In making the transition from the state content standards to the Common Core State Standards, my colleagues and I find ourselves re-evaluating the current curriculum, which had been carefully aligned to the former content standards. Specifically, we are looking at changes in the teacher-selected class literature, question/response activities within class assignments, and assessments. Over the course of wading through the sixth grade language arts curriculum and instructional materials, we discovered a specific writing standard that needed to be addressed. We began this process by deconstructing the standard and looking at each section. This specific standard includes five points to be addressed within student writing. Once we identified those learning targets, a persuasive writing project was created to follow the class literature study of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. The learning experiences from the novel study allowed pupils to connect prior class discussions and debates into a focused research and writing assignment.
Starting with the Standard
The sixth grade English Language Arts Common Core Standard W.6.1 states: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
This standard includes the following points:
- Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and relevant evidence clearly.
- Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
- Use words, phrases, and clauses to clarify the relationships among claim(s) and reasons.
- Establish and maintain a formal style.
- Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.
Connect the Standard to Pupil Knowledge
Using the above standard as my learning objective, I constructed a series of writing lessons that defined and demonstrated writing an argumentative essay. Information from Natalie Babbitt’s novel, Tuck Everlasting, was included in order to demonstrate how to use the information from the novel and the class discussions to form an organized, sequenced argument. Babbitt's work provides a fantastic focus for the beginnings of an argument. Over the course of reading the novel, pupils keep track of the main character, Winnie Foster, and how she changes from the beginning to the end of the book. This includes how she comes to the conclusion not to drink the water - the very decision that becomes the central focus for the argumentative essay.
Using prior class discussions as a pre-writing exercise, pupils recall the reasons the different characters of the book gave for either drinking, or not drinking the water. For easy reference, the information gathered from the novel is outlined in a two-column chart. Pupils then choose a side of the argument to write about. This becomes the topic of the essay.
Once pupils choose their topic, they need to provide claims and/or reasons to support it. This comes through research. A mini-lesson on finding and using credible sources ensues, as pupils begin to gather facts to support their position. I ask my students to begin this process by outlining reasons that make their topic real; stressing that the support for their argument must be free from personal judgments and opinions. Their purpose is to connect the argument from the book to credible sources that can support it. For instance, finding facts regarding the death rate and/or the causes of death in the United States might be used to support reasons for drinking the water, while research on the failed attempts throughout history to find a fountain of youth may support a reason for not drinking the water.
Drafting the Essay
After gathering information, pupils begin drafting their persuasive essays. The requirements for the final essay follow the standard’s outlined structure, which is stated above. Another series of mini-lessons on how to cite resources within the essay as a means to provide evidence to support the writer’s statement is conducted. Instructions for how to write an effective introduction, add transitional phrases, and a how to add a concluding paragraph that supports the argument should also be given at this time. Then, let your pupils write!
As teachers transition from state content standards to the Common Core, the process of revising and revamping curriculum becomes a requirement. Through studying the standard and identifying learning targets, we can discern how to best meet our pupils’ instructional needs, while simultaneously fulfilling the new requirements. Writing a persuasive argument that includes choosing a topic and supporting it with relevant evidence is a new concept for many of my sixth graders. Beginning with a common starting point and a central focus can help them create a focused piece of persuasive writing.
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