Shape this Writing into Clay: A Graphic Organizer for Writing Groups

A few weeks ago I posted a graphic organizer I created based upon Peter Elbow’s book Writing Without Teachers. While it wasn’t too bad, it still needed a lot of polishing. This is because helping students take part in writing groups is, in my limited experience at least, one of the most difficult tasks an English teacher can do. I also think it’s one of the most important. Composition truly comes alive when students are allowed to read, share, and respond to each other’s writing.

To that end I wanted to share the second version of my writing group graphic organizer.



Here’s a quick rundown of the changes to the second draft:
-streamlined the placement of visuals and text to maximize space on the page
-replaced the clothing analogy with a lump of clay analogy
-added textbox at the bottom of each section asking students to give their natural reader response to the text
-added a reflection component to the back
-sequenced order of response tasks from most concrete/”simple” to most abstract/”difficult”

The organizer asks students to respond to writing in four specific ways.

  1. Pointing: point to words/phrases that penetrated the skull
  2. Summarizing: write down a few key words, stream of consciousness it, then end with a single sentence explaining what you feel to be the piece’s center of gravity/main idea
  3. Showing: compare the writing to something non-linguistic, the more ‘out there’ the better. This type of metaphorical/analogous thinking is a wonderful way to help students think critically and outside the box.
  4. Telling: explain how the words affected you. What were you thinking and feeling during each part of it?

I recommend doing this as a whole class before having students go off on their own in writing groups. For instance, photocopy a student’s piece for everyone in the class. Then, after everyone reads it and hears it read to them, go around the room and hear everyone’s skull penetrations. Repeat the process with each of the four response types. Students need to hear each other’s thinking.

I love this method because it circumvents students’ tendency to rely on the “I didn’t like X so you should do Y” response patterns learned through schooling. Elbow’s method isn’t about enforcing someone’s vision on someone else. Instead, it helps students understand and articulate their own honest reactions to words. Writing is all about communicating, and this method lets students close the gap between intention and actuality. Link to the document below.

Writing Group Organizer

*Thanks to Jonathan Lovell for helping me think through revisions to this organizer!


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