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Unlike the mentor texts we read on day 1, this sample would be something teacher-created (or an excellent student model from a previous year) to fit the parameters of the assignment.Before letting students loose to start working on their essays, I make sure they have a solid plan for writing.
It’s not exactly the 5-paragraph essay, but it definitely builds on that model.
I strongly believe students should be shown how to move past those kinds of structures into a style of writing that’s more natural and fitting to the task and audience, but I also think they should start with something that’s pretty clearly organized. One of the most effective ways to improve student writing is to show them mentor texts, examples of excellent writing within the genre students are about to attempt themselves.
I don’t claim to have the definitive answer on how to do this, but the method I share here worked pretty well for me, and it might do the same for you.
If you are an experienced English language arts teacher, you probably already have a system for teaching this skill that you like.
Before leaving this step, I would have students transfer their thoughts from the discussion they just had into something that looks like the opening paragraph of a written argument: A statement of their point of view, plus three reasons to support that point of view. Next I would show students their major assignment, the performance assessment that they will work on for the next few weeks. It’s generally a written prompt that describes the task, plus the rubric I will use to score their final product.
Anytime I give students a major writing assignment, I let them see these documents very early on.
Ideally, this writing would come from real publications and not be fabricated by me in order to embody the form I’m looking for.
(Although most experts on writing instruction employ some kind of mentor text study, the person I learned it from best was Katie Wood Ray in her book Study Driven).
Yes, I was certified to teach the full spectrum of English language arts—literature, grammar and usage, speech, drama, and so on—but my absolute favorite, the thing I loved doing the most, was teaching students how to write.
Most of the material on this site is directed at all teachers.