Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing Workshop: Session 4 (Argument)

Crafting Claims

Connection:  Formulate a substantial idea

The other day I was out to lunch with a friend, and he asked me what I liked about this other friend of ours, who can be a bit difficult to get along with.  And the thing is, I had a hard time figuring out what to say, because my reasons didn't seem big enough. They didn't seem to quite capture why I like our friendship.  It was an annoying feeling, like my brain was failing.  I kept coming up with little things, with ideas that only showed a tiny part of her, like, "I like how she is really into video games."  or "She can be really nice sometimes."  But later on, when I had more time to think, I realized that the real reason I like this friend is that she sees the world in interesting ways, and helps me see it in those ways, too.  This felt like a real thing to say about my friend, but it was hard to get out.

The next step, as literary essayists, is to develop all the thinking you have done into an idea that is big enough to become your essay's central idea- its claim.

Teaching Point: 

Today I want to teach you that when literary essayists write about a character, they work hard to come up with an idea, a claim, that captures the whole of that person so the claim is big enough to think and write about for a while and can maybe even become the central idea of the entire essay.  (refer to anchor chart p.37)

Teaching and Active Engagement:

To come up with a strong claim about a character, it helps to reread one's entries and notes and to think again about the text, coming up with drafts of "possible claims."  

Discuss entries and ideas about Raymond's Run and ask "What is the main thing we really want to say about Squeaky?"

As I reread the following entry, try to come up with a claim that you think is big enough to encompass all of your important ideas about Squeaky.  Write it in your notebook.  

(Read entry p.37-38)

Have students share their claims.  Record their answers on chart paper.

Now let's look at the claims you generated and decide:

  • Which ones come the closest to capturing the essence of her? Which of these seems most encompassing of all sides of her and why do you say that? 
  • Or which ones seem one-sided?  
  • Also, think about whether a claim can be supported by the whole story (beginning, middle and end)

*This process involves not just choosing between a bunch of possible claims, but tweaking the claim that seems the closest to what you want to say and rewriting it over until it is just right.  It takes a lot of work to produce just 1 or 2 sentences.

Possible claim: Squeaky is fiercely protective of both her brother and herself.


Get with another student, or two- not more than two that have read the same short story as you (Stray or Thank You Ma'am).

Work together to come up with a list of possible claims.  Everyone needs to jot the ideas in their notebooks.  Then, start testing them out to see whether they fit with the whole character, and across the whole story.

  • you're searching not for facts about the character, but for ideas- for things that are not explicitly said in the story itself, but ideas that you thought up on your own
  • you can look over the writing you've collected about the text and ponder your thoughts about it


Let's review the Box and Bullets essay structure that we used with The Three Little Pigs essay.  

(Refer to figure 4-3, p.44) 

Now, start an outline for your essay.  Make sure to include your claim and topic sentences and your hunch about the evidence you'll include.


Tonight for homework, go back to your story and reread 2 sections and write about the details you see in those two sections and the ways those details reveal your character.  But this time, choose those passages because you are sure you will be writing about them in your essay.   Write at least 1-2 pages. 

Ex: For Raymond's Run, I would find a passage that is especially strong and relates to Squeaky being protective of her brother and another passage that is especially strong and relates to Squeaky being protective of herself.   

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