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Writing Lesson Plan: Using Inquiry to Choose an Essay Topic

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/17/2012

Teenagers love to ask questions. Use their love of questioning to guide them to choosing an appropriate essay topic.

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    What is Intelligent Thought and Reasoning?

    The ability to reason and think logically is not a gift. It's something that can be learned and taught. Schaum's Quick Guide to Essay Writing states, "The essay is the product of the kind of reasoning you use every day. When you formulate... your thesis statement, you are using logical processes." (45). In short, reasoning is how we organize facts, opinions, and experiences into an essay. The foundation of reasoning is inquiry.

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    Inquiry Learning

    For writing an essay, inquiry learning involves asking questions about the essay topic. It serves as the foundation for all types of reasoning and discovery. It is especially important for forming a thesis statement.

    1. Inquiry helps establish topic boundaries.
    2. Inquiry limits the types of facts and evidence.
    3. Inquiry precedes conceptualization and classification.
    4. Inquiry helps identify missing information.
    5. Inquiry helps organize thinking.

    For example, you may be asked to write an essay on President Obama's first term as president. You might ask yourself the following questions to determine the scope and direction of your essay:

    1. Will I focus on political, economic, or social agendas?
    2. Which specific area of economics will I focus on?
    3. How will Obama's policies affect investing?
    4. What specific information from his economic stimulus plan supports my assertion?
    5. What information is not needed?
    6. What is the best way to organize my Obama hot investment sectors?
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    Lesson Procedure

    1. Write a topic on the board. (Cars)
    2. Ask students to write down different ways to classify the topic. (minivans, sedans, sports cars, etc.)
    3. Ask students to choose one category on which to focus. (minivans)
    4. Ask the following: What do you want to say about minivans that would make for a good essay? Do you want to write a minivan review, tell a story about minivans? Persuade someone to buy your minivan? Persuade your parents to ditch the minivan and buy a sports car?
    5. What type of minivan are you reviewing? Where will you find reliable information on the minivan? What type of information will your audience want to know about the minivan you're reviewing? What are some other minivans you can compare it to? What will your audience already know about the minivan you're reviewing?
    6. Formulate a thesis statement: The 1998 Plymouth Voyager minivan is garbage on wheels?
    7. Create more questions: Do I have an experience that would support my assertions? What are my facts? Do I know of any sources that will back up my assertion? What would be a good alternative to the 1998 Plymouth Voyager that's in the same price range?
    8. The best method for inquiry learning is individual practice. Give students another topic (something they're more familiar with--girls, boys, their school, school subject, teachers, etc.)
    9. Force them to write at least 20 questions that would help them narrow their focus.

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