How to Survive the Paragraph AND the Essay (aka the two for one special)

First off, wow… Week 5. I’m still on week 4, lesson plan-wise. But wow. Week 5. Almost over, too! In my block classes, we are beginning our first essay. This will be year four of teaching a character analysis, and I would like to think that I have SOME of it right this time. Some of it.

We begin the entire first semester by learning the PEELS acronym for paragraph structure. I drill that in to their brains for two weeks as we analyze, cite, and summarize other texts and then write about them. For anyone who doesn’t do PEELS: I AM A SUCCESS STORY. I feel as though this explanation, along with an explanation about sufficient evidence, is absolutely brilliant. You can find more on PEELS here.

After studying Plot, Character, and Conflict (Thanks, Houghton McDougal and Pixar!), we begin reading Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” I love this short story. In the vein of a true short story, there is intensity of climax, character, and symbolism that is hard to not be impressed with. Even the kids seethe with loathing when we talk about how nasty Dee is. We get to have important conversations about heritage, responsibility, and character that I love to have (as you all know, I strive to foster ethical and moral human beings so…). And when we’re done, we make a plot diagram and come up with a statement of motivation for our main character (Dee or Mama). I made a super cool worksheet that can absolutely be used for a different story. And for your teaching pleasure: Character Traits EU. They do that in pairs and afterwards, we analyze the rubric (Again, thanks Houghton McDougal!) and prompt.

The only thing I left out when we reviewed the prompt was what TYPE of essay it was (one of those five pesky ones that even I can’t always remember…). We analyze the prompt and figured out that it would be easier to write 4 paragraphs instead of 5 and that one of the paragraphs wouldn’t even need the “standard” 8 sentences but one of them would need 10-12… Minds. Blown. I’m not saying they enjoyed it, but they got it. We wrote the intro together and then I helped them start their first paragraph on the character’s motivation. They discovered that they’d need to mention the specific actions a character made to explain the motivation so that’s how they organized that paragraph.

I am not pumped about grading 60 individual introduction paragraphs and another 60 motivation paragraphs followed by another 60 change-in-character paragraphs… but I am so proud of my kids, and I can’t wait to see them be truly successful after an edit of each paragraph and then a big, beautiful essay.

In summation (gosh, I hate that…), the way to survive the paragraph and the essay: chunks, chunks, chunks! The kids will be less overwhelmed and they’ll truly be more successful. There’s nothing wrong with writing in chunks. It teaches them order and pattern in writing, and that’s just a-okay with me!

How do you teach writing in your classroom?

MM

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