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5 ways I help students with organization

posted: 1.31.08 by Barclay Barrios

I find that students often have trouble writing papers with strong organization. Sometimes, in fact, it feels like they could swap around all the body paragraphs and it would be the same paper—they don’t logically lead one to the other. Here are some exercises I use to help students focus on the organization of their papers:

1. Paragraph to Paragraph Transition
The most solid transitions, I suggest to students, comes from a statement that directly ties together two paragraphs. Start by having students review the material on transitions in the handbook. Then try this exercise. Have students take two paragraphs from their drafts. Ask them to write a one sentence summary of the first paragraph and then another one sentence summary of the second paragraph. Students should combine these two sentences into one, forming a strong and specific transition.

2. Rearrange the Order
Strong organization is self-evident. That is, when a paper is well-organized each paragraph clearly has a place in the whole. Have students test their organization by bringing in a draft for peer revision with the paragraph order switched around. If their peers cannot reassemble the original order then they need to work on transitions and organization.

3. Model Transitions
Have students locate examples of effective transitions in the current reading. Discuss what makes them effective—is it just the use of transitional words and phrases or is there a sentence pattern at work here? Have students apply what they learn by modeling one of these effective transitions in their current drafts.

4. Trail Markers
Trail markers make sure you don’t get lost in the woods; students can use the same technique to mark the trail of their arguments in their papers. Have students underline key sentences in each paragraph that “point the way” to the larger argument and/or to the next paragraph. If they can’t find sentences that work in that way, then that paragraph might represent someplace their readers might get lost.

5. All Outta Outlines
The strongest organization feels inevitable. Help students to locate that level of organization by having them produce multiple pre- or post-draft outlines, each with a different possible organization; you might in fact ask them to outline until they can’t outline any more. Do some points always need to come before others? Do they need to introduce a term, for example, before discussing it? Looking at multiple organizations can help students see the one that makes the most sense, the one that seems most inevitable.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Document Design, Grammar & Style, Writing Process
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