text structure

Inquiring into Argumentative Writing: Deconstructing Text Structure with Kernel Essays

Last week we moved from our exploration of features of argumentative writing to text structure.  On Wednesday, we began with the following writing activity using these images I projected onto the board with the LCD projector and these prompts:

Once students had time to think and write, we came together for whole class discussion to share our thinking aloud.  The final prompt brought us to a conversation about how the progression of the kernel to fully popped popcorn paralleled the process of completing a draft of writing.   Next, In introduced the text structure of an argumentative essay, and talked about  how writing a kernel essay could help us develop a writing plan in both regular writing tasks and timed writing assignments like our benchmark assessments and state tests.  Gretchen Bernabei defines kernel essays this way:

A writer writes about the topic, using the text structure as a guide, creating one sentence per box. These sentences are called a kernel essay.

Students then had an opportunity to read our first mentor essay, “Red Light Cameras Save Lives”, independently and to jot down anything they noticed about the essay.  We then moved to partner work as students chose a thinking buddy and pulled their chairs out to sit knee to knee and face to face to discuss and compare their jot notes.  After a quick group share, partners then revisited the mentor text and jotted down the kernel essay for our mentor text.  We then shared our responses aloud and engaged in conversation about our kernel essays based on what we saw in the mentor text.  We repeated the process for the second mentor text, “A Drinking Problem”; however, this time, students did partner read alouds with the second essay and took turns reading to each other before collaborating on the composing the kernel essay for the second mentor text.


If you want to mix it up, you can have students change partners for the second round. The face to face, knee to knee aspect is key to engaging students, and the partner read aloud is also critical to energizing students and forcing them to really read closely.  These two factors fueled meaningful conversations between students; in particular, my two afternoon classes excelled and blew me away with their focus and thinking.  I can honestly say this was one of the most interesting and successful learning activities I’ve done in my entire career! I was impressed by the maturity and work ethic I saw from many students—they were working more like high schoolers than 8th graders!  Overall, these activities took about 2.5 days during 45-50 minute class periods.

We’re now re-reading two articles on zoos we read two weeks ago for our “pro con” ping/pong and competition activities with our annotations and notes.  I’ll share more in my next post how we are using these articles to gather evidence and come up with a kernel essay of our own using the argumentative essay text structure as a guided practice before we move formally into our argumentative essay writing assignment late next week.

Fun with Text Structure: Paragraph Scramble Competition

About a month ago, I wrote about some rather sophisticated work my honors 12th ELA students did with deconstructing mentor texts.  However, not all students are ready to take on such a task.  How might you scaffold those learners and give them the experience but on a smaller scale and in a way that is more accessible?

Though I provided a mini-lesson and two models for us to examine together, I realized this morning three sections of my 11th Language Arts were struggling with a modified Schaffer Two Chunk paragraph writing strategy. I quickly punted midday and came up with a modified activity to support students and give them an opportunity to practice recognizing topic sentences, concrete details, commentary sentences, and closing sentences.

After reviewing our template and one of the completed models, each table group received a series of sentences and a blank paragraph template.  Students at each table group were asked to work together and fill in the template with the appropriate sentence (topic sentence, concrete detail, commentary, closing sentence).  Each team immediately began working together to problem solve the text structure.  For fun, I played the Rocky theme song as groups worked together.  It was fun to listen to students debate the choices and argue with each other about why a certain sentence was the best fit!  When each team finished, they gave me their answer sheet; when all teams finished, we reviewed and discussed the answers together.

While this activity is very simple, it is a great way to engage students, especially if they love games.  It is a gentler way of students looking at text structure in a way that is approachable and encourages student talk.   As you can see from the video below, the energy level was high and lively!