*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

February 8, 2012

"Connect the dots"

8th graders are not particularly good at analysis. (Neither are the rest of us, for that matter, but more on that later.) The English classroom bears a lot of the burden for increasing reading and writing scores on standardized tests – regardless of the content of that reading or the purpose of that writing – and so we focus a lot on analytical writing, and how to improve the process of stating a claim and then proving it.

To help my students visualize this, I tell them they need to “connect the dots.” First, we make a main idea statement in the center of the page, then place brainstormed proof for this around it in a circle, each with its own dot. The analysis – the hardest part of writing – has to do the job of “connecting the dots” between the proof and the main idea. Don’t make the reader work for it, I tell them – make it obvious. Give the reader no choice but to agree with your point.

Here, then, are some of the brainstorms my students have handed in recently (retyped into a more linear format, for easier reading).

Finding Nemo is the best movie of all time.
1. Lots of action: the action where Merlin escapes the shark makes it great.
2. Talking fish: Not many movies have talking fish, which makes it a lot better.
3. And sharks: Having sharks makes it GREAT.

Jersey Shore is the best TV show of all time.
1. Fun: Partying in the show and its funny to watch with friends.
2. Violence: People are constantly getting in fights.
3. Good life lessons: What not to do when you're in public!

The Goonies is the best movie of all time.
1: The Truffle Shuffle – the truffle shuffle is a weird and funny move, which makes it good.
2: The Ship – I like the big ship with all the gold and stuff.
3: Booby Traps – The little asian boy [sic] uses dynamite to stop the villains. And it's funny when he says “booby.”

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