Writing: A Tiered Approach

hulk-letterThe main purpose of the writing instruction in our junior curriculum is to prepare students to write an argumentative essay. We often jump right in, trying to train our students to plug their ideas into a pre-made template or formula. For example: Attention getter + Attention Holder + Thesis + Preview statement = Introductory paragraph. This type of instruction often leads to formulaic writing that often doesn’t make sense as a whole. By beginning with a simpler form of writing, such as the narrative, and progressing to more complex forms before the argumentative, we can develop our students into stronger writers who are prepared to write for any situation.

To begin we introduce the levels of writing by having the students apply a single subject to the six tiers of writing. I have chosen to create these tiers based on the six purposes of writing Kelly Gallagher identifies in his book, Write Like This.

Express and Reflect – narrative writing based on personal experiences

Inform and Explain – expository writing that states a main idea and purpose

Evaluate and Judge – focuses on the “worth” of something, a review

Inquire and Explore – uses research to wrestle with a question or problem

Analyze and Interpret – uses research to analyze subjects that are difficult to understand

Take a Stand / Propose a Solution – argumentative essay of persuasion

Using the chart from Gallagher’s Book as inspiration, I have modified a top-down example with the Chicago Blackhawks as my writing topic. Carol Ann Tomlinson uses the ladder approach in order to get students to climb to the higher levels of learning. But for upper-classmen, I feel starting with the easiest on top and moving to more difficult levels below just works better.

The idea is that once students have applied the topic of their choosing to the chart, they can start at the writing level they feel comfortable. Once they successfully complete the assignment, their next writing assignment will be required to be completed on the next higher tier. Students who have already mastered narrative and expository writing can explore more creative options once they reach the highest tier of argumentative writing.

I’ve attached a graphic organizer found in Gallagher’s book: 1 topic = 18 possible papers
Here is a key to help the students complete the chart: 1Topic=18key

Below is an example of how to complete the template:

Topic of choice: Chicago Blackhawks

Express and Reflect
How I became a hockey fan
Game 5 vs Nashville
Watching them win the Stanley Cup

Inform and Explain
Who are the Original Six?
History of the Blackhawks
Penalties of Hockey

Evaluate and Judge
Best offensive player on the team
Best defensive player on the team
Blackhawks vs the rest of the league

Inquire and Explore
How was the game invented?
How did it become a professional sport?
How did they lose an entire season to a strike?

Analyze and Interpret
Why did the Blackhawks finally win a Stanley Cup?
Why did the city ignore the team during the 90’s?
Why did the team fall short last season?

Take a Stand / Propose Solution
More high schools should sponsor Hockey teams
Games should not end in shootouts
Parks should create rinks in the winter

Ready Player One

Meeting Ernest Cline at an Armada book signing.
Meeting Ernest Cline at an Armada book signing.
Great on so many levels!

Update 9/24/15 Meeting Ernest Cline during his Armada book tour was one of the cool highlights of my summer. He spoke to the audience for over an hour recalling the inspirations of his youth growing up in Ohio. It was inspiring to hear him explain how he got to where he is now. I have filled in a few missing chapters below, so take a look and see if any of these additions can help you!
Last year as we were updating our Senior Studies in Contemporary Literature course one of my colleagues suggested Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Being a child of the 80’s, I read it and LOVED it, but I still wasn’t convinced my students would feel the same way. All the 80’s references were great, but I wasn’t sure my students would enjoy the book as much as I did without the same sense of nostalgia. So I sought a second opinion. I asked a female colleague, who wasn’t a gamer to give the book a chance. She loved it. Then I asked the school librarian (not a child of the 80’s, (she was younger) and not a gamer.) She also loved the book. That was enough for me, I was able to purchase enough books for two classes.

This novel has been the most rewarding novel I have been able to teach since Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Actually it has been the most rewarding novel to teach for many reasons.
1. Love – My students love this book. Granted not all of them do, but I have had more students tell me that this is the best book they have ever had to read for school than ever before.
2. Research – This book has excited my students to the point of independent research. We have created a community on google+ to share information on the many 80’s references. Many pdf’s, youtube videos, and postings have helped bring my students back to the 80’s.
3. Fun – On Fridays, we play Atari. I have hooked up my old Atari 2600 to a projector and the class tries to replicate some of the challenges listed in the book. Adventure, 30,000 pts on Joust, Swordquest, etc. If they succeed they are given a free homework coupon.
4. Projects – The book provides unlimited possibilities for projects. Some of the themes deal with the future of education, the future of our planet, and even the future of gaming and social media. I even have students who are creating their own flash based video game based on the novel.
5. Imagination – Maybe the best thing about teaching this novel is that there is no movie yet. I know they have plans for one, but right now there is no movie for my class to turn to. (Although I have found that showing the movie Wargames makes for a good introduction.) Because of this, more students have been hooked on the book and they are using their imagination to interpret what they are reading. Sadly, imagination has become an endangered species in the classroom today, but this novel inspires imagination and conquers reading apathy like no other book I’ve taught.

So as you can tell, I highly recommend this book. Much like my I Am Legend lesson plans (which have become very popular) I have attached a few reading/discussion guides. Too many of these can take away the enjoyment of the novel.

Ready Player One Chapters 2-3
Ready Player One Chapters 4-6
RPO Chapters 7-9
RPO Chapter 12
RPO Chapters 13-15
RPO Chapters 16-19
RPO Chapters 20-22
RPO Chapters 25-27
RPO Chapters 28-30
RPO Chapters 32-34
RPO Chapters 36-39
Please comment below if you are interested in more.
For another good source I suggest you visit this site created by students at Western Illinois University.

Update! Here is a list of projects.
RP1 Projects
And here is a picture of some of the projects completed. These include Anorak’s Alamanc, Contact Cards, A final battle diorama, and this Atari is constructed from cardboard!
rp1caseThe Shogun Warrior is mine… a treasured birthday gift from my childhood.