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We discuss how the organizer gives a story its structure, and then I ask, "Does it dictate how many paragraphs you'll have to use?" The answer to that question is--of course--"No!", and it's a good discussion to have. Each of the three parts in this story-planning structure can be broken into smaller parts; that middle part alone might warrant a story from a student that requires four paragraphs by itself. In expository--even in personal expositories--each paragraph should have a planned purpose. When I teach expository, my students are required to--before we draft a paper--justify the "paragraph map" they have created that will guides their essay's direction and most of its paragraph breaks..
Every week in my class, we are looking at published writing of all types and forms, discussing techniques the different authors used to make the writing stand out. During the time I am introducing the techniques and graphic organizer above, I am using "This I Believe" essays from the NPR website as my "Mentor texts" for discussing quality writing techniques. The NPR website features so many free-to-access essays that your students will find worthy of discussion. I invite you to find your own at the NPR website, but below are the ones I focus on, in case you're interested; you can search the on-line database at the NPR-sponsored website to find essays about quite a few topics/themes, I imagine.
Yet the most irritating part of the holiday is when that irritating distant aunt (invariably the one that always gave you ugly sweaters three sizes too big or small for Christmas as a kid) insists on "Let's go around the table and say what we're thankful for." I hate that smug question. It's a no win proposition. Most people blather something like "my family," "my loving blah blah blahs." One or two people will be smartasses and say "my iPhone," or "the fact that I only have to answer this question once per year," or "this awesome turducken." And then the person who insisted on the little game, along with others of their ilk who would have suggested it if no one else had, will give a detailed, planned out, and drippingly saccharine speech about everything wonderful in their life which has been cribbed out of a lifetime of Hallmark cards.
My only regret with using this essay is the name of the author's blog: "Where in the Hell is Matt?" Hell is a word not allowed by me in my Language Arts classroom, and I always apologize before showing the clip from You Tube, which is titled the same as his blog. Just want to warn you up front that there's a "Hell" you might need to address.
And so in the comments, tell everyone what you believe in, and below are the five best "I Believe" speeches, from books, movies and this life we call real. They're in no particular order, because I don't believe in starting fights during the holidays. Only in finishing them.
Martin Luther King
"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!"
"I'm a simple man with a simple mind, with a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out in plastic for three cents a unit.
This is the "Awww, cute" essay from the bunch I share. You absolutely have to find time to play the essay aloud for your students. I have eighth graders, and Tarak always manages to make even my most cynical writers listen to his words carefully.
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be it Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal saviour.
"And finally, I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown. In the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth. That we always make it just by the skin of our teeth, but that we will always make it. Survive. Endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes will endure. Will endure longer than his home planet -- will spread out to the stars and beyond, carrying with him his honesty and his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage and his noble essential decency.