Jigsaw Essay: Peer Conversation on Writing

One of the challenges in writing is that the process is very internal. Kids work on writing in solitude and once they turn in their essays, the teacher becomes the first and final audience. I wanted to find a way to push that internal monologue out into the open and allow the kids to be reflective in their thinking with others.

So I tried jigsaw writing. The idea came to me in one of those quiet moments when I wasn’t doing much of anything, but thinking. I though that the same groups who discussed, reviewed and analyzed the two texts could write an essay together. The point of the exercise would not be to write a brilliant essay, but through the exercise of collaboration, get the kids to talk out the key ideas and the structure that would organize the ideas. They have to talk; otherwise, their paragraphs won’t connect at all. And so they did.

(I haven’t found anyone doing this yet. Has anyone else? Surely someone has.)

Here is how I ran it:

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 8.57.29 AM

A screen shot of the article found in the People archives.

Materials: The class requires students to write a comparison essay on two texts. I chose a People magazine article about a hero who risked his life to protect a boy who was in danger of being shot at a school gym. The other text was a waver of liability, a legal document permitting kids to participate in a safe but risky activity.

Background steps

  1. In the class previous, the students read the two texts (10 min.), then discussed the text types and the purposes. I walked around and listened. Next, I addressed the whole group, calling on individual students or volunteers to share good observations with the whole class.
  2. Then I handed out a chart with questions focusing on the different elements of analysis that they needed to cover. The work was still in groups, so students were encouraged to share their observations.
  3. When the kids came back to the next class, they started their discussion considering how culture and context affected the language of the text (10 min). Then I drew out highlights that were worth noting by having students repeat for the whole class what they said in their groups.

Now the writing

  1. My group sizes for this activity are between 3 and 4, but no more, because the planning period needs a smaller set for each student to participate actively.
  2. As a group, they must decide who will write which portion of the essay. For our ends, it does not matter whether they complete a whole essay. Most groups wrote an introduction, body paragraph one, and body paragraph 2.
  3. Now, the most important part. They have to discuss their approach to the topic and the key points so that they can lead into each others work. They have to decide who will cover which aspects of the thesis and when. Given enough time, they could also decide what evidence of the text they will draw upon. (A chart could be made to help this part of the process).
  4. I gave 15 minutes for the writing, but I think they needed more.
  5. At the end of the writing, the reading and reflecting portion is so important because it tells the kids how successful they were at collaborating the ideas of the essay.

Results

Some of the kids really needed more time to write, but the block was ending, and I wanted to tie up the lesson. Three groups who were finished really relished in reading the paragraphs together to see what continuity they had created. One student observed that there was a big difference in style–I expected this, but I was hoping that the ideas would at least work. After looking at the essays, I see that the connections were not very clear. Most kids ended up writing a kind of introduction to their paragraphs before heading into the thesis support. Some were able to start with a transition. What was missing was a guiding idea for all the observations. This shows me that the group needs the thesis written out before they start writing. Tomorrow I’ll try this again.

Any suggestions? Anyone try this?