2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The "New" Paper

My sophomores finished their persuasive research papers in February, and they presented them as speeches in March.  This took more than a month of preparation: how to research, how to document sources, how to prep a paper, how to edit and revise, and finally how to turn a persuasive paper into a speech for a cause.  It was exhausting for all of us but totally worth it.  I feel confident that my students have practiced good research and writing technique, and I hope they will tap into this process the next time they have to write a formal paper.


Our next composition is a comparison paper, and I thought, "What do students normally compare and why should they care about it?"   The answer is this:  Students are consumers, as any marketing agency knows, and they compare EVERYTHING.  What kinds of research do students do before they make a purchase or use a product?  They read reviews on Amazon, or they watch them on YouTube.  So, I decided to tap into their natural curiosity about the products they consume.  Our comparison paper became a comparison consumer review.

The easy part was teaching them comparison format, and the fun part was showing them embedded YouTube clips of comparisons of fast food.  See James Norton, who used to be Supertaster for Chow.com, review burgers in this clip:

The students loved watching Norton review peanut butter, hot chocolate, you name it.  I loved that we could talk about the structure of his comparisons: Does he use block style or point by point?  How does he remind you of the purpose of his comparisons?

The students also had time to browse written consumer reviews on the web to see what was interesting to them as readers and helpful to them as consumers and what was not.

Then the writing began, and honestly, I thought this would be the easiest part.  Oh, they did a great job with outlines and research, but when it came time to put it all together, they started constructing typical five-paragraph essays.

"Hey!  What are you doing?" I asked the class after seeing students type up neat paragraphs with good topic sentences and quotes from sources to support their points.  "Is this what you would like to read online if you're researching products?"

"Well, no, "they replied, "but isn't this how you write a paper?"

This. Isn't. A. Paper.

It took a class period for me to convince them to support their ideas in other ways than quotes and parenthetical citations.  I reminded them of the pictures and video clips they saw when browsing reviews.  We practiced hyperlinking for the consumer who might want more information.  Finally, I saw some light bulbs going on above students' heads.  Finally, the consumer reviews became relevant to them.

Our next step is publication, but we aren't there yet.  When the editing is done, the students will load their reviews into our Blackboard blog, where they will see all the posts and comment on them.  My hope is that seeing their blog posts online and seeing comments from peers attached to those posts will drive the point home that writing is relevant, and not all writing has to be a formulaic five-paragraph essay--although I'm not knocking formulas or five-paragraph essays; those definitely have their place in the teaching of writing, just not every kind of writing.

Oh, and there is one last benefit to writing comparison consumer reviews:

I don't have to lug these around with me.
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