Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Day 9 - Monday, September 15th

Lesson Objectives: Today we go deeper into the third and final response type. We review the need for sufficient focus and support, as demonstrated through claims combined with reasons and evidence—this time to support an evaluation of a text, or judgment of it, based upon a limited number of criteria that are fully demonstrated. We also do a mini peer review to prepare students for the larger workshops that will take place at the next two class meetings.

Connection to Course Goals: Today’s class links to the first portfolio’s goal of helping students write more effective essays—ones that are focused and well supported. Further, as students critically examine texts through this response method, they learn that just because a text is in print doesn’t mean that it’s above criticism. Where DO those perspectives come from, if not from strong scholarship? How do the backgrounds, values, beliefs, and affiliations of people—even those with strong academic backgrounds--play into their perspectives? How can understanding these context features help us to appreciate persons’ perspectives rather than to casually dismiss them? Students should learn text evaluation methods today that will transfer to their evaluation of texts they’ll read in Portfolios 2 and 3. Students begin to see that their own arguments are only as strong as the texts they use to support them and conversely that it is important to be aware of and understand (or even empathize with) points of view that don’t seem very strong. Finally, students should also learn some principles of peer review from today’s class.

Possible Sequence of Activities Today

1.     Review the use of claims to shape responses

2.     Discuss the development of essays using the analytic response method.

3.     Facilitate a peer review activity for responses to the Bollinger and Thernstrom texts.

Connection to Course Goals

Reviewing claims will help students understand that their response needs to make an overall point. This will also help students focus their ideas and organize their responses. The peer review activity will help students reflect on their own writing by looking critically at other students’ responses. It will also familiarize students with peer review processes you’ll use in the upcoming workshop.

Introduction: Write an introduction for today’s lesson. For assistance, look at the section on writing introductions and conclusions from the guide on Planning a Class located in the Teaching Guides on Writing@CSU (https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/planning/).


1.     Give informal feedback to the whole class regarding their news clippings that you’ll return today. Tell them that the next time you’ll check their clippings is subsequent to turning in Portfolio 1, so they are expected to continue reading the NYT and collect clippings even though you won’t be discussing them for the remainder of the week.

2.     Review using claims to shape responses (15 minutes): The goal for this activity is to help students make an overall point with their writing by considering how claims can “map out” a response. (In the past, students have written analytic responses that read like “generalized lists” - i.e. the author’s tone is good… the organization is effective… the evidence could use some work…). Here, we are trying to help students move beyond generalized responses to think more about their purpose/focus and organization.

Use the claims below (or ones that you generate) to model how a claim can help a writer connect their points and create a “map” by which to organize their writing. Put these claims on an overhead and ask students to outline what the paper might look like based on what the claim says. Take the claim apart, phrase by phrase; you might refer to this activity as “unpacking a thesis.”

Ineffective claim:

Williams’ essay is pretty good, but I didn’t like the tone he used and I doubt whether he is really committed to ridding society of racial discrimination. Overall, I found his attitude to be sarcastic or even a little cynical.

Why this is ineffective. Have them unpack each section of the claim to reach these conclusions:

  • Williams’ essay is pretty good, but I didn’t like…”Language is too generalized - what does the writer mean by “good” and “I didn’t like” and “attitude”?
  •  “I doubt whether he is really committed…” The statement following, “I doubt whether…” is a gut reaction and can’t be sufficiently developed with reasons/evidence.
  • “I found his attitude”… The writer can comment on tone but it is very difficult to impute attitude where we have no real knowledge of the writer’s internal life.
  • Overall: The writer has named too many criteria to develop any sufficiently. As written, the writer needs to prove that: (1) the argument is “good,” (2) Williams doesn’t really believe in racial justice and integration, (3) Williams’ tone is a problem, and (4) Williams’ attitude is sarcastic or even cynical. Proving all of these items is too diffuse (not focused) for a four-page essay that provides sufficient evidence for all of its claims and subclaims.

More Effective claims:

The Thernstroms appeal to readers of the National Review by using language that they can relate to and by taking a position they’ll be inclined to agree with, but their argument lacks “teeth” in that it does little more than ratify the convictions of National Review readers. One might ask what the Thernstroms have to offer by way of new ideas and solutions.”


“Lee Bollinger makes a good point about the importance of Atkinson’s setting off the SAT debate, but his diffuse and rambling argument obscures the fact that he doesn’t really offer much in the way of substance. It’s not entirely clear what he adds to the discussion beyond his admission that he is dedicated to a diverse campus.”

Why these are effective:

  • Writers use specific language and make demonstrable claims about the texts
  • Writers combine their observations to make an overall point that indicates whether or not the essay was/was not effective (avoids sounding like a list)
  • Writers’ focuses can reasonably be handled in four-page papers.

Ask students how each response might look based on these claims. How would the reader develop these points? What examples from the text could he/she use to develop each point? You might draw up an outline for each. Finally, you might ask what would make each claim better.

3.     Review Use of Author Tags, Quotations, and Paraphrases (10 minutes): Create your own activity here.

4.     Peer review activity for responses to Bollinger and the Thernstroms (20 minutes): Have students pair up and exchange their analytic responses to either Bollinger or the Thernstroms’ arguments (completed for homework). Allow them 15 to provide feedback for each other’s response. Then, allow them 5 additional minutes to discuss these in pairs. Use the guidance below or develop your own peer review activity.

Directions for a peer review activity:

·      Underline the writer’s claim. Is the claim narrow and specific enough? Does it communicate an overall point or main idea? Does the claim accurately represent the points raised in the response? Write down one or two suggestions for how the writer could strengthen their claim.

·      What criteria for evaluation does the writer examine in their response? Are these criteria fitting given Bollinger’s/the Thernstroms’ argument and audience? Does the writer avoid “listing” criteria by limiting their response to one or two well developed observations?

·      Does the writer provide clear reasons and evidence to develop and support claim? Mark places where the writer has provided sufficient support. Then, mark places where the writer could develop their reasons and evidence further. Can you give any suggestions for how the writer could develop these points?

·      How might the writer improve the overall focus and organization of their response? Are there places where the writing strays from the claim? Could certain points be eliminated or moved to improve the organization?

·      Comment on the writer’s use of author tags, quotations, and paraphrases. Suggest strategies, if appropriate, for improvements.

·      Comment on two things that the response is doing well.

5.     Choosing their Summary/Response (10 minutes): Have students decide which essay they’ll revise for portfolio one and give them time to look over their original essays and jot down plans for revision. Let students know that revisions should be substantial (global, not local; substance-changing, not limited to mechanics). They can use their homework as draft work and take pieces of that writing, but they need to do more than “tweak” or “add on a few lines” to succeed with portfolio one. Ask them to write you a short memo indicating which response type and article they’ve selected with a bit of explanation for their choice. Ask them for an initial revision plan.

Conclusion: Write a conclusion that helps students see that the homework they’ve been doing (reading, summarizing, and responding in different ways) is connected to the task they are now facing.

Assignment for Next Time

Draft your final essay for Portfolio One. Bring a polished draft of your essay to class for Workshop #1, which will work for improved focus and development of a single, unified main idea. For Workshop #1, divide the class into groups of three. Students should send the workshop draft to each member of their group AND to the instructor by a time you specify. Doing so will allow classmates to read ahead of time and spend class time commenting. It will also allow you to see how the drafts are coming along and to offer brief and focused feedback to improve the draft. [Instructors: adapt the provided workshop sheet so that it can be conducted in sections over two days.]

Note to instructors: You should read the Teaching Guide on Planning Workshops and Peer Review on Writing@CSU (https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/peer/). Use the guide to help you decide ahead of time how you’d like to facilitate the in-class workshop for the summary/response essay.