Idea development depends on this transition phrase
This week, my junior classes worked on their theme analysis essays. These essays serve as a final flourish to our unit on James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and the 2013 movie by the same name.
A link to my free “In other words” handout on TpT
The skinny on how I used this in class last week
Each day last week, I started class with a mini-lesson on a specific focus area. On Thursday, we discussed idea development. For students to effectively and thoroughly flesh out ideas in writing, it’s helpful if they know concrete ways to do just that. Explicitly offering students this phrase is akin to methodology from the Writing Revolution, where other phrases such as specifically, for instance, and for example, help students add detail to their writing.
My best and easiest-way-ever tip that encourages students to more thoroughly discuss their ideas?
In other words,
Yep, that’s right. Nothing fancy here.
But it’s also a sure-fire phrase that, as I tell students, will automatically prompt them to elaborate and flesh out their ideas. It’s the catalyst that will help them stay at the scene of their evidence and interpret, elaborate, explain, reiterate, reinforce, and develop that idea to the moon and back.
Here’s a photo of a handout I made that we read in class:
Again, it’s nothing fancy. Just a little handout to serve as a reminder that “In other words,” placed after a quote or paraphrase from a text will provide some breathing space for that idea so the writer can dwell on it, amplify it, get to the heart of it.
I pulled a quote from James Swanson’s Chasing Lincoln’s Killer to create this example for the handout, which shows some interpretation sparked by the sentence that begins, “In other words,…”
Note that the quote is supported first by the sentence that begins “In other words,…”, which then prompts two additional sentences that build on, expound, and reinforce the idea of the quote.
And of course, there are alternatives to “In other words,…”. As shown on the handout, there are these options:
- This passage reveals…
- To phrase it simply,…
- In simpler terms, one could also say…
- The author’s point is that…
- Worded differently,…
Again, it’s fairly straightforward, but for students, it’s easy to overlook.
Perhaps they think they’re being redundant, or needlessly explanatory. I always tell them, you can never be too obvious when you develop and support your ideas. When you think you’ve said too much to explain yourself, go ahead and write a little more. You can always edit it down later.
And true, the best writing says the most with the fewest words. But for high school students (mine anyway), there’s a presumption that the reader will follow along and fill in the blanks.
My response to that is: Why leave any blanks? Why assume the reader will want to work to figure out what you’re trying to say?
Why potentially lose the reader to the confusion or distraction that results when they fail to follow your train of thought?
It’s better to never confuse, distract, or otherwise lose the reader at all.
“In other words,…” will help you do just that.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for two weeks from now when I plan to share some resources for my Walter Mitty unit. I start the unit right before Christmas break and then extend it well into January. It’s an awesome way to start the new year!
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