Cohesion, according to Jeff Anderson, makes writing whole. (p. 146).
I personally believe that teaching students to understand and identify the cohesion in writing is one of the most difficult objectives for a writing teacher. Jeff Anderson has provided 5 secrets to writing cohesion that could help provide your students with consistency.
#1. Automatic transitions vs. Manual transitions
Jeff Anderson defines Automatic transitions ‘are most familiar to young writers.’ (p. 149). He goes on to say that a list of these transitions can help provide a jumping off point for new writers, but they should just be given as ‘support.’ His most practical advice, again, was to show mentor texts and allow students to NOTICE the transitions being used and discuss the relationship the transition word has on the sentence. This discussion becomes a working, concrete organizer for students. JA also talks about Manual transitions, and he defines these as ‘customized and specific to a particular piece of writing.” (p.52).
To support the power of student discovery and making this abstract idea into something concrete for students, Jeff Anderson pushes the idea of mentor texts. The more students read, the more opportunity they have to discover patterns of automatic and manual transitions. These self-discovered categories become a part of their repertoire. Again, I refer a blog by Buzzing with Ms. B at http://buzzingwithmsb.blogspot.com/2015/10/4-steps-to-teaching-transitional.html
She takes the ideas from Jeff Anderson and calls it ‘Notice It!, Name It!, and Try It!” Even though the book she refers to is for younger grades, I can see myself using this book, Pumpkin Jack, as a great jumping off point for any grade level trying out this difficult cohesion practice.
#2. Old-to-New Pattern
Old-to-New Pattern is a sentence to sentence connection pattern that Jeff Anderson talks about in his 7th Chapter. It is a technique used to ‘unify’ the sentences and a paragraph to magically link together. He goes on to warn teachers that this is not one of those strategies that students NOTICE, but is one that you must point out to students.
When writing a sentence, the last word or phrase of that sentence is the first word or phrase of the following sentence. For example,
“My children eat broccoli like candy. Broccoli is the food that they always ask for second servings. These second servings are given freely.”
This strategy can be observed in sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph. Even in Jeff Anderson’s book, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, he connects his ideas chapter-to-chapter. That would be a fun scavenger hunt for students to play within a text or a book when trying this new idea out. I would like to try this by giving students a piece of text, JA refers to Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming as a strong piece to identify or scavenge for this strategy, and allow students to search for the connections in small groups. Of course, after Noticing and naming the pattern, students will then attempt it on their own. I think trying to connect a few sentences at first and then working toward connecting paragraphs.
Here is a link to Candace Fleming’s book and some teaching ideas and mentor texts to make connections. http://www.candacefleming.com/books/bk_amelia.html
#3. Cutting Out and Mixing It Up
This is an activity that reminds me of a strategy from the writing curriculum Empowering Writers. Jeff Anderson says, that “extraneous information is distracting and veers writing away from coherence.” (p. 158).
Step 1: Retype first three paragraphs of a mentor text- JA refers to Russel Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography.
- Separate each paragraph into individual sentences, one per line, randomly reorder them
- Add a sentence that is unrelated
Step 2: Distribute out-of-order sentences to groups
Step 3: Have groups move the sentences around into an order that is coherent to them
- Allow them to discover the unrelated sentence
- Allow them to decide the best order and connections among sentences/paragraphs
Step 4: Share out
Step 5: pass out the original text and Discuss
This is obviously an advanced strategy, but one that could be developed throughout the school year if practiced and modified. Here is one I found on Teaching with a Mountain View. They are just focused on topic sentences in this activity, but it could be a great starting point. http://www.teachingwithamountainview.com/2015/10/topic-sentences.html- – she even links you to her free topic sentence card download. BONUS!!!!
#4. Focus on Pronoun Antecedents
This is actually something that my students struggled with on both the writing portion and the revision section of the writing state assessment. This focus is making sure that the reader understands who or what you are talking about throughout the piece, no matter where he/she starts reading at without getting repetitive. JA uses a mentor text that he includes in his appendix (if you aren’t convinced this is an important book… yet, the appendices should).
Empowering Writers uses a strategy called Word Referents. They describe this as a “combination of an adjective and a noun used to take the place of an important subject in your writing.” Here is a link to an online lesson plan for a Mother’s Day ‘writerly gift’. http://empoweringwriters.com/writing-lesson-of-the-month-may-2014-lesson-affirmations/
#5. POV, Tone and Mood is Consistent
Two of Jeff Anderson’s strategies focus on point of view and tone/mood. Again, he focuses on NOTICING point of view from a mentor text- he refers to From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Just by underlining the POV evidence in the texts, students are better equipped to do so on their own in their books of choice or a text supplied by the teacher.
One of the ways I have taught POV in writing was through an activity I found, again, at Teaching with a Mountain View- Point of View with Pictures. http://www.teachingwithamountainview.com/2014/02/teaching-point-of-view.html
In this activity, students or groups are given a picture, and the students must locate the different perspectives and write a brief paragraph in the different Points of View according to a perspective in the photo. Always a crowd pleaser, we started by using one photo together on the smartboard as students wrote with Expo markers on the desk and worked toward individual pictures and work.
JA also talks about the importance of tone and mood throughout the text. Writingfix.com has a few activities that focus on tone/mood that I have used that hooked my writers. Corbett Harrison has done an amazing job of collecting a plethora of activities/lessons for teachers to use for all learning types. http://writingfix.com/6_traits/voice.htm
My favorite activity was inspired by the songs about summer. It would be a fun activity to get students back in the swing of school. http://writingfix.com/I_Pod_Prompts/Summertime1.htm
By listening to three or four different songs about summer and identifying the emotional connection to the words and tone of the author, students start to understand that words and rhythm make the difference in the reader’s mood. Not only do they NOTICE, they NAME, and try it!!!
Cohesion is a piece that seemed to always be missing from my student writing and understanding. I wanted to bring a lot of attention to this chapter from Jeff Anderson’s book because it is a gold mine of ideas, strategies and understanding. I hope that these activities and the ones I have referred to bring your classroom fun and cohesive writing.
Anderson, J. (2011). 10 things every writer needs to know. Portland, Me: Stenhouse Publishers.