A Graphic Ending

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Nov
  • 07
  • 2006

I’m off to New York City this weekend to visit a very good friend. I’m travelling with a very good friend, too, so I’ll be quite happy even though I’ll miss my girlfriend and my cat at home. Keep good care of my blog for me while I’m away, would you? See you Monday. Here’s something to hopefully get you thinking. Maybe you can give me some ideas of how to better handle this.

We’re slowly fading The Scarlet Letter into the background and this week will conclude our focus on that novel (finally). But I’m in the midst of working with graphic organizers to give my students some ideas for the topic of their final essay for this unit. We haven’t worked on a particular writing style, so I’m leaving this one wide open for interpretation. In order to steer folks in the right direction, though, I put together the organizers we are using this week.

Pyramid Thinking

On Monday, we worked with what I’m calling Pyramid Thinking (I’m literally just now calling it that; I’d been calling it a pyramid timeline before this paragraph). This organizer has 8 boxes at the top, 4 on the next level down, 2 on the next, and 1 on the very bottom; think of an inverted pyramid. I introduced it to my students by showing them the empty organizer and saying that this is how you think.

Anyhow, on the pyramid thinking organizer, students fill the 8 boxes at the top with the 8 most important events that moved us from beginning to end of the tale.

Moving to the next level, we listed the big ideas under discussion in the story, writing down at least 4 terms. From my model of summarizing Little Red Riding Hood, we came up with the abstract ideas of innocence, evil, sexism, deception, family, responsibility, and naiveté. For TSL, temptation and punishment were the universal ones, but others came up with sin, deception, secrets, guilt, and a few others.

For the next level down the pyramid, I asked students to consider what the events in the story tell about 1 of those abstract terms; what does the summary tell about guilt? What message do you get out of it? I reminded them that this approaches theme.

For the final box, I gave the students a sentence pattern to complete, using the ideas they’d already generated. Here’s one I remember: The Scarlet Letter suggests that secrets are not to be kept hidden, but in fact should be shared out in the open. Good one, eh? Let’s see if he decides to develop that idea further.

Target Notes

Jim Burke has so many good ideas about things, he kind of makes me sick. Target Notes are yet another idea I’ve taken from him. I split the target in half, giving students the chance to make a few connections to today’s world.

In the center of the target goes one of the abstract terms they developed as a result of their Pyramid Thinking organizer. The next level out from the center should be filled with, on the left side of the organizer, evidence of that term as seen in the book and, on the right side, evidence of that term seen in modern society. The third level out should be filled with explanation of what the evidence shows us about that term in the center. At the bottom of this page, there’s space for another sentence following that same pattern from the Pyramid Thinking organizer.

Dense Question

Yup, that Jim Burke has some good ideas, so I stole another one from him: the Dense Question Strategy. This one is on the plate for Wednesday. I am hoping that it will encourage students to think of the novel in a more general way instead of only focusing in on specific chapters. The idea here is that there are 3 domains of questions; think of 3 circles overlapping like a Venn diagram. There are text questions, reader questions, and world/other lit. questions. A dense question would be one that includes all 3 domains, encouraging a more detailed response and likely an appropriate topic for an essay. Wish me luck on this strategy.

My thinking is that these 3 different organizers will provide students with at least 3 different directions to follow. Not only do I not want to read 60 copies of essays responding to the same prompts, but I want students to begin to get in the habit of finding their own areas of interest to write about, even in a book the majority of students didn’t read and (somehow) didn’t like. I’ll keep you posted on progress here and see if this is an effective way to approach developing ideas for writing.

Comments are closed.