You’ve probably heard us say once or twice that Big History is a big course with a lot of big ideas. To make sense of all this information, and to help them develop their own ideas, we encourage students to write. A lot. At the end of each unit, we ask students to write something we call an Investigation. Like document-based questions (DBQs), these activities start with a driving question such as, “Why do we look at things far away and up close?” “What makes humans different from other species?” and “What’s the next threshold?”
Ten Investigation writing activities are woven into the BHP curriculum. What follows is a convenient overview of what each entails.
You’ll notice each activity focuses on a specific part of the BHP Writing Rubric, so you might want to have that on hand as you review! As always, share your thoughts on and modifications to these activities in Yammer. We have a specific BHP Score & Writing group dedicated to conversations about writing.
Note: You can read more about BHP’s approach to writing in the BHP Writing Guide.
Lesson 1.3: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Claim and Focus
In this activity, students revisit the article, “Cosmology and Faith,” from Lesson 1.2,and use the Claim and Focus row in the BHP Writing Rubric to identify the claim and focus in the article. It’s important for students to see examples of these elements of writing so they begin to understand what we mean by good historical writing.
Lesson 2.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing – Organization
In this quick opening activity, students focus on the Organization row of the BHP Writing Rubric so they understand how the presentation and ordering of ideas in an essay can enhance the argument being made. In this activity, students rearrange the paragraphs of a student essay so they can see how different arrangements impact the analysis, clarity, cohesion, and overall logic of an argument, which helps them understand a well-executed argument is one that has a clear introduction, progresses logically, and concludes effectively.
Lesson 2.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing- Use of Evidence
In this lesson, you continue your quest to improve students’ writing by getting down and dirty with the elements of Analysis and Evidence from the BHP Writing Rubric. As they did the writing activity in Lesson 1.3 and in the opening activity of this lesson, students get more familiar with the criteria of the BHP Writing Rubric by analyzing a piece of writing in relationship to the rubric. This activity should help them better understand how evidence should be used in their writing. And this time, they analyze an awesome piece of student writing. Yep, you read that right, an honest to goodness real Investigation essay from a real BHP student. (You know, as opposed to all the fake BHP students running around out there.)
Lesson 3.2: Analyzing Investigation Writing- Applying BHP Concepts
In this third activity in the Analyzing Investigation Writing series, students tackle the fifth and final row of the BHP Writing Rubric, Applying BHP Concepts. This is yet another way for them to think about how the criteria presented in the rubric can be found in writing. Students examine another writing sample, looking for the BHP concepts in the student essay. At the end of this lesson, students are able to identify the key elements that should be a part of any Investigation essay they write. This is the first step in becoming more skilled BHP writers.
Lesson 4.3: Revising Investigation Writing- Claim and Focus
In this Revising Investigation Writing lesson, students circle back around to the first row of the BHP Writing Rubric, Claim and Focus, to move beyond simply identifying elements of a well-crafted argument, to analyzing and writing one. In this activity, each student revises another student’s writing as a way to understand not just what a good claim is, but how to actually generate one. This gradual release of scaffolding and additional skill building helps students steadily improve their writing throughout the course.
Lesson 5.3: Revising Investigation Writing- Use of Evidence
Much like they did for the last Revising Investigation Writing activity, students review a student writing sample and analyze and then improve that sample. In this particular activity, students are focusing on the second row of the BHP Writing Rubric, Analysis and Evidence. This next step, in which students come to understand this vital ingredient of good historical writing, moves them beyond simply identifying where evidence is used in an essay, to actually revising the text to improve the use of that evidence.
Lesson 6.3: Revising Investigation Writing- Applying BHP Concepts
By now, you and your students should be very familiar with these Investigation writing activities. The point of these continues to be to consistently and carefully work on particular elements of writing with students so they improve throughout the year. BHP research shows students dramatically improve their writing in the first half of the course, but then their progress tends to stagnate to some degree. These activities should help prevent any students from plateauing in their writing improvement.
Lesson 7.2: Revising Investigation Writing- Sentence Starters, Part I
Now that students have had the opportunity to identify, analyze, and revise BHP student writing in relation to the Claim and Focus, Analysis and Evidence, and Applying BHP Concepts areas of the BHP Writing Rubric, they’ll put the pieces together and examine a piece of writing more holistically by attending to those three rows of the rubric together, as part of their revision. To help students manage this next level of complexity, we’ve provided sentence starters. Although the rows of the rubric mentioned, along with Organization, are a useful tool for breaking down elements of writing, eventually those elements need to be seen as a whole, since the areas of focus are interrelated. In the best historical writing, these connections are clear. This is the first activity of three that helps students put the pieces back together.
Lesson 8.3: Revising Investigation Writing: Sentence Starters, Part II
This is another activity in which students examine a piece of writing through the lens of the entire BHP Writing Rubric. While the categories in the rubric are a useful tool for initially understanding the different elements of writing, they need to be looked at as a whole since the areas of focus are interrelated. In the interest of continued skill-building and independence in completing this type of work, students conduct analysis and revision alone instead of in groups. Each student is assigned to review and revise a peer essay for this activity.
Lesson 9.3: Revising Investigation Writing: Sentence Starters, Part III
Students have examined and revised Investigation writing samples based on Claim and Focus, Analysis and Evidence, and Applying BHP Concepts from the BHP Writing Rubric, and they’ve peer-reviewed an essay. Now, it’s time for the ultimate task – revising their own work based on the rubric and what they’ve learned. In this final activity in the Investigation Writing Series, students practice looking at their own work with a critical eye. This can be quite challenging, as it’s often hard to tease out your own errors in writing. However, learning to analyze their own writing helps students be better writers, not just in BHP, but in all their future writing endeavors.