The Teacher Tip

Unlock the Door to Drafting

October 3, 2017

Adapted from Teaching Nonfiction Revision by Sneed B. Collard and Vicki Spandel. 

When a writer just cannot seem to get started, the problem is often lack of

information. Reading—or chatting with an expert—raises questions that unlock the door to drafting, and you can model this for students. For example, let’s say I’m writing about octopuses, but I have no strong sense of direction yet. I read the first two pages of Sy Montgomery’s book The Octopus Scientists  (2015) and encounter this quotation about the octopus’ camouflage capabilities: “As well as changing color to match its surroundings,” Montgomery writes, “it can instantly spout little projections all over its skin called papillae (pa-PIL-ay) to make it look exactly like a piece of algae or coral or rock” (2). This passage, I tell students, gives me a question to guide my writing: “If the octopus is so adept at hiding from predators, what other amazing skills might it possess?” I make sure students see me write this question at the top of my note page, telling them it will propel my research, thinking, and writing as I move forward.

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