I'm sharing three of my favorite, hands-on mini-lessons that can be used in any classroom, with any age group of students. Though the amount the students write may differ depending on age, the practices with these mini-lessons translate with ease.
I originally created these mini-lessons in workshop sessions I held, and then compiled them into my free guide Strengthening Constructed Response: 3 Mini-Lessons that move beyond the acronym and deepen analysis. And while yes, these mini-lessons strengthen constructed response or evidence-based writing, they also support other types of writing as well.
#1: Use Blank Pieces of Paper
Note-taking is a critical comprehension skill that helps students process what they have read. One of the issues we face with constructed response writing students must pull evidence from multiple texts that they have read. Getting students to read is the first step, and modeling how to take notes on a simple sheet of paper is step one.
Rather than print out a template, have students practice taking notes on a blank sheet of paper. If you read two texts, fold it in half. Read three texts--fold it into thirds.
Leave a space at the top for the prompt and room at the bottom to write down key, content specific words. This will help support word choice in their response.
Don't panic if your students write down details or evidence that you deem irrelevant. Use that data as information on what they are noticing and not noticing--then model what stood out to you.
Using this format, they can draw connections between the texts, finding similarities, differences, etc.
For a Challenge: Add sources! The more sources they need to synthesize, the more challenging the reading task.
#2: Use Note Cards
After students have jotted down the key information (or ideas that stand out to them) they can take their thinking a step further by practicing the skill of Organizing Notes. Use this strategy to help them analyze the importance (or lack thereof) of various pieces of evidence.
Put students in groups of 3-4. Give each group an identical stack of notecards. Each notecard should contain 1 piece of evidence from the text.
Ask students to then ran the evidence from greatest to weakest.
Change up the question/prompt and ask students to notice how the order of importance for evidence changes.
For a challenge: Allow students to write down evidence of their choice, or have students create notecard stacks for other groups.
#3: Use Sticky Notes
Constructed response writing asks students to share their thoughts, based on evidence, on a particular question or prompt. When students fail to use specific word choice or language, clarity of ideas is lost.
The problem is found in the pronoun "This" that is often used to explain thinking. Rather than start with "This..." teach students to replace the
pronoun with a specific idea from the evidence. You can model the strategy by using sticky notes to replace the pronouns.
Using white boards or large pieces of paper, ask students to write a complete constructed response.
When they are finished, give each student 1-2 sticky notes and tell them to replace the vague pronouns with specific ideas or nouns.
Students can also complete this activity or pairs to provide collaborative feedback.
You may want to model a sample on your screen or document camera before asking students to try it.
So there you go! You can use these mini-lesson for constructed response writing or any other type of process or evidence-based writing. Students can add images, phrases or other symbols if that helps them capture their thoughts.
Students need time to process their thoughts about what they've read before they take their ideas to "the paper." Give them other pieces of paper, first, to allow them to process, plan, brainstorm, and move their thoughts around.
If you're interested in learning more about how to strengthen constructed response writing in particular, check out my session: Strengthening Constructed Response.