Last week I wrote about the process my grade ten class was following to "grow' an essay. I found that, while they had a good understanding of the novel and knew what points they needed to make, they were struggling with putting it all together into a strong, cohesive essay.
We started with Caitlin Tucker's thesis throwdown excercise and then moved to them working together to do the pre-writing and planning for separate paragraphs. Each individual had to write a paragraph that would develop the thesis.
The "meat" of the assignment was in the discussions they had about how to arrange and connect the paragraphs. I gave them markers and highlighters and told them to find areas in the paragraphs that were repetitious. They could cross these sentences out and/or add in ideas to make the argument more focused. Another important task was to write in transitions, so that the paragraphs connected to each other.
The students found the process difficult, but very helpful. I knew it would not be easy to take five separate paragraphs written by five different writers and make them work together. However, the conversations that the kids had to make their choices were amazing. It made me proud to hear the questions they asked each other and the comments they made. They were talking about writing like writers. It was a wonderful thing.
The "essays" that they constructed on their chart paper were by no means amazing. It is hard to write a group intro and conclusion. It is hard to combine the ideas of many. But, in the end, they came away with a much better understanding of the writing process.