The Trouble With “The End” – Part III

3264726560_c49e88c89b_b

During our break from writing essays, my students and I took time to list our trials and errors when writing conclusions and laughed a lot about our desperate attempts to wrap things up! Our what NOT to do list included:

  • Using the phrases like: “In conclusion,” “Now I have shown you,” “This is why…” “Surely you can see that…” and “The end”
  • Summarizing
  • Introducing a new idea
  • Pleading (“Please save the whales!”)

The common mishap I’ve experienced when students write endings, is repetition. Because they’re exhausted and they don’t know what to do, students repeat what they’ve already done. We determined that the purpose of a conclusion is not to end, but to help ideas linger and make the reader feel. Similar to the ending of a movie, the end of a written text can make us feel happy and hopeful, sad and troubled, confused and filled with questions, or ready to take action. And so the purpose of the conclusions to our research-based argument essays, we determined, is to inspire change. Here are the strategies my students used to construct strong conclusions.

Arc back

Several students, like Nina (see Part I), used their beginnings to create their conclusions. The vivid image they created when they began is contrasted with what they argued for throughout the essay. Here’s Nina’s ending:

If audience members could go backstage at the circus, they would see animals stored in cages, pacing back and forth, and waiting to go on stage. They would see animals being whipped because they didn’t reach their trainers expectations. Animals aren’t supposed to be showcased and confined to cages and behind metal bars. They’re supposed to be living free, not performing under bright lights and having hundreds of people waiting and watching for them to do tricks. They’re supposed to be living in the wild with tons of animals of their kind.

Call to action

Some students decided that making a specific request of their readers would be the most powerful way for them to conclude, like Jason:

 By keeping whales in captivity and keeping them from their families, we are telling ourselves that we don’t care about their well-being. To help free captive whales stop going to places such as SeaWorld. Also buy from places that donate part of your dollars toward freeing whales from captivity such as http://www.pacificwhale.org/store. Lastly if you want to free the whales donate to https://give.bornfree.org.uk/donate/.

Quote

After spending so much time researching their topics, some students had what I like to call, “golden nuggets” left in their notebooks and on their graphic organizers. These unused gems became the perfect way to wrap up their essays in a fresh new way while still capturing the points they’d made throughout the essay. Here’s Aaron’s:

Keeping orcas in the ocean is the right choice. Dr. Naomi Rose of the Humane Society says, “Any tank is too small for an orca.” Whales should be treated like whales, not prisoners.

Universalizing

During the writing of their essays, many students were doing what I labeled “ranting and raving.” They’d write things like: “It’s just not fair!” “Those poor, sweet animals!” “How would you like it if this happened to you!!” We discovered ways to take these passionate sentiments and rework them in ways that are effective in an essay, such as thinking about morals and values. Below is Olivia’s conclusion that uses the word humanity – a word she learned reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.

Keeping animals out of captivity is beneficial for many animals and society. Captivity is not saving animals; it is destroying their populations. Animals are not meant to live within the confines of steel bars or perform for audiences. Animals are not meant to be prisoners. Animals are meant to live in the wild with other animals. Animals should be able to roam free and chose what they want to do. Making this possible for all animals is the greatest demonstration of our humanity.

My students now feel that they have several powerful tools in their toolboxes to reach for whenever they write essays.  And to me, their burgeoning confidence is the most important measure of successful.

I have to admit, after reflecting so much on conclusions, I had some trouble figuring out how to conclude this post! But then I remembered one of the strategies. So here it goes. Virginia Woolf once said, “When a subject is highly controversial…one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.” I can only hope that this post, forthright, yet flawed, might provide some insight into my experiences teaching students to write conclusions and that it offers something useful to its audience. In the end, you’ll be the judge!

The Trouble With “The End” – Part II

1532769756_581695c11f_o

As we know, the writing process is not linear. My students crafted their essays in a circuitous fashion, moving frequently between writing ideas that became part of the body of their essay and those that were used to shape their beginning paragraph. To write the body paragraphs, students used a structure they noticed in essays they’d read and studied. While good writing, we discussed, doesn’t always follow a set formula, it’s comforting to know that there are commonly used structures that work and help writers express ideas clearly. For their research-based argument essays, many of my students used the following structure for their body paragraphs:

Topic sentence that included one reason in support of argument

Elaboration sentence(s)

Research-based evidence

Analysis of evidence

Counterclaim

Refute

Research-based evidence

Concluding sentence

Here’s an example of a body paragraph written by Eddie that follows this structure. It helped him build his case and argue clearly and persuasively.

 Though many people think of the circus as pure fun, the elephants can be a threat to public safety. Having such large animals confined to such a small space being forced to perform stresses the elephants out, and this can result in them thrashing out at humans. According to the ASPCA, “There have been hundreds of incidents involving circus animals and escaping – often resolving in property damage, injuries, and death.” Because of this problem, many towns such as Greenburgh, have banned wild animals from circuses that perform on town property. Advocates argue that if you have trained professionals who are following proper procedures, the risk of injury is very low. However, it is impossible to always predict or control wild animals’ behavior. In 1992, a circus elephant named Janet became angry and tried to run out of the arena in Florida. She was so out of control that officers had no choice but to shoot her. In addition, twelve people were injured. Elephants are wild animals, and their instincts and behaviors can harm innocent humans who came to the circus just to have fun.

Now, it is time to wrap things up. My students are tired. They have poured their all into this work and many have simply fizzled out. All of their ideas, they exclaimed, were already in their essays. Even Dan Chaon, author of Stay Awake humorously suggests, “A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.” So, we decided to do what many professional writers do when they feel stuck. We put our essays away to clear our heads. And honestly, this gives me time to regroup! I have been a teacher of writing for many years. But what is it about endings that stops us all in our tracks?

When we return to this work tomorrow, I’m planning to teach a mini lesson that isn’t so “mini.” My students need time to voice their concerns; they need to understand the purpose of the conclusion; they need me to reassure them that they can do this work and to remind them of the powerful writers they are; they need strategies to try; they need examples to see and discuss; they need opportunities to talk with their writing partners about their plan for concluding.

Come back tomorrow for Part III, the conclusion of this post, where I share what happens as my class approaches the end!

The Trouble With “The End” – Part I

photo by Caroline Armijo/Flickr

photo by Caroline Armijo/Flickr

My 6th graders are at a pivotal point in their essay writing. As they take pause at this crossroad, they understand the magnitude of what lies ahead. So much is at stake! What is their challenge? Writing the conclusion. Rather than skipping to “the end” it’s important to reflect on how we arrived at this point.

Collectively, my class agrees that writing the conclusion is the most challenging part of their writing. During the prewriting phase, students discussed their thinking with writing partners and wrote freely in their notebooks. This was the most exciting part of the process for many of them, filled with so much promise and so many possibilities.

To write the beginnings of their essays, again, students approached this with great excitement and energy. They brainstormed creative options and eagerly poured over mentor texts. They were motivated to try different options and were thrilled to discover which ones grabbed their peers’ interest and worked best for their writing. Check out an example here written by Nina. It became a class model.

People love to go see the circus. They gather family and friends and head out to see what they don’t get to see everyday. At the circus, people are amazed and entertained by dogs riding on top of horses, elephant balancing on one leg, and lions jumping through flaming hoops. But what they don’t know is how badly the animals are treated. Circuses are cruel environments for animals. The issue is that circuses abuse and mistreat animals that have been taken out of their natural habitat and thrown into a whole different world. Should animals be left in the wild, or should they live and perform in circuses? Leaving animals in the wild is better for three reasons.

We studied the writing moves Nina made, and my students worked hard to include these elements in their beginnings. Nina’s writing helped us to see the following:

  1. Stating the topic and issue are essential, not optional.

The issue is that circuses abuse and mistreat animals that have been taken out of their natural habitat and thrown into a whole different world. Should animals be left in the wild, or should they live and perform in circuses?

  1. Acknowledging one of the strongest counterclaims up front and center establishes trust and shows that the writer is unafraid to address differing points of view.

People love to go see the circus. They gather family and friends and head out to see what they don’t get to see everyday…

  1. Letting readers know how the writer plans to develop the essay shows organization and helps the reader hone in on the major points.

Leaving animals in the wild is better for three reasons.

  1. And most importantly, write with passion!

Come back tomorrow for Part II of this post where I’ll share how students approached writing the body paragraphs of their essays! 

Word Work Wednesday- Categories Vocabulary

One of my favorite strategies for teaching vocabulary and spelling is to use categories for brainstorming words with my students. Students nominate a category (or I choose) and we brainstorm as many words as we can that fall into that category. Kinds of fruit? Types of desserts? Pizza toppings? Things found in a medieval castle? Types of musical instruments? Synonyms for “run”? Antonyms for “scary”? Brainstorming lists can be a quick, fun way to engage students in conversations about vocabulary (and spelling!) Just think of all the words your class can generate together! Some of the especially difficult spelling words can even go on a list of special “Challenge Words.” Students love this strategy for learning vocabulary and the categories are endless.

IMG_5825 copy