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Supporting Organization in Persuasive Writing

I am an organization nut. To be fair, that isn’t to say I am organized. I just love the tools of organization – binders, folders, cute little boxes. I recently purchased a huge pack of sharpies to color-code the storage boxes in my basement. What bliss!

So when I came across the color-coded persuasive writing organizational system my colleague Jessica Fogel has developed with her fourth-grade class, I swooned a little. Jessica is an organizer who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. Her classroom and her house are organized with a level of detail and good sense to which I can only aspire. She channels this trait into her teaching of writing, helping her students to develop the kind of felt sense of organization in persuasive writing that they will carry with them always. An internalized sense of organization will be particularly important as the persuasive writing they do ramps up in difficulty, which it will do, very soon.

Jessica started by channeling her students to write long to explore possible topics, a suggestion from Boxes and Bullets by Lucy Calkins, Kelly Boland Honhe and Cory Gillette. Then, the students used the writing they did to brainstorm categories.

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Then, they color-coded each category.

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Then, the students returned to their writing, marking up parts in the writing they had done that would serve as evidence for each category.

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Color-coding is a great way to help students to see right away which categories have plenty of evidence, and which categories need more. Some students might tweak their original plans because they realize one category or another has too much or too little evidence. Others may tweak their original plans because they realize some categories are overlapping – that is, a piece of evidence can fit into more than one category.

In the Units of Study essay work, students often create physical folders in which to store the evidence they are gathering for each part of their essay. Color-coding is a nice next step. Simple, but effective.

A Note on Self-Assessment

Jessica is also wonderful at guiding her students to do frequent, informal, quick self-assessment. Self-assessment need not be a long, laborious process, and it need not only happen at designated points in a writing unit. In fact, it should be ongoing and, to be most effective, it should be student-led. Jessica’s students use the checklists in the Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. They not only place checks in appropriate columns, they follow the suggestion in the Units of Study books to set goals for themselves based on the checklists. Setting goals only takes a few moments, but because the students have to study the checklists come up with ideas, and then put these ideas in writing, they not only have to develop a better understanding of what the checklists really require, they also have to really study their own writing.
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Please comment – what other tools do you use to support students with organization in persuasive writing?

Anna Gratz Cockerille View All

Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).

5 thoughts on “Supporting Organization in Persuasive Writing Leave a comment

  1. Anna, I just love the self-assessment piece. So smart to set goals off the rubric! Love that.

    Also, we fearlessly had first graders try this color coding system last week! Not all of them were able to do it, but I’d say about 1/3 of the class did! They took their little list of facts and grouped them by categories using colors! It was a stretch for them, which we knew it would be, but we wanted to try it. Definitely more age appropriate for older kids, but it was fun to watch some of them be successful at this!

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  2. I love how the color coding helps the students visibly see where the emphasis is and then make the decision about where to add more information, examples, or even micro stories. The students will always remember this and it is something they can continue to do independently!

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  3. Very interesting approach, I love the color-coding concept! It can be very difficult to teach structure without confining students to generic molds, but this is a great way to engage the students with higher-order thinking skills that will definitely take their writing to the next level.

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