kitchen table math, the sequel: Joanne Jacobs on how to teach writing

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Joanne Jacobs on how to teach writing

I asked Joanne to send me information on the 3-3-3 method of teaching writing over a year ago after she mentioned it in a post....and it's been sitting on my desktop waiting to get posted every since.


But better late than never:

In the '60s, Harvard Ed School developed the 3-3-3, which was used by my high school and maybe nobody else. In its full flower, it had one thesis sentence supported by three topic sentences, each of which was supported by three subtopic sentences each of which was supported by a minimum of three "concrete and specific details." Actually, we usually wrote 3-3s with one topic sentence, three subtopics, etc. We did nothing but expository writing all through high school. I never used the 3-3-3- format after high school, but I did learn to back up my assertions.
And feel free to quote me on the 3-3-3. I don't think it's the perfect way to teach writing. We certainly beat it into the ground at Highland Park High. But students do need to learn persuasive writing in addition to all the personal writing they're expected to do these days. My general advice for people who want their children to learn to write well would be . . .

1. Teach them to make an assertion and back it up with evidence.

2. Teach them the format for writing a research paper. Don't assume high school teachers will do this.

3. Tell them to write 500 words on a topic. Then, make them cut it to 400 words to see how much, if anything is lost. Then tell them to cut it to 250 words while keeping as much of the content as possible.
4. Encourage them to read widely and to pay attention to the author's choices. Why did the writer use dialogue rather than description? Why the first person and not the third person? Why this particular plot device or character?
5. Encourage them to imitate the writing styles of different authors (Hemingway, Faulkner, Whitman, Twain, etc.) to develop a sense of the possibilities.

6. I'm not a big fan of journal writing because it doesn't force writers to think about their audience. Young people, in particular, need to learn "it's not all about me." The goal is to communicate with other people. Working on a student newspaper or web site is a great way to learn to write for readers and to build fluency.

expert advice on teaching writing from Joanne Jacobs
more from Joanne Jacobs
doctor pion on writing a precis and critical reading
home writing program in place, for now


Anonymous said...

#6 resonates - it might be the best of the list.

I've written on my site in the recent past about general communication theory and how I don't, at this point, write with my audience in mind. There's a reason for that choice and I recognize the consequences of the decision.

I've noticed that most students aren't able to make that choice - they couldn't write for an audience if they tried. Solipsism abounds in developmental writing and for all the wrong reasons.

A strategy, certainly not a new one, is to have students read aloud what they've written and have another person read it to them. That helps a great deal with the blind solipsism - they hear the words as another reader might. Many times they're surprised. It trains them to consider, "How does this sound to someone else?"

Catherine Johnson said...

Forget students - that's happened to me!

Catherine Johnson said...

Good advice.