My "go-to" pre-writing strategy for expository and persuasive writing is something called the What-Why-How (W-W-H). As my students and I enter 2nd term and we've had time to finish a few different books, I introduce them to persuasive writing by showing them how to write book reviews using the W-W-H.
The What-Why-How as a Reading Tool
Before we begin writing our own book reviews, we take a look at some book reviews from the web along with a few book reviews former students have written. On the white board, I set up a What-Why-How like the one seen in the picture here. In the first column, I write the question: What does the writer think of this book? In the second column, Why does the writer think this book is worth reading? In the third column, How does the writer know this book is worth our time?
We then read through one of the sample reviews together and fill in each column. We start with the What column first. I tell students that what we believe is the writer's opinion can only be one sentence. This one sentence serves as the writer's main idea. Once we've figured this out, I write it under the What column.
Next, we move into the Why column. This column includes the reasons that support the author's opinion in the What column. Sometimes, it's helpful for students to start these reasons with the word "Because" to remind them that these are reasons that support the writer's opinion of the book, not more opinions. When we figure these out, I write them in leaving some space between each one.
Finally, we fill in the How column. These serve as details to support the writer's reasons from the previous column. A minimum of 3-5 details/reason is usually enough to support each of the writer's reasons for convincing us to read this book. As we determine the examples, evidence, or explanations the writer is using to support his/reason in the How column, I fill in the details next to the appropriate reason.
Before moving onto using the What-Why-How as a pre-writing tool for our own reviews, we'll use this as a reading tool with 1-2 more examples. By showing students the W-W-H as a reading strategy first, they're able to see it's usefulness.
The What-Why-How as a Pre-Writing Tool
Once students see how the What-Why-How works, we take out a blank sheet of paper and set up our own W-W-H. I have my students turn their papers horizontally to give them more room to work with. At the top, we write the title and author of the book we've chosen to review. In the picture, you can see one of my students chose to review Sarah Dessen's Someone Like You.
After we've set up our W-W-H, I model how to fill in the What column with the book I'm reviewing. I write one sentence that includes my opinion of this book. (Later in the revising stage, we'll use this statement as the main idea sentence for our lead). When I've finished my What statement, I share it with my students and then give them 3-5 minutes to write their own.
When time's up, I have a few students share their What statements and we move onto creating our reasons to support our opinions in the Why column. I like to have 4-5 reasons that support my opinion of this book so if 1 or 2 of them doesn't work out, I have a couple for back-up. I share these and have kids do the same. I give them 5-7 minutes to come up with solid reasons why they hold the opinions they do of their books.
Finally, we move into the How column where we add in our supporting details. This is where we'll do most of our thinking so we spend most of our time working in this step. I remind students that our details need to be examples, explanations, or evidence (something we call the 3 E's, which I'll explain in a later post). Again, I model with the book I'm reviewing and share. In this step, I'll give students 10-15 minutes to fill in their How columns.
After work time, I have a few students come up to my desk, place their W-W-H underneath my document camera and share with the class. We talk about each one in detail to ensure the writer who is sharing has correctly filled in each column with one opinion sentence of the book, reasons to support this opinion, and details to support his/her reasons.
I then ask the class, "Do you think this writer has enough pre-writing to get a draft started?" If they answer, "Yes" the student is allowed to go back to his/her desk. If students answer "No" or are confused by something in the W-W-H, we help the writer clarify his/her ideas.
Our final step in the What-Why-How is to draw a big circle around each reason and the details that go with it. In the drafting phase, the reasons will become topic sentences for body paragraphs and the details will serve as supporting sentences. After we finish drafting, we'll revise for beginnings and endings.
The What-Why-How is a strategy that works well because it allows students to "see" how each idea is connected to the previous idea. It's linear design allows me to quickly determine if a student's logic is working, or not. When it isn't, I can have students quickly re-do the W-W-H, or cross something out in a particular section and revise it. More than anything else, it allows students the opportunity to thoughtfully plan their ideas and the structure of their book review before drafting.
For more on the What-Why-How, see The Writing Teacher's Strategy Guide.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.