I am an English teacher. I talk to walls.
Yesterday, I spent about fifteen minutes covering the concept of the “mini-outline” in Honors Nine. For those of you who don’t know (if you’re ex-honors nine students, I don’t want to know!), a mini-outline is the notes you make before you write an essay, about fifteen words if you need three examples, which you then evaluate, prioritize, and turn into your thesis. Basically, it is thinking about what you want to say and writing it down before you begin, thus reducing the spewing and flailing that can mark a timed essay. We then moved into the idea of a thesis and following the thesis through your paper, thus creating a logical piece and a happy reader (me). There is, I tell them, nothing that makes a reader more grouchy—and thus more liable to bad grades—than having to hunt through your paper for your ideas.
While I was talking, everyone was squirming. “This is soooooo Middle school” was the vibe. “I can’t believe we are going over this again. We did this in fifth grade.” “We know how to write.” Squirm, squirm, squirm. Rustle, rustle, rustle. “Everybody got it?” I asked. Heads nod. “So, when you write your essays tomorrow, you all have to use the mini-outline. We all understand?” “Yes. So Middle School.
Today, we head down to the computer lab. On the way out the door, I hand everyone their essay prompts. Take your stuff—we’ll be there the whole block. Backpacks and binders crash into each other as they head downstairs. In the lab, I write:
Three minutes later, a voice asks “What’s a mini-outline?”
I talk to walls.