After helping students create a good prewriting organizer, I sometimes see students begin their first drafts with no prewriting organizer in sight. “Where is it?” I ask. They dig through their writing binder and find it, hidden somewhere.
This tells me that those students are not used to writing an essay with a prewriting organizer. They don’t know how to use it. I can’t assume that “If they write it, they will use it.” They need to be taught how to use it.
I insist that the prewriting organizer be situated to the side of the notebook paper on which the student is writing his first draft. To show me that he is using the prewriting organizer, I ask him to cross out lightly the ideas as he includes them in his essay. By the time the essay is done, all the ideas on the prewriting organizer should be crossed out.
If a student is coming in cold after creating a prewriting organizer the day or the week before, I ask her to read the prewriting organizer to herself in the order in which she has numbered the subtopics. This warms up her brain and reminds her of the details and the scope of her essay.
While she is writing the first draft, I usually allow the student space, looking over her shoulder occasionally. If she is making progress, I leave her alone, but if she seems stuck, I intervene. The most common problem is how to start body paragraphs.
We reread the information planned for the paragraph and see how it relates to the essay topic, and from this we write a topic sentence. If a student has not written an essay before, I offer more help than I do for experienced writers.
Sometimes students recognize that they should change the order of their subtopics. Before beginning the rough draft is a good time to do that. Just cross out the numbers on the organizer and write new ones. Sometimes students recognize that they have little to say about one subtopic, but they can think of another one with greater detail. This is a good time to make that change.
Sometimes the student has lost interest in the topic of the essay completely and wants to change topics before he begins the first draft. Usually I let him discard the completed organizer and start over. You might think that creating that organizer was a waste of time, but no. The student has practiced organizing an essay, an essential skill of a good writer. Not every planned essay needs to be written.
In our next blog, we will talk about the conclusion, another difficult part of the essay for many students to write.