So what I have learned about bonus points is this:  when you are a teacher who remains rather miserly with doling them out, it becomes a real occasion when you do. Students tend to sit up and take notice.  Thus, my advice to any teacher considering how to work in incentives for your students is to save the bonus points for the times when you really need your students to focus on a task.