Dissecting the Perfect Essay

As a child I liked taking things apart and putting them back together to find out how it worked.  Today, that skill I feel has helped make me a better teacher. 

In a recent visit to Olympia High School I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Auriso to discuss some of his writing strategies that he uses in his World History classes.  One of his strategies that he is using currently helps students write better essay introductions by reading NY State Ed anchor papers, taking them apart and putting them back together again.  The theory behind it is brilliant.  The essential question is, “How did the author construct his argument and how did he sequence his argument to make the most sense?” 

Sound familiar?  “I will take Common Core Learning Standards for $100 Alex!”

This is no different than dissecting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or MLK’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail and delving into the reading to find the intent of the author and the skilled usage of words, phrases and passages. 

As with any great lesson Mr. Auriso’s preparation was key. 

Step 1: Access the NY State Education Department’s Regents web page http://www.nysedregents.org/

Step 2 Find an old Regents Exam writing question worth delving into.

Step 3 Locate the model paper with a perfect score (5/5) and print it out for the students. 

Mr. Auriso typed out the introduction of his model essay and put the text into a website that helps scramble sentences. 

Finally the students would get strips of paper with one sentence each printed out. 
The student’s task: Knowing what we know about what makes a good introduction reconstruct the intro as the author intended it. 
So you ask… How would one diversify a lesson like this?  Simple.  Instead of sentences give the students 5 index cards with the paragraphs (Intro, 3 main body paragraphs, and conclusion) printed out to help a student know the structure of the entire essay if that is what they need help identifying. 
Taking things apart to learn what make them tick is great as long as you don’t have parts left over. 

Co-Teaching The Gospel of Wealth

After having the opportunity to co teach a lesson with Steve West (not pictured above) at Apollo Middle School this week I certainly had an eye-opening experience.  The chosen text was Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth.  For those of you who have not read this, it is a very complex text in terms of the language that is used.  The topic of distribution of wealth is equally complex.  Mr. West and I laid out some of the “mental velcro” to help the students delve into the text with a purpose.  We focused on the large and difficult paragraph 4.  To help with the “text overload” Mr. West split the paragraph up into three sections and had students focus on each phrase and sentence until they built their understanding.  Great job Mr. West and thank you for allowing me to come in and be a part of it!

This is hard and rewarding work.