Saturday, September 11, 2010

Precis Writing

by Tara Seale

At the June 15, 2010 Common Core Standards meeting in Arkansas, Dr. Sandra Stotsky from the University of Arkansas discussed several areas of the new National Common Core Standards for English Language Arts. As part of her presentation, she discussed precis writing and shared an article by K. D'Angelo titled, "Precis writing: promoting vocabulary development and comprehension" Journal of Reading. Dr. Stotsky emphasized the importance of summary writing as a key writing and comprehension assignment in classrooms of all ages.

Last year, I incorporated precis writing into my 9th grade English curriculum, and I believe it helped my students develop reading comprehension and writing skills.
Kelly Gallagher in his book Readicide addresses the problem that English teachers struggle with when they try to balance literature and nonfiction. Gallagher has a weekly reading assignment that he calls "The Article of the Week." This assignment addresses real-world writings and forces students to consider ideas that affect them today. You can access Kelly Gallagher's suggested articles at: Gallagher refers to Ed Hirsch's Cultural Literacy as a reason students must read nonfiction in addition to literature. Students need prior knowledge of texts that are part of our culture to understand allusions that will appear on standardized tests and throughout their lives. Kelly Gallagher, on page 50 of Readicide, lists several ways to create assignments that evaluate student reading comprehension of nonfiction Articles of the Week.

For Example:
After reading an interesting article, create a t-chart. On the left side, bullet the key points of the article. On the right side, list what the article doesn't say. What has been left out?
Pick three articles and rewrite their headlines. Explain why your headlines are better.
I incorporate nonfiction article reading into my classroom, but instead of using a variety of methods to test reading comprehension, I have introduced my students to precis writing. In four well-written sentences, students demonstrate that they comprehend the big idea, the tone, the audience, and the purpose of the article.
If you Google precis writing, you will read several versions of precis or summary writing. I adapted what I could find from teachers and professors on the World Wide Web to my classroom.
Because most 9th grade students are usually confused when they read a satirical piece, I decided we would all read an article from The Onion first, and then we would write a precis together. After reading the article (see below), I realized I wanted to use it, but I also wanted to edit out some of the words that were inappropriate for my 9th graders. I took the liberty to do so, and here is a Google Doc (G version) of The Onion article, "Underfunded Schools Forced to Cut Past Tense from Language Programs."
Next, I walked my students through annotating the article and answering important questions, such as, Who is the audience? What is the author's purpose?
Finally, we wrote a 4 sentence precis together and used it as a model for further nonfiction articles. See the yellow highlighted model sentences: Precis Model Sentences and Directions.
I was surprised by how many assignments students returned in which they adequately wrote out four well-written sentences that demonstrated their understand of the text. I used this assignment for homework during the 2009-2010 school year, and I plan to use it again this year.

Some of the articles I used during the 2009-2010 school year are below:

"Cassandras of Climate Change"

"The New Sputnik"

"Is Your Baby a Racist?"

"The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet"

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