Tuesday, October 18th

Tuesday, October 18th

Lesson Objectives:

To help students determine which topics they’d like to focus on for Portfolios II and III. To practice narrowing topics down to focused issues.

Connection to Course Goals:

We ask students to share their topics with each other to address our goal of supporting collaboration. Since students will work collaboratively during this portfolio, it’s useful to have them share their ideas early on so they can come to consensus on which topics are most important to them. Then, narrowing topics down into issues helps students choose a specific focus or direction for their research.

Share Articles from Inquiry Journals (15 minutes)

The goal of this activity is to continue to get students thinking about which topics/issues they want to pursue for their Portfolio II and III focus. In small groups, students should share (with each other) one or more of the articles they included in their inquiry journal. They should: 1.) summarize the article for their group members 2.) explain how or why the topic/issue it addresses is debatable and 3.) discuss why the topic interests them. You might put these instructions on an overhead so that groups stay on task. Write these instructions on an overhead so that students can refer to these questions as they work.

Transition: Develop a transition here.

Create a Collaborative List of Topics (15 – 20 minutes)

Once students have shared topics in groups, ask them each to choose one article from their journal that they feel is most interesting or debatable to share with the whole class. Explain that they should choose the topic/issue that they would most want to focus on for Portfolios II and III.

On the board, create a list of topics by asking each student to share one of their articles with the whole class. You may write out this list, or ask a student to be the scribe.

Once you have a list in place (about 19 different topics) explain to students that as a class, you will choose 5 of the most interesting topics to focus on for Portfolios II and III. Let them know that they will vote on which 5 issues to pursue. Then, have them generate criteria for how to choose an effective topic.

You might ask, “What would make for an effective topic? Given our assignments for this class, what criteria will an effective topic meet?”

They might say things like:

- It will be current and debatable.

- It will be something we care about. Maybe we can relate to it.

- It will be something we can find enough research on?

- It will be something we understand well and can focus on for 7 weeks.

- Etc…

Sample Transition: Now that we’ve established some criteria, let’s use these criteria to vote on which topics we’ll focus on.

Vote on Debatable Topics (10 – 15 minutes)

You may facilitate this however you see fit, but here’s our suggested approach. Have students write down three of their favorite topics. Which three do they think best meet the criteria laid out?

After students have written down their votes, go through the list of issues and ask them to raise their hand for each issue they voted on. Tally the number of votes each issue got. When you’re finished, decide which 5 issues were most popular (note – if there’s a tie, you may need to have the whole class vote again on which issue to go with).

Be sure that students write down the 5 topics that were voted best (they’ll be asked to choose one of these issues as their focus for tonight’s homework).

Transition: Develop a transition here.

Discuss Narrowing Topics into Issues (15 minutes)

The goal for this activity is to help students think about narrowing the topics they just chose into specific issues. Inform students that topics are too broad for the issue analysis and that they'll need to narrow their topics to issues in order to focus their writing for Portfolios II and III. Use the grid below (or one you develop) to illustrate the differences between topics and issues. Clarify that issues are often defined in the form of a debatable question.





Nuclear Waste

Where should we store it?



How should we transport it across the country?

Should we continue to use nuclear energy when we don't have a reliable solution for storing its waste?

School Violence

What is the cause of school violence?



What should teachers' role be in managing school violence?

Should we implement counseling programs in schools to reduce violence?

WTL - Practice Narrowing Topics Down to Issues (5-10 minutes)

Have students list one or two topics that they might be interested in researching (of the five that you voted on). Then, have them narrow these topics into 3 - 4 specific related issues. Ask them to form these issues as research questions. Since you've already modeled this activity as a class, you probably won't need to thoroughly explain it. Verbal instructions or instructions on an overhead should be sufficient.

If you have time, ask students to share their WTL responses with the class.


1.) Choose the topic you want to work with for Portfolios II and III (it should be one of the five issues voted on in class). Once you’ve chosen a topic, post your choice to the class Writing Studio forum. (**Note to GTAs – create a forum for this posting or ask students to email you their topic choice. This will allow you to create topic groups in advance).

2.) Research your topic to find out more about its origins and background. Also, find out who is talking about this issue and what they’re saying. Find at least two sources to print off and read (you may want to use the library databases to be sure your sources are credible). Then, annotate two of your sources for your Inquiry Journal by addressing the following questions in 1 – 2 paragraphs: What does this article say about your topic? What’s its purpose? What important issues or questions does it raise? What is your response to this article? Do you agree/disagree with the ideas it promotes? Do you find the article credible? Why or why not? Bring your articles and journal to class.