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
Analysis of evidence
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!