K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

This mini-unit is designed to offer students of writing who have reached a plateau an avenue through which they may again see improvements. By analyzing average and high-scoring student essay responses published by the state department (average papers are given to low scoring writers; high papers are given to average writers), students are given reasonable goals to achieve. Students are offered opportunities for gradual improvement.

Students improve oral communication skills through small group activities whereby they discuss specific aspects of the essay sample, then write a skeleton essay with their group on the literary work in study.

After the step-by-step process of analyzing student essays, students in the class will demonstrate an improved understanding of the writing process by writing a five-paragraph analytical response to the current text in study.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3.5 days


  • Handout
  • Categorize your students according to writing ability. Writers should be grouped homogeneously according to ability--low and average. Groups should have five persons, with each responsible for leading a discussion of one particular paragraph.
  • One mid-scoring and one high-scoring essay published in the state department’s booklet of student responses to the English II Writing Test, or use mid- and high-scoring essays written by your own students. Copies should be distributed to students according to their writing ability.
  • Each student will need a highlighter, copy of the assignment handouts (if not using the computer/TV), copy of the published student essay, paper, and pencil.
  • Each student will need a copy of two essay prompts (appropriate to a unit of literature previously studied) released by the state department, one for the small group activity and one for the individual student essay to be written as a culminating activity for the mini-unit.

Technology resources

  • AVer3Key Plus PC/MAC-to-TV Converter
  • Computer (in classroom)
  • Television (for displaying activities)
  • PowerPoint (in classroom)
  • Computer lab equipped with advanced word processing program (Word) and PowerPoint


The diversity of teacher expectations allows this unit to be taught at any point of the writing instruction, depending on the type of students in the class. I feel the mini-unit works best when students have reached a plateau in their writing, when they feel they have exhausted all possibilities for improvement yet still have not reached the desired level. This mini-unit should offer students an avenue for improvement; therefore, they should be very familiar with the writing process when this unit is offered.

This instruction should culminate a literary unit in order that students demonstrate mastery of the unit, coupled with improved writing ability.


Day 1

  1. To begin the lesson, I give students a copy of and go over Helpful Hints, a self-made handout to help students decipher prompts and plan, draft, and edit analytical essays. (For copy, see segment of attachment titled “Helpful Hints.”) I share this with my students over the television monitor so we may all stay focused on the same concept.
  2. After going over this, students evaluate a student essay response. Individual assessment of a published student essay requires students to have a copy of the essay prompt and the student response (a mid-scoring paper for low writers and a high-scoring paper for average writers) and a pen or highlighter. Instructions are stated explicitly on the attachment. Depending on the class and the amount of writing instruction they have had prior to the lesson, the teacher may wish to scan and display (using the AVerKey3 apparatus and television) a student essay prompt and response and model the activity. This is left to the discretion of the teacher. (Approximate time:30 minutes)
  3. Students should be given approximately 30 minutes to complete the individual activity. (See segment of the attachment titled “Evaluating the essay”)
  4. To culminate this portion of the mini-unit, students should be divided into groups (five students, preferably) according to their writing ability. Teacher should instruct one person in the group to begin with paragraph 1 to keep the discussions as focused as possible. Specific instructions for this activity are given in the attachment (Small group activity). (Approximate time: 30 minutes) **Since students have already studied the paper individually, I limit the time each student has to discuss his paragraph--usually 4 minutes. I also make sure to spend time in each group.

Day 2

Small Group Effort

  1. Students again divide into their small groups to pool their ideas and write a skeleton essay. My students had just finished A Doll’s House and were given a topic appropriate to that work. Explicit instructions for the group effort are given in the attachment.
  2. While students are working on this activity, I circulate among all groups, serving as facilitator and questioner (depending on the group). If a group is struggling, I ask prompting questions to help them focus. With more advanced groups, I prompt them to build on the ideas they have. When I see a group with a particularly interesting insight of which I feel other groups might benefit, I ask a person from that group to go to the computer so we can share that with the whole group on Day 3. My students use PowerPoint for this activity. If the computers in my room are all in use, I send students to another classroom or the computer lab (located in the library). Students’ time for putting the information on the computer is limited to 10 minutes. I usually allow students approximately 45 minutes to complete the skeleton essay.
  3. Afterward, we begin a whole class discussion where we share the PowerPoint segments of helpful insights. This leads to so many teachable moments. I have a student sit at the computer (hooked up to the television monitor) and type in sentences with grammatical mistakes, paragraphs which need specifics or elaboration, etc… The length of this entire Group Effort activity depends greatly on the class. While I do want to take advantage of every opportunity to help them improve, I generally tie together this lesson at the end of the ninety-minute block.

Day 3

Students are given individual copies of a new essay topic appropriate to the unit of literature just studied. (In this case, A Doll’s House) Students are allowed to refer to the Helpful Hints sheet only. They are given the ninety-minute block of time to write a five-paragraph essay. They must spend twenty to thirty minutes (minimum) planning their essay, thirty to forty-five minutes writing their drafts, and fifteen to thirty minutes revising and editing their drafts. I do not accept any papers until seventy minutes of class has lapsed, nor do I allow them to work on anything else during the first seventy minutes of class.

Day 4

Returning Students’ Essays
Teacher should select one strong paper and one weaker paper to use for class demonstration. Prior to returning students’ papers, teacher should type the two selected essays. Teacher should use the TV monitor and computer to share these with the class. Teacher may ask one student to sit at computer to type any changes that are discussed and agreed upon. This activity is particularly beneficial to students. Students value learning from their peers. Also, this can be a tremendous confidence builder for students, provided the teacher and students respect the essayist’s anonymity. Suggested time: 45 minutes.


While the teacher is able to assess at the various stages whether or not the class has met the objectives of the individual and small group activities, the teacher is able to make a final assessment by scoring each individual’s essay using the holistic scoring rubric provided by the state department. The teacher then can make further assessments by comparing this paper with previous ones to determine in what areas the student has improved. Score comparison will also indicate growth.

Supplemental information

Teacher should have many state-released, teacher-made, and textbook essay prompts from which to pull for this activity.
Teacher should also have many sample essays released from the state department (and student samples from this and previous years). These are a great reference for students to “see” the writing process. Students especially see validity in papers that have been scored by the state’s assessors.


I designed this mini-unit as a “last ditch” effort to improve my students’ writing (only three-four weeks prior to the writing test). I was quite pleased to see an improvement. These fundamental strategies have offered students who struggled with writing a means by which to achieve success at their own levels, something that presents magnanimous challenges in heterogeneously grouped classes.

I used this lesson at the end of the study of A Doll’s House, but it can be adapted to any unit in study by selecting essay prompts appropriate for the literary work.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Speaking & Listening

        • Grade 9-10
          • 9-10.SL.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and...
        • Writing

          • 9-10.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
          • 9-10.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
          • 9-10.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 10

  • Goal 1: The learner will react to and reflect upon print and non-print text and personal experiences by examining situations from both subjective and objective perspectives.
    • Objective 1.02: Respond reflectively (through small group discussion, class discussion, journal entry, essay, letter, dialogue) to written and visual texts by:
      • relating personal knowledge to textual information or class discussion.
      • showing an awareness of one's own culture as well as the cultures of others.
      • exhibiting an awareness of culture in which text is set or in which text was written.
      • explaining how culture affects personal responses.
      • demonstrating an understanding of media's impact on personal responses and cultural analyses.
  • Goal 6: The learner will apply conventions of grammar and language usage.
    • Objective 6.01: Demonstrate an understanding of conventional written and spoken expression by:
      • employing varying sentence structures (e.g., inversion, introductory phrases) and sentence types (e.g., simple, compound, complex, compound-complex).
      • analyzing authors' choice of words, sentence structure, and use of language.
      • using word recognition strategies to understand vocabulary and exact word choice (Greek, Latin roots and affixes, analogies, idioms, denotation, connotation).
      • examining textual and classroom language for elements such as idioms, denotation, and connotation to apply effectively in own writing/speaking.
      • using correct form/format for essays, business letters, research papers, bibliographies.
      • using language effectively to create mood and tone.
    • Objective 6.02: Edit for:
      • subject-verb agreement, tense choice, pronoun usage, clear antecedents, correct case, and complete sentences.
      • appropriate and correct mechanics (commas, italics, underlining, semicolon, colon, apostrophe, quotation marks).
      • parallel structure.
      • clichés, trite expressions.
      • spelling.