One of the biggest issues we have in getting prepared for the STAAR is the writing portion of the test. Lucky for us (or unlucky; the tides have yet to determine) they took the analysis paragraph away, so when it comes to writing, I can put all my energy into the persuasive essay.
Before ABYDOS, my students had written an essay for timed writing. We had done a two week unit on over overcoming adversity and the essay was the conclusion. I was worried about feedback, convinced I don’t dedicate nearly enough time on the idea, convinced that it’s probably the most important element in getting them to where I need them to be, convinced that maybe, just maybe, that was the reason they’re all horrible at writing.
However, during ABYDOS, I went to a session where she explained that her Pre-AP students were having some of the same problems mine were. She also expressed the power of visual learning and color.
She has the students self evaluate using highlighters. Yellow= transitions. Green = thesis. Blue = topic sentences, and pink = evidence. The students reread their essays and highlight the sentences or phrases that meet the requirements.
Here is the Lesson:
I begin by handing out their completed and graded essays and by explaining that STAAR is only five weeks away. I also tell them about the new requirements for the test. I then elaborate that, since the essay is weighted more heavily this year, we are going to be focusing on it. <insert mild cheering, followed by groans>
I then move to the PowerPoint.
I gave the students yellow highlighters and a sheet of transition words. They then had to use the highlighters to find all the transition words in their essay. Once they were finished, we talked about why transitions are important and I had them take notes on their essay about where missing transitions needed to be placed.
The students then took out their green highlighters. We had a discussion about what their thesis should look like based on the prompt. If their thesis resembled the one we came up with then they could highlight it green. They were then instructed to look in their conclusion and body paragraphs. If they saw their thesis in them, they could highlight green. After all was said and done, they took notes based on the feedback they just received.
Blue: Topic Sentences
This one was hard for the kids to understand. Which… why? They have known and worked on topic sentences for most of their school career but when phrased that way, it became like pulling teeth. When I then backed up and said, “Find your reasons,” a light bulb clicked. I reiterated that if their topic sentences in their topic sentences in their body paragraphs have nothing to do with their thesis, do not highlight them.
This the stickiest part of the essay. It’s the most important part and it determines whether or not a student passes or fails. It is also the part of the essay that students get wrong most of the time. Enter: the pink highlighter. Students were not allowed to highlight their essay pink if their example wasn’t concrete and based on a specific person, place, or thing. There was a lot of missing pink.
To be honest, I was afraid that it wasn’t going to work, however after completing the assignment, and after polling the kids, the added visual they get really helped some things click for them. I got a lot of “ohs!” and “so that’s why I always get a 1.” So… total success. I will be using this all year from now on.