Allow Me to EXplain

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
your curly co-captain, Suzanne

...preferably with EXamples...

That's right, today is all about EXpository writing.  

Our expository essays follow this frame from Gretchen Bernabei:

Students draw and label this structure almost daily.  We deconstruct other author's writing to find these parts.  This shows up in the Article of the Week assignment.  We dream about these four boxes.  I mean, look at them, they are rather dreamy!  

Let's face it- we've got 26 lines and limited time.  When you look at effective STAAR released essays, they have this basic structure.  It comes down to being concise and logical.

To plan, students draw and label the expository structure.  They then kernel 4 sentences of their essay.  Four sentences, four boxes- you get where I'm going with this.  A brilliant colleague came up with these sentence stems to help guide students' thinking:
1.  I think...
2.  I think this because...
3.  I also think this because...
4.  That's why...

We work closely with these stems at the beginning of the year.  It helps guide thinking and gets words down on paper.  Slowly, we move away from them.  If you take off the stem, the sentence you are left with sounds much better yet.  Better yet, teach students more sophisticated transitions to use.  But hey, if one of my struggling writers feels comfortable with the sentence stems and is using them effectively, more power to them!

We also play around with the structure.  Our favorite is an anecdote or allusion.  Other structures we've tried:
"Here's how this affects me" (R1), "Here's how this affects other" (R2)
"I used to think" (R1), "Now I think" (R2)
Mini rant: I'm a stickler about the line in the Reason 1 and 2 box.  Here's why: this is the most likely time and place we'll catch pseudo reasons.  For example, True friends are honest (R1) and truthful (R2).  At first glance, it's semi-plausible.  But upon closer inspection, they're really saying the same thing.  That would be a tricky (and ineffective) essay to write.  Whew! I'm glad we caught that. (wipes brow)

Ummm...sometime people talk about things when their writing to people who like stuff.  Ugh.  We are on a crusade against people, stuff and things.  I force motivate students to join in the fight by having them censor the people, stuff and things out of there paper.  When they're finished, their little papers look like this...sad day!

A mini-lesson on renaming and pitchforks to add detail and this paper should be back in business.

For more expository resources, check out Gretchen's English I remediation packet.  It's chock full of goodies that are sequenced to lead you up to test time or that you can break apart and use in your classroom instruction as you see fit.  


  1. Once again, great stuff! We are in the midst of expository ourselves, and touching briefly on persuasive. I gave my kids a STAARish prompt today, in preparation for our test next week, and it was like we had not worked on thesis what-so-ever!! I'm going to pull in that kernel format TOMORROW. I have 3 of Gretchen's books, but I think I need a workshop to make it really hit home.

    1. You definitely need to go to one of her trainings! Seeing her model the skills helps me find the resources I need in the books and how to use them in class. Gretchen is good about having training in major Texas cities about every 6 months. Lori and I saw her twice last year! It was a GOOD year!!

    2. After using the kernel in rotations on Friday, I'm sold! It made more sense to my kids and I saw a few light bulbs begin to flicker. Now, going to take Lori's advice and Kernel like crazy until April 1. We have personal narrative in 7th, too, so I need to pull out the memory kernel.

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