Three Things I'm Doing This Year to Help With my Students' Writing

As much as I complain about getting up early, mountains of essays to grades, and meetings, I actually really love the fact that I get to hang out with (mostly) cool kids and talk about books and writing all day. And because of that, and my steady, life-long consumption of the IB Kool-Aid, I really want to do a good job at it. One area that my kids really struggle with, year after year, is writing. I know this is not a unique problem- this is something college professors complain about too. I'm in a unique position in that I have my students for two years, so I'm really able to target particular areas of need and work hard on them. Right now I'm focusing on three main area: more sophisticated theses, analyzing the author's style, and making sure everyone turns in their large take-home process piece essays on time. I know I have some teacher readers (and no, not my friends from work), so here are a few ideas if you find yourself in a rut:

Monthly Thesis Workshops
High school English students have a really tough time with creating sophisticated thesis statements (as opposed to “Janie was influenced by many factors, including her marriages, race, and search for identity”). Because of this, once a month or so I am holding a mini-thesis workshop where students come with a thesis for whatever essay we are writing in class written on an index card. The students in their groups score them according to a four-point system, where points are taken away when they don’t meet the requirements of avoiding lists, having an argument, not being too vague or specific, and being free from grammatical errors. Students then rewrite their thesis statements on a new index card, which they then submit to me. I score the cards in the same way as their peers did and have it back to them at the end of the period of the follow day for super quick feedback. They are then welcome to come to me after school for additional guidance. 

Essay Planning/Rubric Deconstruction Posters
The IB rubric we use for scoring essays has five components, one of which is our dreaded “category C,” which calls for the students to analyze components of the writer’s style (diction, syntax, imagery, etc…). The kids do a decent job of integrating this into their essays when they’re given a passage to write on, but really struggle when it’s a more traditional question-based prompt. For the last two books I have given each group of students a different prompt each and they have to create a plan for the essay on a poster, which they then present. Each poster has to include the prompt, a thesis, and what they’d write in three body paragraphs, including their “category c” material, textual support, and additional analysis. They present the information to the class and then actually write the essay as a timed write in class. This occurs towards the end of the book we’re studying, but I’ve seen the students’ efforts to produce more well-rounded essays that comment on both the novel’s content and the author’s style improve.

Class Rivalry for Extra Credit

This a little more on the trivial side of thing, but I have been fostering some friendly competition between the four sections of IB English I have in order to get kids to turn their essays in on time. It’s simple: whatever class has the highest percentage of the assignment turned in on times gets 5 points extra credit. IB kids L O V E extra credit, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if some would, like, walk on fire for it  (not that I would ask them to). A little peer pressure and the enticement of a few extra credit points (even if really a tiny amount by the end of the semester). 

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