Ever sit down to start a piece of writing, especially for a timed test, and get that “empty” feeling? The feeling like your brain is nothing more than a senseless piece of meat, purposelessly occupying a few precious square inches of your skull? The feeling that you never have had, nor ever will have a single, coherent thought? I know I feel that way pretty much every day when I sit down to write this blog. And I feel that way reading it later. I feel that way right now. What was I saying? Who am I? Words? Words words words? ??

Oh yeah… So I’m hoping that nobody felt that way today, when we did a practice run on a timed writing assignment. The reason most people hopefully didn’t have that blank feeling is that they were equipped with a concept map full of good ideas, and an outline.

Before we started the timed writing today we turned our concept maps from the past couple of days into very short little outlines. Here’s the basic format for an outline:

I. Introduction: Hook the reader, state your opinion, summarize your reasons

II. Reason #1: State your reason, describe an example to support it, mention a counter-argument and restate your reason.

III. Reason #2: State your reason, describe an example to support it, mention a counter-argument and restate your reason.

IV. Reason #3: State your reason, describe an example to support it, mention a counter-argument and restate your reason.

V. Conclusion: Summarize reasons, restate opinions, wrap it all up in a shiny bow and send it to grandma for Christmas, so to speak

Each roman numeral (I., II., etc.) represents a paragraph. An outline like this should just be a really rough sketch, a little roadmap to tell you which way your argument is supposed to go when you get lost in the middle of it. An actual outline for this specific assignment might look something like this:

I. Intro: Better to be a kid because more free time, healthier, more imagination

II. More free time; describe my schedule when I was a kid; some people say kids waste a lot of time; wasting time is fun

III. Kids are healthier; describe crazy nephew and how he never gets hurt; some say kids get sick a lot; but they always get better and are usually pretty energetic

IV. Kids have more imagination: how I would have fun imagining myself in roller derby when I was a kid; some say imagination is just escape, but people need escape

V. Conclusion

So using a little outline such as this, students embarked upon the writing of the essay. In class I gave the students 25 minutes to write.

I know it’s kind of weird to leap right into essay writing at this point in the class. We haven’t spent any time yet talking about what a paragraph should look like, or stuff you can do to make an introduction interesting. We’ll get to that stuff later in the semester. The reason we’re practicing this style of writing right now is that we have the UBSCT and the 9th grade direct writing assessments all coming up in the next couple of weeks. I think we’ll be able to push some people over the threshold for passing these tests (or just performing better on the DWA) with this little review. It’s also kind of like taking a pre-test. As students struggle with certain parts of the writing process, they can diagnose their own weaknesses and give me feedback about that in the weeks to come.

Anyway, if you didn’t make it to class today, make a little outline based on your concept map, and spend 20 minutes expanding the outline into a full-blown essay.

We also read in Catcher to page 116.



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