Blending Creative Introductions with Research Writing – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 8 pt. 1

Today’s first demo lesson is from the excellent Amy Wathan.

How to Start & Finish
How to get 112 fifteen year-olds to START and REREAD their 3-5 page research paper.


Amy begins by talking about the formulaic method we typically use to teach writing. She speaks from her experience as the head of her school’s newspaper ( Flip the topic, give the evidence, then restate the prompt for the conclusion. Research paper as static structure simply to be filled in by anyone with a pencil.

Amy tells us that students who are willing to fail are willing to succeed.

One way to get students to write creative introductions.

List Lead: Provocative facts that you found in your research

Anecdotal Lead: Tell a memorable story from one of the articles you read.

Provocative Lead: Start off with a shocking statement that shows your opinion.

Question Lead: Ask a rhetorical question, one that can’t have a simple answer.

After running us through the leads, we find out our demo lesson question: Does social media build or destroy society? The state of social media is a massive topic for anyone working with children. I’m reminded of Foucault’s oft-quoted expression, “I’m not saying everything is bad or good. I’m saying everything is dangerous.” But this isn’t a place for my own thoughts on social media. Back to the lesson!

Those of us who agree have to stand up and go to the window. Those who disagree stand up on the other side of the room.

Social media bad!

Social media bad!

Social media good!

Social media good!

This technique (which goes by many names, issue line, for instance) gets us talking about our opinions. We then decide on our best arguments and discuss them as a group. So Amy has students make point and counterpoint. She partners up students from opposite sides to have them share their opinions with one another. This is an effective way to put a personal face behind the structure of argument/counterargument.

Then she takes it to our first quickwrite: How does social media build or destroy society?

Social media, a general term referring to the proliferation of websites and software programs allowing individuals to communicate online. We just got the one minute warning; man, I am a slow writer! Social media amplifies the voices of those who use it. In that sense it’s neither inherently positive nor negative. There are many issues here about access to technology, who occupies online spaces, and how power functions in cyberspace. Social media has plenty of positive applications. Protests like the Arab Springs and Occupy Wall Street are two examples of contemporary political movements that have been able to harness the human capital of social media. CRUD we have to stop! 

1. Lede (who know that’s how journalists spell it?)

2. Transition from lede to thesis with one or two opinion sentences

3. Thesis – topic + opinion

Quickwrite2: Draft your introductory paragraph:

French philosopher Michael Foucault once famously quipped that everything was neither good nor bad, only dangerous. Technologies such as social media are, for the most part, inherently neutral. I say for the most part because access to and familiarity with social media technology requires both access to technology and the facility to use it effectively. These entrance requirements limit the ability of large portions of the global population to access the internet effectively. Social media is an amplification of those who use it. Just like any technology, social media is subjected to the same desires and proclivities and prejudices of those wielding it. Social media cannot be conceived of as a simply positive or negative object.

So, we’ve written our introductions. Now Amy wants to talk to us about getting fifteen year-olds to revise. And actually like it. Most students (and adults!) have the ‘one and done’ syndrome.

Apparently teachers at her school must use the Jane Schaffer method of paragraph construction. There’s nothing particularly new to the Schaffer method. Many schools use different types of paragraph structures (TEEC/TEAEAEACs, Hambuger). She shows us the rubric she would use at her school. She talks about how she uses a gallery walk/walk about with student papers. Like a science fair with papers. Students would walk around and answer guided questions on note-cards.

S=sense (does the essay make sense?)
P=proof (Does the writer prove their point?)
P=punctuation (Does the punctuation look right?)

Here is Amy’s self-editing sheet for her students.


She walks us through the genesis of the paper

P.S. Visit her webpage! It has a great menu of word options to help students get away from the polarizing language so endemic in the way Americans discuss issues (Best! Worst! Kill! Revive! Always! Never!)

Amy’s last words to us are, “Writing is never done; it’s only due.” Fantastic! Love it.

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