Reading and Metacognition: Titles, First Paragraphs, and Reading Strategies, Cara Adams and Elizabeth Redwine

Cara’s Lesson Plan

  1. Ask class: What makes for an engaging essay opening? Put ideas up on the board. (I have some points in mind and guide their discussion toward those points.)
  2. Mini-lecture on effective strategies for writing an engaging opening, drawing upon Little Seagull. For example, use a question, introduce a conflict, use narrative/description, employ a quotation.
  3. Distribute openings to four essays we read earlier in the semester: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, “The Case Against Babies” by Joy Williams, “Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character” by Phillip Lopate, and “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace. Distribute list of metacognitive questions.
  4. Read first three titles aloud and discuss each, focusing on first four questions on list.
  5. Read openings of those essays aloud and discuss each, focusing on the next three questions on the list: (a) how the openings engage us; (b) how they meet our expectations; and (c) how they challenge our expectations.
  6. Ask students to read title and first paragraph of “Consider the Lobster” on their own and to fill out worksheet. (By worksheet, I mean the list of metacognitive questions.)
  7. Discuss initial reading vs. this rereading. What new things are they noticing? How is the experience different?
  8. For next class: Revise your title and opening, thinking about the strategies we discussed. (In that class, we will do a peer workshop in which we ask the initial questions on the list of metacognitive questions of peer drafts.)

Elizabeth’s Experience

My students are in the throes of drafting their final papers and are anxious about so many things – how to start, repeating their points when they want to develop their ideas, etc.  I assigned Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” and have assigned “Is Google Making Us Stupid” by Carr for Monday.

For this week, I asked the students to write about the following questions and then we discussed the questions as a group.  These questions are versions of what will be asked about the final exam article with some revisions from an assignment that Cara shared with me.

1. What expectations do you have about the essay from the title?

2. What word from the title jumps out at you?  Why do you think the author used this word and what is its impact? (I hope that this will model the closest possible reading – this question got us beyond the initial “This writing will be about first drafts” answer into a more interesting conversation about why the author used the word “Shitty” not “Crappy” or “difficult.”  Looking at the language that stood out helped the students understand and express the author’s tools and intentions.  They got that she is trying to be casual, accepting, and irreverent, and we talked about why – about debunking the myth of the magical talented writer who lays out perfect paragraphs the first time.  This also helped with their own expectations for their drafts as many of them were frozen at the first page.

3. Read the first two paragraph.  Do they stand up to the expectation you had from the title?  What do they do that the title didn’t do?  

4. How does the second paragraph develop the idea presented in the first?  What does that paragraph do that is different and not just repetitive? The reason we spent a lot of time on this question was that the students have been anxious about repeating rather than developing their ideas so I thought it would be fruitful to spend some time talking about what the second paragraph does – with all of our work on the first paragraphs, sometimes the students save all their general statements for paragraph two, so I wanted to talk about how these paragraphs model developing not repeating an idea.

For Monday, the students will read Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and answer some questions that I took from Jackie’s Discussion Board here from the last meeting, questions about how we read that relate to the subject of the text.  We are also going to compare the way that Carr and Lamott use their titles and first paragraphs.