Mini Writing Conferences: 4 Stages of Feedback
My students write most of their essays by hand in class. There are a lot of reasons for that, but at this point in the year, I want to know if my students can write a solid typed essay. Instead of asking them to write it at home, I’ll ask them to go through each step of the writing process in class so I can help them along the way. Instead of giving written feedback at the end of the essay, I can talk to them about their ideas and answer their questions about organization and finding sources.
I have conferences with students at the various stages of the essay writing process:
1. Main question, topic, or idea
I either ask students to write their main idea or topic on an index card or put it in a live google document so that I can have conversations with students that might be off track or need to talk out their ideas. The thesis statement does not need to be formalized at this point, but they should have more than a one-word topic. They can revise and formalize their thesis after they write the essay. This might be harder to do with an in-class essay.
2. Outline with quotes and check sources
After they figure out what they want to write about, students should start gathering quotes that might end up in their essay. They should always find more than they need to use. In my latest assignment, I asked for three quotes from a literary criticism of the novel, three quotes from a source on the topic, and twelve quotes from the novel. They may want to organize their quotes by topic, but they will ultimately decide if they want to use the quotes in the introduction, body paragraphs, or conclusion. Conferences at this stage usually involve getting teacher approval for the article to be sure it’s scholarly.
3. Introduction and the plan for body paragraphs
I will ask if students want to conference after they write their introduction so that I can give them feedback and discuss where the essay will go next. A good thesis will be broad enough to leave room to examine the many ideas and patterns in the novel or text, and not too specific, where the writer feels limited by the main argument. For example, an essay on the symbolism of a chair might be too narrow and a statement that a character suffers might be too big. Students at this stage should be able to articulate what they will talk about in their body paragraphs and the reason for the order of the body paragraphs.
4. Conclusion and revision
The last conference could be about how the arguments and ideas of the essay appear in a logical order or as a sequence that progresses and develops through the essay. This is also a moment where a student can express their conclusions and general takeaways from the text. What is the relevance of the text and what modern issues connect to the topic? The conclusion can also be a place where the student makes meaning by telling a personal story that relates to the topic.
Some students thrive only using the written word, but many do better by expressing their ideas first and then writing. Conferences should model the kinds of conversations we want students to have with each other. Clear, independent thoughts and epiphanies don’t magically occur, they occur after prolonged deep thought, notetaking, and conversation.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers