This week I have been teaching writing skills for History Day using handouts developed by the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Designed for college students who need some extra support in writing, these resources are at an appropriate level for students in the middle school AGATE classes.
I am having the class read one handout a day this week: introductions, thesis statements, evidence, arguments, and conclusions. Some days they read silently with partners and add sticky notes with question marks when they run into a “clunker” (something they don’t understand) and a sticky note with a star when they run into a “link” (something that makes them think of a connection to something else they have heard or know about). Then they discuss the clunkers and links with their partner before the class discussion. For the handouts on evidence and arguments, I had the whole class read together—I felt there would be far too many clunkers!
Because History Day projects are often done in groups, I then have the class practice group writing. The groups use poster-size sticky notes to write the most important things they learned from the day’s lessons. Then each group decides on the single most important sentence they want to remember. I write those sentences on the board exactly the way they tell them to me. We work together to evaluate the sentences, organize them, combine, revise, and edit. Then I type them and post them. The paragraphs they’ve written so far are on the right hand column of following page: http://www.kragen.net/middle-school-class-materials.html.
When I first told the students that the material was from a college site, they were a bit intimidated, but they are feeling more comfortable with it now. Learning to write quality academic research papers is a skill they are certainly capable of. And there are additional materials on the UNC site that they can explore: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/resources/handouts-demos.
I wrote to the Writing Center to let them know how much I appreciated their materials. Here is their reply:
Hi, Jan—thank you so much for writing to share what you and your students are doing! We’re always delighted to hear that our handouts are helping writers. When we created the first ones, they were just photocopies on a wall in our office. When we got a website and posted them, we thought they’d mostly be of use to Carolina students. But now we hear from people all over the world who are reading them—scientists in Antarctica trying to start a writing group, a 70-year-old woman in Minnesota who has decided to get her bachelor’s degree, students all over the world who are learning English, and lots of high school and college instructors and students here in the US. You’re the first middle school group I’ve heard from this academic year, and I’ll be passing your message along to our tutors (who are the authors of most of the handouts)—it will make their day! We’d be interested to hear any feedback you or your students might have for us, including suggestions for other topics we might address in future handouts (and video “demos”—those are our newest source of fun here).
Vicki Behrens, Ph.D.
The Writing Center