An Unexpected Visit
After a hard day’s work teaching students about thesis statements, supporting details, and types of evidence, I sat down to grade some essays. All but two out of 236 essays used supporting details incorrectly. Students had the evidence but did not know how to use it, and there was only one person to blame: me, their teacher!
That’s why I came up with this lesson plan on how to use supporting details. Save yourself from reading 234 painful essays by teaching this concept early on in the year.
Rules of Evidence
When evaluating evidence as a writer or a reader, the following rules should be adhered to:
1) Each fact must be accurate.
- Be sure to copy information, especially quotations, accurately. Pay special attention to dates and the spelling of names.
- Treat statistics with caution.
- Do not use quotes out of context. Manipulating evidence has its place in the courtroom, politics, and tabloids, but not in academia. Make sure the quote you use reflects the intent of the speaker.
2) Each fact must be authoritative.
- Make sure the source is reliable.
- Make sure the source is unbiased.
- Use information that is timely.
3) Each fact must be relevant. If you’re writing about the unfairness of the BCS standings, don’t include information about a coach’s recruiting trip to the Dominican Republic.
4) Include enough facts to prove your point.
- The amount of evidence depends on the thesis statement: the more controversial or debatable, the more evidence needed.
- Be careful not to use too much evidence; readers get bogged down with too many details.
5) Arrange facts in the best way possible.
- Evidence can be arranged logically: general to specific, specific to general, least complex to most complex, most complex to least complex, general to specific, or specific to general.
- Evidence can be arranged climactically: most exciting to least exciting or least exciting to most exciting.
- Evidence can be arranged chronologically.
Many writers manipulate evidence to make their point. Although evidence manipulation benefits the writer in the short term, it ruins his or her credibility in the long term.
- Do not overlook significant factors or individuals.
- Do not ignore evidence that goes against the thesis statement.
- Do not jump to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
- Do not make generalizations based on faulty logic.
- Do not use evidence that is outdated.
- Do not use evidence out of context.
- Do not use evidence from a biased source without acknowledging the source. For example, if you’re writing about a Democratic presidential candidate and get your information from the Republican party headquarters, be sure to mention it.
- Make sure all evidence is properly cited.
Make sure you address the avoidance of evidence manipulation in writing.
1) Instruct students to take notes on the rules of evidence for writing (see page 1 of this article).
2) Have students take out a rough draft they have been working on.
3) Have them find five pieces of evidence they used to support their thesis statement.
4) Instruct them to answer the following questions for each piece of evidence: Is each supporting detail, fact, or piece of evidence accurate? authoritative? relevant? Are the number of facts adequate to prove your point? Are facts presented in a logical manner?
Other lesson ideas include the following:
- Write a thesis statement on the board and instruct students to find five pieces of evidence to support it and five pieces of evidence against it.
- After writing a persuasive piece, assign each student to write the essay from the opposing viewpoint.
- Schedule a debate in two rounds. After round one, switch sides of the issue.
- Have students (or the teacher) bring in editorials from newspapers, magazines, or websites, and as a class evaluate the evidence used.
- Bring in copies of the National Enquirer, The Globe, The New York Times, or other disreputable periodicals and evaluate how those newspapers manipulate evidence.
- Do the same using a television broadcast. Tabloid news shows such as Hard Copy, Extra, and anything on MSNBC work best.
Standards Based Curriculum
Find a standards based language arts curriculum map with links to a semester’s worth of lesson plans, handouts, and powerpoints by clicking the preceding link.
This post is part of the series: Using Evidence to Improve Writing
After teaching students how to do research, teach them how to use the information they’ve collected.