Prewriting organizers are essential

Many students think they can skip writing down a prewriting organizer, or that scribbling three or four words is enough planning before they begin their first drafts. But as a teacher, I can tell immediately when students have not thought through their essays before writing.   In those essays,

  • the writing sounds off-the-top-of-the-head;
  • the ordering seems haphazard;
  • the number of details is too few, too general, or lopsided; and
  • the essay strays from one main idea.

Essays are thoughtful presentations of ideas, not dream-like narratives. A stream of consciousness method of writing does not work for essays. Essays must be organized, and that plan of organization must be evident to the reader from the beginning of the essay.

Methods of grading student essays (rubrics) allocate up to 2/5 of the final grade for a combination of developing a single idea and organizing that idea in a clear manner. That’s 40% of the grade.

Think of the prewriting organizer as a recipe to follow to write an essay. Would you mix the ingredients for a new kind of cookies without a list of those ingredients? Would you combine the ingredients in any old order?

Or think of the prewriting organizer as Lego instructions for a new spaceship. Could you ignore the instructions, put together the Lego pieces any which way, and hope to end up with the spaceship on the box’s cover?

What kind of prewriting organizers work best? We’ll talk about next.

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