Monday, January 27, 2014

January - Beginning Work on Essays

     This time of year always brings about our Essay Unit in 4th grade. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this unit because it challenges my writers in so many ways. They have never been asked to write “this much” before and the structure of it can be a lot to take in. I love the challenge that is poses for them, but can also struggle with that as well. This year my goal for them and myself was structure, structure, structure. Lucy Caulkins starts her essay unit with a lesson called “Essay Bootcamp” and I think this is the perfect way to look at it. Each “exercise” is asking my students to tackle new material, while strengthening their skills at the same time.

     We started brainstorming again using their personal Padlet walls. Because they already had ideas stored here from other points in the year, I figured it could give them some ideas to start with if they needed. Many created new ones, but I like that it is a collection of ideas to always refer back to for inspiration. Padlet is not hugely structured though, and after getting on Twitter a few weeks ago I discovered a new tool that they could have used instead that was more structured for expanding their ideas (oh well there is always next year, or later on this year). The tool is called Popplet and it is a web creation tool that they could use to type more specific information for their plan. Really I could use Padlet for their brainstorm and then Popplet for their actual plan - two great tools to get them started!
    Today we actually started writing. They have been researching information on their chosen topics and now we need to put it all together. One element I have added to help with structure is color-coding (highlighting) on Google Docs. This way students can visually see if they are missing any pieces. For example, their introductory paragraph needs a hook, a thesis/topic sentence, and a list of their body paragraph topics. I assigned each of these a color: hook = blue, thesis = red, and topics = green. Once they typed their introduction paragraph they had to color-code each sentence. If they were missing a color they had to go back and add something they forgot. I want to carry this through the whole essay process using different colors along the way. Once they know they have every piece, they can remove the highlight from their writing. There is a lot of potential here for peer editing as well. Their peer might need to color code a paragraph and see if they got all the pieces they needed. It is amazing how something so simple can have such a great impact on how they view their writing.
    If there are any other helpful structure tools out there to help my students with essays PLEASE pass them along, I am always looking for new things to try! I do feel more on top of the unit this time and that has helped me to better guide my students!