Four years ago in mid-February, I was pulled into a meeting with another teacher and a plan was laid out for all of us to switch grade levels. One teacher in 7th grade was no longer available in the classroom, it was now our job to fill in the gaps, and I was going to a 7th-grade classroom. In a weekend, I needed to move my classroom furniture, I was to become familiar with six new rosters, AND most importantly, I needed to teach both reading and writing heavily since they are both tested in 7th grade.
These students were already behind due to the absent teacher. They already were in a rhythm of coming into their English class and being on their phone for forty minutes. The worst part was that this teacher built very deep relationships with these students when she actually was present. A teacher that was available emotionally and let students do whatever they wanted? I was the LAST person they wanted to learn from.
And boy, was I right. I was in survival mode for the rest of the year, and these students were not willing to learn from me. I am a huge advocate for building relationships with students, and I was killing myself trying to get to know these new (strong) 120 personalities. Some were receptive (usually the ones that were not loyal to their original teacher), but others were relentless. I was told on a daily basis how they missed their old teacher, and how they wanted her back. I knew this was because of the previous structure of the classroom, but it was hard not to take it personally after hearing it so often. Their Unit Assessment data was ridiculously low, they were so behind in content, and they had no clue how to write an essay.
I was desperate to make something easy for these students to grasp for essay writing, which led to the six-box graphic organizer I still use to this day and teach to other teachers.
These six boxes transformed essay writing in my classroom. It turned essays from this big, scary thing to a reachable goal for my students.
When I first introduce it in my classroom, I take about a week and break it down by each element. It looks like the schedule below-
|Monday→ Break down the score!||
I will give each table an essay score and an essay that was scored as such. The group has to write down as much about that score as possible in their three-part chart.
Students will then Jigsaw the scores and fill the rest of the class in while taking notes for their “expert” that are rotating around the room.
|Tuesday→ Brainstorming||After modeling with an anchor prompt, students will be given five prompts and will practice brainstorming for each one in a group.
|Wednesday–>Thesis||Picking two reasons they thought of while brainstorming and making it a sentence.
After modeling, students will be given the same five prompts and practice writing the thesis statement
|Thursday→ Examples and example bank||After modeling, students will practice examples with each prompt. They also will be given an example bank that I share with them on Google Classroom. They come up with personal examples they can always pull from. They have eight different categories that they brainstorm about.|
|Friday– Hook/Conclusion||We will create a hook for the model prompt in seven types of way. We also practice rewording the thesis for the conclusion.|
The purpose of this is for students to know the high expectation set for them by the STAAR raters. It also allows them to self assess how they feel about their personal writing. Jigsaw is a super fun way to get all students engaged and really holds them accountable, and having them pre-read what they are scored on helps them anticipate what they are going to do the rest of the week.
I get the essays from any released STAAR test, and I use a student-friendly rubric that I cut up by score and laminated.
The whole week, we will have a “model” essay plan that we do as a class. We stick to that prompt as a class, and they will practice with other prompts in stations the rest of the class.
Brainstorming for us looks like a doughnut. We put the question in the center, and then come up with as many reasons as possible answering the question.
Students then pick two reasons they feel like they can write about the most, and that is what ends up being the student’s eventual thesis statement.
Students will be given five prompts and will brainstorm at each one to practice. (This is a Google Classroom assignment for me!)
Since the thesis is the most important part of the essay, I put a lot of emphasis on writing it. We take the two reasons that we liked the most in the brainstorming and practice making it a compound sentence. The students again practice with the same prompts as the day before.
We then venture to make the next four boxes which are again, two reasons and then we include an example. This is one of the hardest parts for my middle schoolers. Not only have they not experienced a lot of life, but thinking abstractly is incredibly hard for them.
To help them think of examples, we make a foldable (I have switched to a google slides assignment) with the following categories-
- Books or Movies
- Current Events
- Real People (Celebrities, athletes, historical figures)
- My Go-To Examples (family, teachers, coaches)
- Common Prompts
I give them about fifteen minutes to give me two of each, and we add to it throughout the year. My students pull from it and prove their point while they are convincing the reader of their reason.
Friday- Hook/ Conclusion- Writing the Essay!
The cherry on top, we write the hook and the conclusion. I give my students a half sheet that gives them plenty of options that they can use, and we come up with one of each together. We then pick our favorite and add it to the model graphic organizer we have been doing throughout the week. I also explain the conclusion is restating the thesis in other words.
After this, I explain the format of the essay and what indentions look like. I tell them we need four paragraphs and then we write our essay together.
Since we have already front-loaded all of the work, the essay should really take less than ten minutes. Students then pick ONE prompt they have been working on the whole week. They write a hook and conclusion for that specific prompt and have the rest of the class to complete the essay in their journal.
I really like this graphic organizer because you can make it as difficult or as simple as you want. This is also the basic format of how I use to write essays in college, and so our students can build on the simple foundation to become life-long writers!
Below are student examples after the first test- we have some work to do, but overall I was super impressed with how much they have learned in such a short amount of time! Let me know if you try it out!