While my students drafted their opinion essays last week, I skimmed through the body paragraphs
they'd written to evaluate what we would need to Revise. In doing so, I looked for 2 areas that consistently make it into my lesson planning: Main Idea and Details. Right away, I noticed the following problems in their body paragraphs:
- Unclear Main Idea in paragraph.
- No Main Idea in paragraph.
- Main Idea doesn't fit with the Details in the paragraph.
- Details don't support the Main Idea in the paragraph.
- Not enough Details to support Main Idea.
With these problems in mind, today we tackled Revising for one Main Idea (M.I.) per paragraph with enough Details (Ds.) to support this idea. As writers, our responsibility is to make our ideas as clear as possible to our readers. For many young writers, though, the Revising phase is often murky, which requires some clarity and practice with a technique former students and I have had a lot of success with.
Two BIG Changes: M.I. + D. (Idea-Details, as needed)
In my class, I simply tell students that Revising = making BIG changes, and we must make BIG changes in our writing to make it better. More importantly, we must make changes so that our readers are able to clearly follow our ideas. We want our readers to keep reading our writing, not turn away from it.
For the day's lesson, I used the first body paragraph I'd written last week during the Drafting phase and read it aloud to the class. I then asked myself:
What's the ONE most important thing I want my readers to know in this paragraph?
Then, I underlined the sentence where I believed my Main Idea was located (the answer to the above question). Once I had this sentence identified, I asked myself this same question with a slight modification at the end:
What's the ONE most important thing I want my readers to know in this sentence?
Using the same color pen I'd underlined this sentence with, I drew a box around the Main Idea in this sentence. You can see these steps in the picture here.
I read another body paragraph to my students, but this time around I asked my students to identify the sentence they believed included my Main Idea, and I followed the steps from before. Once they correctly identified it, I asked them to identify the M.I. within this sentence, and I drew a box around it as I'd done before. We practiced one more time with a third body paragraph, and then I gave them some time to practice with their body paragraphs following the same steps I'd taken. If they finished early, I had them follow the same steps with their other body paragraphs while I walked the room to clarify directions and offer my help as needed.
I then moved into Revising for Details with the hope that we'd be able to tackle any problems students had with their Main Idea sentence using a strategy called Idea-Details. I re-read the first body paragraph where I'd underlined my M.I. sentence and checked to see if I had enough Ds. to support this idea. Now, I needed to check to see whether or not my Ds. supported my Main Idea. I did this by simply asking myself this question for EACH Detail:
Does this Detail prove my Main Idea?
Within this particular paragraph, I'd used evidence (facts) to support my Main Idea. As I carefully re-read my Details, I noticed 2 Ds. didn't even support the M.I. for this paragraph. I crossed them out with a one-line strike-through. Then, I was 2 Details short (see pic 2). So I used an
Idea-Details to add in the Details I was clearly needed. First, I wrote in my M.I. under the Idea column, then I added in the Ds. I already had written. After that, I thought about a few more that would take the place of the ones I crossed out. Once I finished my Idea-Details, added my new Details near the ones I crossed out earlier. Then, I re-drafted this paragraph on a new piece of paper.
From here, I have my students begin checking the Details in their own body paragraphs. Again, I write the steps on the board that I want them to follow:
- Number the Details in your paragraph. (Most likely, these Details will not be in your first sentence because your M.I. is located there).
- Do you have enough Details to support your Main Idea? (If no, use the Idea-Details to add more).
- Label each Detail you use with its type (Example/Experience, Eviddence, Explanation). You may use one type of Detail (as long as you have at least 3), or you may use any combination of The 3 E's.
- Ask yourself: Do these Details prove my Main Idea? If yes, move onto next paragraph. If no, what do you need to fix? Do you need to change your Main Idea sentence? Or, do you need to change your Details? (Use the Idea-Details strategy for either fix).
Practice, Practice, Practice
Since this is the first time this year that I've shown my students these tips for Revising for M.I. + D., I certainly don't hold the unrealistic expectation they'll perfect it the first time through, or that they'll have these tips memorized for our next piece. I also know that I'll have to do a lot of re-teaching and re-explaining during their work time, which is why I have students share their work with the entire class.
While they're practicing with the steps I've taught them, I'll select 3-4 student samples that vary in quality and have each student read his/her paragraph to the class. We'll follow the same steps I modeled with my paragraphs and help the writer determine what he/she needs to Revise. Then, we'll trouble- shoot how to help the writer fix his/her Main Idea and/or Details using the Idea-Details strategy I modeled earlier.
Sharing student examples that vary in quality and skill-level allows students opportunities to gauge their work against the work their classmates are producing. All good writers know we get better by comparing our work to other writers, by practicing with writers who are better than us, and by helping those who may not be as good as we are.
I've found that multiple sharing opportunities makes or breaks this Revising lesson, even if I have to spread it out over a couple of days. It also helps break teaching time and work time into smaller segments (10-15 minutes), which helps keep us focused.
Students need many opportunities to master the tricks I've shown them. So, we'll use the strategies outlined in today's lesson for the rest of the year with EVERY piece we write.
Better Revising = Better Writing
Using the Main Idea question from the beginning of the lesson allows students a tangible way to check to see if their M.I. is clear for their readers, or if they even have one. With the Idea-Details we can change our M.I. if we need to and add/change the Details that best support this Main Idea (as needed).
Showing students the practice of Revision (in my own writing) and giving them time to practice the strategies I've taught them provides students with many opportunities to produce better quality writing. Ultimately, that's what I'm after--creating better writers whose readers can count on clear Ideas with plenty of proof!
For more on Revising for Main Idea, Details, or the Idea-Details strategy 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 email@example.com.