They stare at the blank paper, for the entire hour, as if somehow by staring they could force whatever vague ideas are floating around in their gray matter on to the paper. I walk by and ask “What is the matter?” The typical response, “I don’t know where to start.” I usually start by tossing out the graphic organizer.
Writing is a form of communicating, just like talking. Most of us manage to get ideas across clearly by conversation by the time we are ten. The breakdown occurs when the student must switch from verbal to more complex written form. Those that can let their ideas flow on paper, typically think in a more visual manner. Graphic organizers work for those students that have already mastered the skill of expanding one or two words into a sentence and connecting it with the next one. They are another unproductive procedure for those who still struggle with this. To move from talking to writing, students must start with a conversation.
Start with something simple, for example a personal interview.
1) Write down 5 interview questions, leaving 5 spaces after each one. Students think of five questions that they might ask of other people in order to get to know them better. Then they write five questions as complete sentences on one paper, leaving spaces for five spaces in between each one (This will not be necessary if they have option to insert text using word processor or note taking software. ) Often the first question will not give them adequate detail, they will need to create additional questions after the first interview.
2) Interview another person using these 5 questions and record answers on a separate paper. Pair students that struggle with those that are more proficient writers. Also because the point of the exercise is to learn about another person, do not let them interview their friends. They also need leave at least 5 spaces after each answer – just like on the question sheet. (Again not necessary with use of a computer or mobile devise.) If they ask about the need for the new paper and spaces tell them:
They should write down answers so that they stand alone without the questions.
They will need to create more questions and write down more information from a second interview.
3) Person being interviewed checks to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the answers as they are written. If the student recording the interview misquoted the person, the student must correct the answer.
4) Create at least three more questions that elaborate on each initial question. Students often have a hard time adding extra details, because they do not know how to elaborate before they have basic information. If they are not forced to elaborate, many will stick with the basic information. For example, if a student asked “What is your favorite food?” the answer would be one word “Pizza.” Additional questions might be:
What is your favorite kind of ___?
Where is the best place to buy ____?
Why do you like their ____?
If you make ___ yourself, how do you do make it?
When did you first realized that you liked _____?
New questions can be developed using the “who, what, where, when, how and why” variations.
5) Repeat the interview process using these new questions. Each student asks second set of questions , writing down everything said under the appropriate answer. Then, the other student checks for accuracy and completeness.
6) Sit down and talk with the students. Have them read the answers without the questions. Ask if they make sense, and how they would change the answer to make sense. Then, students write edits on their interview notes in order to make the answers into sentences.
7) Creating a paper organized according to paragraphs. The student leaves the first four to five lines blank (depending on the size of their handwriting) for the introduction. They include the information from all answers on that topic in sentence form. Then they choose the sentence that most clearly summarizes the topic and underline it. If there is not a sentence that works for a topic sentence, they must create one. This is repeated for each paragraph.
8) Students review each others’ rough drafts to and create introduction and conclusion. They need to discuss parts that are not clear and what grabs their attention. This helps each student find the most interesting or important bit of information about the student that they interviewed to use for an two or three sentence introduction. They also discuss what they learned overall and use this to write a similar length conclusion to summarize the interview.
9) Review the paper for writing fluency and word choice. Students should read their papers aloud to another partner – not the one that they interviewed. Then, the other student tells them which parts are confusing, out of order or repetitive.
10) Edit for spelling and usage errors. If students struggle with this I will underline spelling errors in red, usage errors or awkward language in green, and wrong words in blue. Then they must figure out how to correct the errors before correcting and copying their paper one final time.
Creating content is not always simple for students. They need distinct steps for writing: Determining sub-topics in a topic, finding out basic information on these sub-topics, researching supporting details, adding the details, organizing the information by paragraphs, and putting the entire paper into an organized. There are far more steps spent on the rough draft than the rest of the paper because this method focuses on the content that goes into it.
Resist the temptation to rush the process. So often we expect students to move directly from twenty or so words on a graphic organizer into a 200 word rough draft that only needs a little polishing. Students will have to repeat this procedure more than once using a variation of topics to master the process. This procedure can be used with almost any type of documentary, informational or persuasive paper.
With the increase in texting and chatting, the people tend to write in the same haphazard manner as they talk. Students that can take what is said and put it into clear, descriptive and organized writing will have a definite advantage.