After I introduced the concept of human rights to my students, we explored the essential questions for the writing unit. Before writing their own arguments, students must be able to analyze other people’s arguments.
A writing class is more than just about reading a text and writing about it. Writing, if you really think about it, is “thinking on paper”. What this means is that in order for students to write something, they have to have something to think about. If we want our students to be writers who compose thoughtfully written and well supported compositions, then we must first let them learn/read about whatever it is we want them to think about and then think out loud. Moreover, studies have shown that many students have difficulty writing or reading because they have insufficient background knowledge. Although I do agree that the act of writing itself helps one to become a better writer, it also helps when students have been given opportunities to learn about something, connect it to what they already know, think about it from multiple perspectives, and then write about it in a focused, organized, and thoughtful manner. These traits of good writing also have to be directly taught through modeling and direct instruction.
As I noted in my previous post, my students will explore human rights issues through various readings, choose a topic, research it, develop a thesis and an outline, write an essay, revise, edit, rewrite and publish it. In addition to the formal paper, each student will present his claim through the medium of his choice.
Today my students were introduced to the concept of human rights. However, since we had been away on break, I reminded them that we are going to write an argument, which is a little different from the expository pieces we had been writing throughout the semester, and really, since the fourth grade.
I introduced the class to the following words: exposition and argumentation. Yes, they sound like big words, but I assured them that they have been exposed to both of these types of writing without even knowing it–through reading books and writing exercises assigned by teachers.
…Human rights make up the backdrop for this unit. Each student will eventually have to develop a thesis that falls under this category. Their thesis will be the basis for their argument. The hope is that as they read the various texts, they will discover the authors’ theses and identify how they support their claims. With exposure to different models of argument and some exploration of a topic that interests them the most, I want each student to develop her own claim. Hopefully the students will see the importance of reading as a way to prepare for writing–especially an argument. Another way to look at this is that writing an argument just means that we are joining a conversation that is already in progress.
…Students will read excerpts from thinkers such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Malala, Gandhi, Pope Francis, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; poets, such as Elma Stuckey, and other authors including W.E.B. Du Bois, George Orwell, Harper Lee, Anne Frank, Alex Haley, and Aldous Huxley will also be explored. The students will not only identify their claims, but they will look for the evidence that these influential people have used to support them. In addition, they will evaluate and assess the evidence. This is particularly important for 8th graders to begin doing before they start high school.
*Note: According to the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, this is the biggest difference between the 7th and 8th grade expectations for writing an argument. Seventh graders must use relevant evidence while 8th graders must use well-chosen, relevant evidence. Eighth graders will evaluate and assess the evidence of other writers and begin to strategically select evidence to include in their writing.