This summer I read Why They Can’t Write by John Warner and attended a Hugo House event called Write-O-Rama. Often the most valuable professional development include those we do for ourselves, not necessarily as teachers but for our identities and passions that sustain us outside of the classroom, too.
I have been wanted to dismantle/disrupt the five-paragraph essay for some time now--look for other formats/mediums for students to consider instead of the strict, unresponsive format of the five paragraph essay. As Warner states:
The worst of those training wheels is the five-paragraph essay. If you do not know the form, ask the closest school-aged child or, indeed, anyone who has been through school in the past twenty or so years:
- Paragraph of introduction ending in a thesis statement that previews the body paragraphs.
- 2–4. Body paragraphs of evidence supporting the thesis.
- Conclusion that restates the thesis, almost always starting with, “In conclusion.”
Warner, John. Why They Can’t Write (Kindle Locations 121-127). Johns Hopkins University Press. Kindle Edition.
I’ll share what others offered during the Write-O-Rama. There are so many great ideas provided by Hugo House: if you have a resource like this in your area, I strongly recommend attending some sessions. We all want to be better teachers of writing, and oftentimes we’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. We feel inadequate about our own writing, and writing is, a lot. A lot a lot.
I attended these five:
- Character Development
- Dialogue Tricks
- Plotting with Index Cards
- Better Sentences
- Write Your Novel Now
I took notes on each class using Evernote. Just re-reading them, in this moment, my note-taking skills need to improve. But I’ll attempt to give the gist of each session:
- Character Development: study characters in mentor texts and describe what makes them memorable, and keep them centered in the plot.
- Dialogue Tricks: no exposition in dialogue: “when writing dialogue keep in mind to have the the conflict sustained quickly” – in other words, no adverbs in dialogue
- Plotting with Index Cards: use index cards to storyboard a piece of writing. Each card is an atom.
- Better sentences: challenge students to craft sentences and share on a large space. This session was magical and highly engaging.
- Write Your Novel Now: think of great novels, and basically — write. This session reminded me a lot of writing territories work and delving in deeper with those territories.
Here are a few more images from the session:
If you want to brainstorm or think of applications of these ideas in your classroom please do not hesitate to contact me. These have direct writing instruction for ourselves and our students of writing. We can go far beyond the five-paragraph essay.