By Marina Fedosik, Princeton University
I use this lesson plan at the beginning of the semester when the students read their first scholarly article. Eventually, they will be writing papers that enact the moves typically used by scholars in academic writing.
The lesson plan aims to develop both reading and writing skills. In my experience, students who are used to writing 5-paragraph essays are drawn to the parts of articles they can understand more easily—usually, examples and narrative stretches of prose. Focusing their attention on these elements, students often miss the framing, context, and the general thrust of the argument. In other words, they tend to miss or understand only partially such elements as: 1) the motive (in Gordon Harvey’s terminology), also known as the problem, question, puzzle and 2) the network of ideas united by the thesis.
In response to these challenges, this lesson plan aims to teach them two main things. First, the bingo exercise teaches them to understand the meaning of an article better by knowing where to look for key questions and insights that control the sequence of evidence analysis in an article. Second, students learn to see their readings as models for their own writing as they recognize and later enact the moves other scholars make.
While geared towards work with scholarly articles, this lesson plan can be used as a way to understand the connection between structure and meaning/idea(s) of any piece of writing (by customizing the Lexicon below).
1) Read a handout on the elements of an academic essay (I use Gordon Harvey’s terminology (motive/thesis/structure, etc.), but the handout can be customized).
2) Read the assigned article and annotate it using PowerNotes. Print out the annotations (use the Word file PowerNotes allows you to create).
Note: At this point I do not usually give a detailed explanation of what annotation means beyond saying that it involves highlighting, paraphrasing, and reflecting on the meaning of the highlighted section. We have a separate lesson on writing around/with evidence.
Copies of a filled out bingo-like card (a grid) with the most important sentences from the article in each square of the grid. I select sentences that articulate the motive and the thesis (both in the introduction and conclusion), and key sentences from each section of the body of the article that represent stages of the motive and thesis evolution (if necessary).
The exercise can work without a bingo card, too.
The first step could be done in different ways.
1: Students work with a handout of the filled out bingo card on their own, checking if they selected and annotated all the key quotes on the card. Then, they talk about their choices to their neighbor, discussing the reasons for selections.
2: Or I can read the quotes from the card and the students check if they have the same quotes in their printouts of PowerNotes annotations.
Whoever has all the quotes from the grid, wins.
Class discussion follows about reasons to select or ignore certain pieces of evidence and the importance of/ways to understand what the writer of an article meant as its central problem/question and its claim/findings.
We draw on Harvey’s description of the academic essay elements to discuss where in an article to expect what kind of information, what parts are central to conveying and understanding an argument and which parts are conceptual steps that build up a larger idea. We discuss the role of claims and evidence in a line of thinking as well as how our own frameworks for reading determine what we see and ignore in a piece of writing.
By the end of the activity, students should have a basic understanding of how structural elements help convey the meaning of a scholarly article and how academic writer’s and reader’s experiences are connected.