Posts Tagged ‘writing classroom’

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Argument Haiku

posted: 11.19.09 by Barclay Barrios

One of the teachers in our writing program stopped me in the hall to share his success using argument haiku in class.  I have to admit that it’s one of my favorite activities.  In the book I’ve paired it with a Kwame Anthony Appiah selection, but it’s a versatile tool.  I’ve used it with any number of readings and have used it in peer review exercises as well.

The actual activity is simple: take an argument from a paper or a reading and summarize it as a haiku—three lines of seven, then five, then seven syllables.

I’ve always found anything vaguely creative or arts-and-crafty tends to engage students.  In part I think it gets students excited because it breaks up the usual atmosphere of the writing classroom and in part I think it’s because students love doing something different and in part everyone loves writing haiku (especially bad ones).  But the secret is that it takes a lot of thinking to make this exercise happen and that’s why it is so useful.  Students need to identify the very core idea of an essay to break it into seventeen syllables.  And when used in peer review, authors quickly learn whether or not they’ve successfully expressed and supported their arguments.

We’re reading Thomas Friedman’s “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention” right now in our standard assignment sequence.  If I had to make a haiku for that essay I would try:

Global supply chains
Bring peace; terrorists use them
Too. Ai-yah!  Flat world!

Or maybe:

In the flat world works both ways:
Both for peace and war.

Are there any specific readings you would pair with this assignment?

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Emerging, Rhetorical Situation
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The Super Secret Formula: Still Super If Not So Secret

posted: 11.6.09 by Barclay Barrios

When I think back on all of the little class activities I’ve developed in my time as a teacher I don’t think any have spread or persisted as much as the Super Secret Formula.  It’s on my mind because one of our former teachers (now in Georgia pursuing her PhD) mentioned using it with success in a recent e-mail.  That same week the waiter at my favorite breakfast place (who also happens to be a freshman at school) also mentioned loving it.

So what is the Super Secret Formula?  Well, simply, it’s

Cl > I > Q1 > E > T > Q2 > Ce

Students start their paragraphs with “Cl,” a sentence that states the claim of the paragraph.  Then with “I,” they introduce a quotation from the first author, adding a sentenced that explains it (“E”).  The next sentence makes a transition (“T”) to a quotation from a different author, “Q2.”  Finally, students take a sentence or two to explain the connection between the two quotations (“Ce”) and how it supports the argument they’re making in the paper.

The concrete structure of a “formula” provides a good scaffolding for students to build a solid paragraph that works with quotation use but the risk is, of course, that all their paragraphs will becomes (literally) formulaic.  When using this exercise, I start by having groups use the formula to make a sample paragraph.  Then I challenge groups to come up with other formulas for working with quotations.

This is my Golden Tool of my Lore Bag—it always seems to work and students love it.  I think of course they love having a concrete pattern and set of instructions to learn how to think connectively and thus to synthesize while working with quotations.  But I always find that taking the writing class out of the writing classroom has some near magic effect.  There’s something about a scientific-looking formula that taps into some other region of students’ brains and bypasses any anxiety they may have about writing.

So, still super if not so secret.

(If you’d like to see more ideas for working with quotations, read my older post “5 ways I help students to work with quotations.“)

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Integrating sources, Student Success, Working with Sources
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