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Don't you hate it when your kids write for a thesis on a comparative question, "They're both similar and different?" Drivesmeuptheexpletivedeletedwall. The following exercise has not been classroom tested. It came to me after much rumination (i.e.: abject deperation born of not having a solution) about teaching kids to make a coherent point. If I meander, please bear with me (not, as one of my kids once wrote, bare with me!) The fundametal problem is that most high school students do not know how to establish a basis of comparison. Explaining how to do it in lecture can get highly abstract; the students minds wander after ten minutes. I hereby propose a shortcut: Why not reify it for them? Kids are familiar with the phrase "that's like comparing apples and oranges." So why not start there? Have each kid bring in one apple and one orange. Encourage them first to chart the similarities, and then the differences. Then move on to the fun part! Establish one particular way in which apples and oranges are similar'n'different. Perhaps taste? Arboreal origin? It does not matter exactly which you choose-- essentially, you are leading them to trace back from species to genus, so to speak. Exactly how that goes will depend on the conversation, getting a "feel" for what the kids are throwing at you. That should be an aha! moment in itself-- that the KIND of attribute or characteristic is the basis of comparison between any two things. Now for the superduperuberfun part-- logic! Have them do three separate charts: both, neither, and one (divide one down the middle). Yes, yes, I know: recapitualtion and all that. And so it is, up to a point. But here we are moving from a simple to a "scary" realm; the point of historical essay writing for students is putting what they already know into formal terms, right? And, of course, we want to purge them of the execrable similar'n'different habit. This time, have them group items on the "both" and "neither" charts by category, establishing so many bases for comparison. Then ask them to circle the one they think is strongest for each "both" and "neither". "One" can be a little messier. Once they are done with that part of the exercise-- and I am an agnostic on whether this should be done in groups or pairs or even at all-- explain to them that the two bases of comparison they circled are potential theses for an essay comparing apples and oranges. They should either choose one, or try to conflate the two. The rest of the bases of comparison they formulated are likely subpoints in an essay comparing apples and oranges. Ask them to choose the three strongest of the rest and come up with a three to five word tie between that and their thesis point (this is where I anticipate the most difficulty; nothing to do but slog through it). Explain that those three points are the topic sentences for each paragraph in a five paragraph essay. Then come back to the "one" list. Explain that those are things that would qualify their points-- essential details that must be taken into account in the course of their essays. Then segue into the next part. Students must outline an essay comparing apples and oranges including information from all three charts. They must write a full thesis and conclusion paragraph. There must be one characteristic in each body paragraph that applies only to either apples or oranges. The effect that "loner" characteristic has on the point of the paragraph must be explained in three to five words. I anticipate this taking one ninety-minute block period, if really hustled along.
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