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Writing from Sources

Page history last edited by kieran.ohare@... 10 years, 1 month ago

Writing from Sources

Writing persuasive essays requires students to, identify claims and evidence, read complex text, paraphrase, summarize, organize complex thoughts, and write clearly and correctly. 


This page will address the following questions:

How is the persuasive essay different from other types of Writing?


The GED Test vs. the TASC

For the last 11 years, students have practiced writing essays for the GED test that were based on personal experience. The current GED-type essay requires students to make one or two main points supported with an example from personal experience or the experience of others.  If a student can write clearly about his/her own experience and provide elaborated examples without a plethora of errors, the student will pass. 


The persuasive essay is much more demanding.  To compare a GED 2002 writing prompt with a TASC or Common Core writing prompt, click here.



Recognizing Text Types

Most texts are written for one of three purposes:


  • To inform
  • To persuade
  • To entertain 


One way to introduce students to the concept is to give short examples of each type of text and ask them to distinguish.  Two resources for this kind of exercise are located here.


Once students have started to understand the features of a persuasive text, they can be asked to analyze persuasive text.  What is the writer’s position?  What reasons or evidence does she provide to support her opinion?  Click here for word document providing an example of a persuasive text with discussion questions that focus students on key features of a persuasive essay.  


Students can also take notes in graphic organizers after they have identified a writer’s purpose, main point, and supporting evidence.  For an example, click here.


How can I help my students understand argument, claim, and evidence?


Understanding Claims

Before they can write persuasively, students must build an understanding of what a “claim” is.  A rich definition must be provided and students must have multiple opportunities to analyze whether a statement is a “claim” or not.  Here are some resources for identifying claims:


  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab provides a great resource in its "Developing Strong Thesis Statements" article located here.


  • Jamie Teague, a teacher at Brooklyn College, developed a lesson with her class to help them understand the word “claim.”  Click here to go to a wiki page with the lesson plan and get the relevant materials. 


  • Another helpful website, both for teachers and students is located here.  It separates out four different types of claims that can be made, and provides examples illustrating each. 



Understanding Evidence

Also essential to writing persuasively is understand what “evidence” means.  Here, again, the concept is complex, because different disciplines define “evidence” differently. Below is a description of what evidence means and some helpful resources to help students identify and evaluate evidence in writing.


What is Evidence in writing?

While college-educated people generally know what is meant by “evidence” in the context of academic discourse, students most often do not. In his book “Teaching Argument Writing,” George Hillocks argues that “In my research, teenagers, including college freshmen, see no reason to question or substantiate claims in any context.”  This is quite often true of adult students as well.  Time must be spent discussing what constitutes “evidence” in different academic contexts.  Here are some resources to help students identify evidence:


  • For an exercise on identifying evidence and making claims click here.  The materials are located at the bottom as downloadable Word Documents.  If you have trouble locating it, there is a word document with an activity concerning claims and evidence here.


  • You may want to have students read simple persuasive texts and identify the “proof” the writer provides.  This link from the UNC Writing Center contains helpful information about what is considered “evidence” in different academic disciplines.


  • The UNC Writing Center also provides definitions of what constitutes evidence in literature here


  • An additional source of information that describes four different types of evidence can be found here


Once students have begun to develop an understanding of claims and evidence, they can analyze short opinion pieces to identify the claim being made and the reasons or evidence used to support it.  


Evaluating Evidence

Students also need to be able to evaluate evidence.  How sound is the evidence?  How logical is it?  Is it sufficiently linked to the claim? The following links provide some resources for helping students answer these questions.


  • This link provides guidelines about evidence and how to link a claim and evidence.


  • Another helpful site about linking claims with evidence that also includes exercises and examples can be found here


  •  Students might also be asked to compare two student papers- one that is built upon relevant, logical evidence, and one that is not.


  • This site provides students with helpful guidelines and a clear rationale for supporting a claim.   



 How can I help my students recognize an author’s claims and evidence in text?


Identifying Claims in a Text

For the TASC, students do not only need to write persuasively.  They must also write from sources—that is, they must learn to recognize claims and evidence in text. 


EngageNY.org has an entire sequence of lessons for English Language Arts that focus on helping students recognize claims and evidence in text.  The lessons are written so that the task of identifying claims and evidence in scaffolded in the early grades in order to give students a chance to learn the skill.  In the lesson for 6th grade, students are not yet asked to identify claims.  Rather, the teacher provides claims and students are asked to look for evidence to support those claims in the text. 


  • Click here to access the "Making Evidence Based Claims" unit from EngageNY.


  • Lessons for later grades provide scaffolding so that students may develop their own claims.  Click here for an example based on a speech by Cesar Chavez. 


  • A simpler version of this type of graphic organizer, created for the GED 2014, is available here.



Paraphrasing and Quoting

You’ll notice that the graphic organizers above call for students to paraphrase and quote from the text.  These are themselves skills which will take some time for students to develop.  Students must first understand how a paraphrase differs from a quote, then practice paraphrasing and choosing quotes.  



Students need to understand that paraphrasing means:

  • Restating what the author has said
  • Using language different from the author's
  • Personalizing the message (How would I say it?) 


The following sites provides very specific guidelines and examples for students and teacher about paraphrasing:




Quoting is another skill that students must practice if they are to write effectively from sources.  It is especially important to help students:


  • Learn how to quote only the necessary portions of text
  • Copy the text out exactly and use quotation marks
  • Give credit to the author
  • Distinguish between quoting and paraphrasing
  • Embed quotations in the text they are writing


The sites below provide examples and guidelines:




How can written models and templates support students in writing from sources?



Models of well-written essays are absolutely essential for students who are learning to write.  Most of us don’t remember, but we learned to write by copying models.  The models were the books and scholarly articles we read.  Often, adult students do not read a lot.  Providing them with models that show the “moves” to make in writing goes a long way in helping them “get it.”


One of the most helpful ways to create a good writing lesson is to write the assignment yourself as you prepare the lesson.  Once you do this, you will probably discover that most of the essay you write will consist of introductory or explanatory remarks as well as quotes and paraphrases from the source you are drawing upon. 


Graff and Birkenstein, the authors of “They Say, I Say”, point out that this is the essence of academic writing:  When you write in an academic context, you are joining a larger conversation.  You need to refer to what the other guy said (They Say) and then contribute your interpretation, addition, or revision (I Say).


Providing students with models and asking them to identify the “parts” of a persuasive paragraph can be very helpful.  Here is an example:


It is also extremely helpful to include examples of teacher-written models, which can be simpler and tailored to the level of your students and the type of assignment they will to have to do.  Click here for an example of a teacher-written response to the essay prompt for the GED 2014.


While models of essay written by professional writers can be inspiring, remember that one of the main purposes of a model is to give students the sense that “I can do it too.”  When this technique is used to teach students, it’s best to start with simply worded essays with less complex claims and evidence to start with.



Templates have been shown to be enormously helpful in providing students with the scaffolding needed to write successful academic essays.  If you buy one book to help you prepare students to write from sources, I recommend this one: They Say, I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.  The authors contend that students do not come to college understanding the “moves” of academic writing, and propose teaching students those moves through templates that will guide them both in the thinking and the language that goes into this kind of writing. Here is a link to the book on Amazon.


For a quick glance at the templates, try this site.


Of course, templates should be used judiciously, not just thrown at students as a list.  Certain templates come in especially handy when helping students to begin writing an essay or to formulate a thesis statement.


The following template helps students construct a sentence that includes both argument and counterargument:



In recent discussions of _______________, a controversial issue has been whether ___________________.  On the one hand, some argue that _____________________.  Others argue that ____________________________________. 



This template is useful in helping students understand how to write a complex sentence that contains two opposite ideas, and also that, in academic writing, they are often expected to couch their own ideas in the contexts of what other writers have said.   Students often struggle with the language of persuasion, and by providing students with a scaffold for this language, they can concentrate on other aspects, such as making sense and using evidence correctly.


The TEAL Guide also provides guidelines for using templates, or frames, to help students write persuasively.


Sentence Starters and Sentence Combining

Another version of templates and that can be helpful to students in formulating their ideas and developing arguments are sentence starters and sentence combining exercises.


Sentence starters are just that…phrases that start off a sentence.  Students finish the “idea” of the sentence by inserting their own words.  For examples of sentence starters formulated to help students write arguments:


Another skill that students will need to develop in order to write more effectively from sources is the skill of sentence combining.  There are several sites that provide guidance in teaching sentence combining:


What kinds of feedback are most effective in helping students develop as writers?


Criteria and Rubrics

To develop skill as persuasive writers, students need to understand the criteria for an effective piece of writing.  The qualities of an effective persuasive essay can be extrapolated for now from the rubric of the GED 2014 test.


It has been common practice for teachers to provide students preparing for the GED test with the scoring rubric and anchor papers, and that will still be a helpful guide to students in understanding what is expected of them as they develop skill in this new form.  Anchor papers are not yet available, but the scoring rubric for the TASC writing exam can be found here.



Teacher Feedback

While scoring rubrics and anchor papers are helpful, well-designed teacher feedback is essential to helping students develop as writers.  Posted below are a number of helpful guidelines for providing feedback to students about their writing:



Click here to view guidelines for adult students developed by CUNY staff developers.

Finally, it is a good idea to bear in mind that students who are learning to write in a second language will need special supports.  Guidelines developed by CUNY adult education teachers for working with second language writers can be found here.





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