Here’s my thinking
If students are to become great writers they have to understand how great writers write. We spend a lot of time asking students to put writing together, but we rarely ask them to take writing apart so they can see what how it became the great writing that it is. During our writing PLC I challenged a group of teachers to take the plunge with me and discuss our findings.
We decided to take it apart
We chose a news article from newsela, an amazing site that provides you with the most up to date news articles, and allows you to choose the lexile level at which you would like to read the article. We chose an article on Syrian refugees and literally cut it into parts. We separated the headings, subheadings, paragraphs and pictures, in an attempt to look at what this author did that made his article powerful.
We began by looked at the first thing that jumped out to most of us. Teachers commented on what we could learn from the title and subtitles. We also discussed the impact of pictures on our understanding of the text. But then it got really good! Some teachers started discussing how the article, while appearing to be an informational article, used many subtle (and some not so subtle) techniques to assist the reader in forming a very specific opinion. That sparked a discussion about word choice which had us cutting out all of words used that were subliminally creating a specific image in the reader’s mind. This sparked more discussion! Teachers cut out different sentence types and examined how many of each type were used. We ended up with piles and piles of words, paragraphs, sentence types and pictures! This was an article taken apart, and apart, and apart.
It went so well that I decided to do the same exercise with a small group of students I was working with. The conversations were amazing! Students were able to see different writing strategies more clearly and discuss the impact of the author choosing these writing techniques. They were excited and wanted to apply some of the things they learned from this author into their own writing.
Sometimes you have to take writing apart to really understand how carefully it is put together. Let students get messy with the writing they way we allow children to get messy with finger paint. Let them tear the writing apart, analyze it, learn from it and finally apply what they learned to their own writing.