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Why partner writers? So many of my kids are interpersonal learners, which means they learn better when they can talk about a task while they're doing it. Writing an essay--in most classrooms I visit--logically means quiet writing time. When it's a state test or an essay final or you're summatively assessing a writing skill we've been working on, then don't use partner writers. But if they're practicing smaller writing skills, which they totally are with this ridiculous essay assignment , I find they do a pretty great job writing together. In the partnership, they practice and negotiate those smaller writing skills to craft the best-sounding sentences they can. Later, they will write alone (in this case, these ridiculous essays were practice for our final exam essay, which was a critical analysis essay on a real piece of literature), and I find that having that experience in place helps them all do better. Heck, I even allow them to have their partner essays out as a resource they can consult when they come in to write the final, real essay, which they write completely on their own in a quiet classroom. During the discussions and the negotiations that come with partner-writes, however, learning is happening. Just make sure they pass the pencil.
Once you have shared the children's book you want your students to over-analyze, explain to them the task at hand: they are going to work with a partner and--together--create a fairly short essay that does at least three things: 1) introduce the book using excellent literary vocabulary words; 2) analyze the picture book's theme; 3) analyze the author's writing style. We call these "Ridiculous Essays" because no one would really over-analyze Dr. Seuss to write an essay like the one I'm about to ask them to pen. It's their job to make the essay sound like it's the type of critical essay of literature one would expect to write in college or high school Honors classes; that means they have to use their "smart kid" words, and I refer them back to my list of vocabulary. I call this type of assignment a RAFTS prompt, and here is what I show the kids so that they understand their purpose and their audience:
My end-of-year final for both my seventh and eighth graders is the same task: write an intelligent-sounding critical analysis essay of the final book(s) we've read together as a class. We prepare to write the essay in the three weeks before the final exam happens--through Socratic discussions or partner-writing tasks like the ridiculous essays, among other tricks I have up my sleeve--but they aren't allowed to even start writing their essays until the day of the final. It's a rough draft essay that I expect them to take great care with when composing it, but they know I'm less interested in their conventions and more interested in their academic voices and their unique ideas that they can back up with text evidence.
Establishing a RAFT after sharing some student samples of past 'ridiculous essays.' When I first did this assignment back in the spring of 2013 with my eighth graders, the children's book we over-analyzed to write our ridiculous essays about was "Green Eggs and Ham" by--of course--Dr. Seuss. My students were tickled with my incredibly over-dramatic read-aloud, and they talked about it for weeks afterwards. I was a good actor back in high school and college, and I feigned so much anger when I was reading the narrator's lines--the character who does not like green eggs & ham or Sam-I-Am--that I accidentally tore one of the pages when I flipped it. My 2014 eighth graders (who had "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" as their Dr. Seuss book to over-analyze) confessed to me after I had read the book that they were disappointed I hadn't ripped a page when I read it to them; they had all heard from the previous year's eighth graders, like Natalie, who actually entered the Mr. Stick cartoon at right as a contender in my Mr. Stick of the Week extra credit contest I host every Friday. Students--in their notebooks--have to write about something that happened that week (or about an idea that occurred to them) and make a Mr. Stick cartoon to illustrate the writing. The Mr. Stick of the Week contest is just one more way I try to get my students to take care of and put pride into their writer's notebooks. Most entries in this weekly contest are hand-drawn and hand-written, but Natalie wanted to do hers on the computer, which was an impressive feat, if you ask me. Learn more about Mr. Stick , or click to see some of the Mr. Stick entries I have photographed and posted at when students win. Having a Pinterest board, I find, is a great motivator for my students, and it allows me to keep an amazing online gallery of student samples.
As I've said, my 8th graders already were pretty familiar with the fifteen literary terms above when I assigned the ridiculous essay in the spring, but it had been six weeks since our last , so they hadn't used many of these words much in classroom conversations with each other for over a month; therefore, we did take twenty or so minutes to review the words by playing a game with them. We played a variation of charades in small groups of four or five students. Students took turns drawing one of the words, written on index card, from an envelope I had prepared for each small group, and they had to pantomime the words' meaning in a literary context; stress the "literary context," especially for the unfortunate-but-warped child who might draw the word 'climax.' After playing for twelve to fifteen minutes in small groups, each group had to nominate the person from their group who had the best idea for pantomiming one these literary terms for the whole class. Fun was had by all! The charade game/review prepared them to use these words again when we started writing our ridiculous essays.
This year, I selfishly-but-wisely made great use of my 8th graders' best, freshly-written "ridiculous essays" to show my sev-vies what smart-sounding critical analysis essays sound like. I explain how the eighth graders are practicing their essay writing skills by composing smart-sounding analyses of silly books. I explain to them that in a year's time they will all be at a point where they--too--can write really smart-sounding essays, even if the book they're writing about doesn't feel like it should have a smart-sounding essay written about it. "Please," my seventh graders whine, "please read 'One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish' to us too, Mr. Harrison."
All-in-all, "Ridiculous Essays" were a great way to end my school year, and they totally did what they were supposed to: prep my kids to write a genuine critical analysis essay that proves to me they can find intelligent things to say in assigned books that aren't necessarily easy reads.
One purpose of assigning the "ridiculous essay" is to review literary vocabulary words so that students can accurately use them in an essay that is fun for them to write. Below are fifteen words that I teach my kids over time and that might be helpful to learn/review right before teaching this lesson; these are literary terms my students become very familiar with during their two or three years in my classroom. I personally use this "ridiculous essay" lesson near the end of our school year; it's actually my big review activity before we began preparing to write our final exam essays, though I have been thinking that it could certainly be used as more of an introduction to critical analysis essays. When I teach this lesson, the words listed below are a review list for them, not a list of brand new words. If you are using the assignment as more of an introduction to critical analysis essays, you could probably use fewer words than the list I have included below.
He patted me down and handcuffed me while Nicole watched from the driver's side and her ridiculous round friend sat quietly in the back of the car talking to the girl whose voice I can't ever remember.***Blackness is probable cause, I tell myself.