Beyond the Graphic Organizer

We would have liked some organization this week, but as of six hours ago, we didn’t know we’d be on vacation. At least from the work of paraeducating, and not ParaEducate. ParaEducate is about 3 hours from the Camp Fire, while everyone at ParaEducate is safe, needless to say the state of the air quality of the Central Valley of California has left everyone hoping for rain. But before school was canceled citing health concerns now that we’ve reached ‘Unhealthy’ AQI, we were looking at the process of writing an essay.

We realize some folks still have nightmares about essay writing in high school English classes. And most times, folks don’t always believe that a modified assignment can dovetail into a general education English class. They can, and they cannot. For the purposes of this demonstration,we will be looking at a traditional 5 paragraph essay assignment. Before you take a student through an essay, you have to wrap your mind around what an essay is and is not.

An essay is ‘advanced’ in the idea that it is a connection of paragraphs that lead through a journey. Nuances in writing are complex. There is a balance between a student not knowing how to overcome the barrier of ‘I don’t know’ and the loss of their voice because you are directing the student’s work hoping to help the student find the teacher’s vision for each student. Master wordsmiths break all sorts of rules when writing, however, learning and adhering to the skills of a traditional essay helps all students learn the patterns and when the student is able to start ‘breaking rules’, they understand what they are doing.

There is a balance between a student not knowing how to overcome the barrier of ‘I don’t know’ and the loss of their voice because you are directing the student’s work hoping to help the student find the teacher’s vision for each student. 

The Traditional Assignment

Not to induce nightmares, but here’s the breakdown: a teacher has a prompt and the student writes an essay to that prompt.

A traditional 5 paragraph essay has 5 separate paragraphs, the first being an Introduction. The introduction paragraph will have some background information and most importantly, the thesis statement outline three pieces that will be explored deeply in the body paragraphs.

The body paragraphs, of which there are 3 separate paragraphs: are written in the following order: topic sentence, piece of evidence, analysis of evidence, and concluding sentence. It is often encouraged to have at least two pieces of evidence with analysis for each piece of evidence. Evidence can be a quote from research or other reading that is needed for the prompt. A variation of an approach to analysis, depending on the subject, very common in History based classes, is that the essay introduce a counter argument or disproving ideas that are refuted by the primary evidence.

The final paragraph is a concluding paragraph. The concluding paragraph must restate the thesis and connect to reflection, but does not introduce new ideas or counter ideas previously mentioned.


…make the wall less cumbersome to climb over.

For students with disabilities, the point is pretty often to “do less”, make the wall less cumbersome to climb over.

Variation 1:

The student write a 1 paragraph “essay” to the prompt. Depending on a student this could be a 5 sentence paragraph (Topic sentence, evidence, explanation of evidence, reflection, and conclusion.) OR a 12 sentence paragraph where evidence and a reflection on each piece of evidence is provided, but is contained in a single paragraph. The students doing this version are not necessarily expected to have very deep understanding of the evidence provided, but this would be a direct link to a subject expressed by the prompt. There are many graphic organizers that support the writing of single paragraphs. One just has to search the internet. We understand that the “Hamburger Graphic Organizer” is fairly popular with writing a single paragraph.

This variation is the most useful with students who may fatigue easily because of their disability or who are easily distracted. Additionally, this option is for students who are still emerging writers, they’ve been able to write a sentence on topic independently but maybe not respond to a longer chapter book yet.

Variation 2:

The students writes an Introduction paragraph only.

This would be a student who is still ramping up past writing a paragraph on topic. This is an exercise used by some teachers just to gauge the students’ readiness in essay writing. But for some students, just getting to that opening paragraph and writing a concrete thesis is enough.

Variation 3:

The student writes an Introduction paragraph, a single body paragraph, and a concluding paragraph. In the introduction, the student focuses on one idea in their thesis. The body paragraph will have the student explore and provide evidence that one idea. Finally the conclusion is teaching them to wrap up the entire paper.

Before we leave modified essays, we want to point out we specifically left off ‘filling in a graphic organizer’. A graphic organizer is a tool. For students who can write, or are being encouraged to write sentences,starting with a graphic organizer is a great method. The next step is to take those pieces and connect to sentences.

But what about peer editing?

Peer editing is a rather difficult move when working with students with disabilities. There are some thoughts here on that too.

  1. Just let the students see the work as it is. Certainly the peers may comment that the work submitted is too short, but follow constructive criticism and help the student see the parts that are most effective to their growth as a writer.
  2. Swap papers that are modified only with modified peers in the class. This is often a good idea. Sometimes students who are modified actually don’t have the ability to go through a peer’s five paragraph essay. It can be daunting to look at a peer’s three to four page essay and realize you only formulated a few pages if at all.

Peer editing is invaluable to all students. It helps students learn to appreciate skills their peers have it gives students a chance to see opinions other than their friends.

We amazingly didn’t forget Formatting

Formatting an essay is a little cumbersome for some students. Fortunately for the most part, while format is often part of the grade of the essay, it is not the end all and be all of skills. Being comfortable around a computer is usually pretty important at this point for a final draft of an essay. If you ever need help with a specific layout, look it up, or the school often provides manuals to approach the different writing styles.

This leads into citations as well. A modified student may not necessarily complete a true citation in the format that the teacher likes. There are wonderful resources now online that allow students to format without consulting a table. Just drop in a URL and you’re off and running. Some students with disabilities will constantly need to be walked through the process, even a modified citation system. Giving the process will help later on in if they choose to continue to pursue academics.

We nearly had to write an essay just to explain an essay. Essay writing takes some finesse to lead a student through. We will talk about that more soon. 

One more thing…

We are off next week, November 22, to celebrate the annual Thanksgiving traditions observed in the United States. If you celebrate, we hope you are with loved ones. ParaEducate will return to blogging on November 29.

Another thing…

For anyone in any of the areas of California under evacuation or whose families are affected, we wish you safety and some healing peace while the firefighters on the lines continue to address the devastation the fires have caused. Those in the areas with horrible air quality, please continue to practice safety and caution when having to go out and look in on those who may be most likely affected by the poor air quality.

ParaEducate returns November 29. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere,and on ourwebsite. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials,information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
This entry was posted in 8 hours, blog, Campus, Class Specific Strategy, Classroom, Disabilities, ELA, Essay Writing, General Education Teachers, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Skills Lesson, Students. Bookmark the permalink.

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