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?