Have you ever told your class they were about to start a writing assignment and been met with groans? Or sighs of boredom? If you’re being honest, maybe you were even dreading it because now you’d have 32 “meh” papers filled with random evidence and explanations that don’t quite make sense. What if we told you that a super fun activity that taught the power behind two magical sentences, could turn your students’ text-dependent writing around? Because if your middle school students are like most, justification, or explanation, or analysis, whatever you want to call it, is a major challenge when it comes to writing convincing arguments and well-organized papers.
Your New Favorite Writing Activity
The activity we’re going to share with you today not only gives students the practice they need to nail down their writing, but it’s SO MUCH FUN!
It’s one of those activities that when you see it scheduled in your plan book, you’re actually excited to go to school that day! It’s also one of those activities, where you’re going to get a bunch of students asking you when you can do another lesson like this one!
And that’s a huge win when it comes to writing! I want to point out that this activity is really versatile. It is an awesome way to hook students as you introduce literary analysis writing at the beginning of the year, and it can also be used if your students are familiar with text-dependent writing, but they need some help making it stronger!
Let’s break down this writing lesson:
Explain to students that they have been called upon to solve a mystery:
Pass out The Case of the Stolen Pearls student text and read it aloud.
Basically, it’s a story about a detective who is called into River Falls High School after Mr. Alvarez, the principal, reports his wife’s pearl necklace missing from the school safe.
He had placed it there and was planning to remove it later for their Anniversary dinner, but when he went to get it, it was gone! Three teachers happen to have been on campus when the pearls went missing, and they are called in for questioning!
After you read the story, place students into small groups and tell them their goal is to figure out which teacher stole the pearls.
They must use evidence from the text to support their reasoning! It helps to give students an Evidence Tracker. On the Evidence Tracker, students will write a claim, identifying which teacher they believe stole the pearls.
Then they’ll have to write two premises, or reasons they believe their claim is correct.
For each premise, they must include a piece of evidence from the story itself as well as 2-3 sentences of justification that explains how this evidence supports the premise and claim.
In the activity, we give you a graphic organizer with helpful hints to set your students up for success.
Explain to students that though there is an actual guilty teacher and you will reveal the answer, what’s most important is that they are creating strong premises, evidence and justification.
It’s perfectly fine if they have the wrong suspect as long as their justification is strong and follows the two-sentence framework from the activity!
Once each group completes their evidence tracker, they will write up their Case Reports. These Case Reports are essentially argumentative paragraphs disguised as a detective’s assignment, making the writing process so much more fun!
After each group is finished, have a representative from each group share their Case Report with the class. It’s fun to keep track of how many groups think a particular teacher is the guilty suspect!
After all the groups have shared, you can share the actual culprit and go over the evidence from the text that proves this person is guilty!
You can even explain to students that this Case Report is really just an argumentative paragraph, and students can use this same writing framework from the activity with other argumentative writing, too! This activity will quickly become a class favorite!