Using BHP to Teach Writing

Bridgette O’Connor
Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Covington, LA

I think one of the most dreaded things for my Big History students over the past three years has been writing investigations. In fact, as I’m writing this, my students are in the middle of writing Investigation 6 and the slightly stressed looks coupled with the frantic typing are clear indications that this is not their favorite class today. However, I find some solace in the fact that with every investigation and writing assignment I give them, they are improving their researching, writing, and editing skills. I know that by requiring my students to use claim testing strategies when evaluating sources and having them use texts as evidence to back up their arguments will make them think critically about the sources they read and how they present their argument in an essay. All of these skills will help to prepare them for writing assignments in other classes, standardized tests such as the SAT and AP exams, as well as all of those multi-page papers that many of us churned out in college the night before they were due.

Bridgette_OConnor_Teaching_Writing_April_2015

Learning how to teach writing has been a challenge for me as well. However, there are certain tools and activities in Big History that have made my life a little easier. One of the best ways to get students used to writing on a regular basis is to make sure to use the DQ Notebook. Even though this is really informal writing, it gets students to answer the driving question for the unit and allows them to analyze how their thinking has changed after new information has been presented. This also helps to prepare them for writing investigations as most are aligned to the driving question. If students have been thinking about this question throughout the unit then it is much easier for them to construct a logical essay with supporting evidence by the end of it.  I have also found that using the BH Writing Worksheet is a good way to get students thinking about the sources they are using and how those sources will directly support their thesis statement. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to introduce the BH Writing Rubric to students very early in the course so that they all know how their writing will be evaluated. And finally, I would recommend utilizing the peer review process. While hesitant at first to critique a fellow classmate’s writing, they soon learn that the only way to get better is to make mistakes and then correct those mistakes and learn from them. By the end of the course, students are critiquing their own writing as well as their peers’ essays in constructive and positive ways.

As writing is an essential component of Big History, it is important to give them a process or routine to follow as they progress through the course. By setting up procedures and using key concepts like claim testing on a regular basis your students will succeed in learning how to communicate effectively.

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