Category Archives: teaching argument

Writing with Mentor Texts – App Reviews in Grades 6-8


Is anybody else sick of the five-paragraph essay? The book Writing with Mentors (Marchetti & O’Dell, 2015) was so refreshing to read as I ponder how to keep students excited about reading and writing analytically. The authors provide insight into how we can engage students in writing for authentic purposes in a variety of non-five-paragraph essay formats that align with the Common Core Standards. The key is using authentic texts – book reviews, restaurant reviews, etc.–as mentor through throughout the entire writing process. While the book is geared towards 9-12 grade, the authors’ approach is very appropriate for middle school students. I was inspired to try out a lesson as a result. (Depending on your students, you might be able to pull this off in even lower grades!)

Okay…heads up. I tried this out with one 7th grade student–my daughter– but having taught middle school and demonstrated lessons in lots of middle school classrooms, I can make the case that there’s room for this series of lessons with entire classes and with students at all ability levels.

My daughter is seriously into technology and has started a YouTube account with the purpose of “reviewing” apps. Sound familiar? So I designed a series of lessons that included critically reading published app reviews and then writing a review. Based on what I learned, here’s a set of lesson procedures—that will take multiple periods and can easily be blown into a longer series of lessons as well.

  1. In preparation for teaching, develop a text set of published app reviews for students analyze. Marchetti & O’Dell encourage teachers to read authentic texts for themselves, determining which texts might be mentors and developing text sets. I hunted for good app reviews and quickly realized that app reviews have common types of details–purpose, explanations of how to use, benefits, analogies, even counterarguments! I chose several to read during the lessons. I’ve attached the App reviews and the links if you’re interested.
  2. Start with what the students know by engaging in a shared writing of what they would include in a review or expect to see in a review. Scan 336
  3. Closely read multiple reviews and annotate for the types of details authors include–together, with a partner, independently. Below is a copy of my daughter’s annotations — these were heavily scaffolded to start and then as she read additional reviews, she started recognizing the types of details we’d already discussed. Scan 338
  4. During the close reading, maintain a list of the types of details that might be included in an app review. This is the trick-we have to provide students with the academic vocabulary they need to explain what an author is doing. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I’m a big fan of living, breathing anchor charts. I’d make a list of the types of details we were noticing in the reviews on a big piece of chart paper for all students to reference as I gradually release responsibility. This is the list I made as I read and annotated with my daughter and then as she read independently. Scan 339
  5. Challenge students to “try out” some of the types of details in their own review of an app. (BTW- this assumes the students are familiar with or have chosen at least one app to review which may be another lesson or a homework assignment.) The responsibility for writing an app review may need to gradually released–you might write part of one together and the students finish with a partner and THEN they write their own. Below is the review that my daughter wrote–she is a fairly strong writer so I was able to release responsibility quickly. I required her to use a counterargument (a simple that addresses why users might argue against using this app) and she independently chose to include figurative language. There’s definitely room for growth (in revising, editing, etc.)–which also makes the case for asking students to write multiple reviews over a unit of study.


Embellish Your Photos With Stunning Graphic Designs And Typography With Font Candy

Easy Tiger Apps is a developer known for creating photo editing based apps, such as Split Pic, Animal Face, and Moments, so it is no revelation that they have released another amazing editing app.

Font Candy is meant for adding graphic designs and typography to your photos in the form of quotes. When you first open the app, you see your photo library, but you can also swipe at the top of the page to get more photo options, such as importing from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, or simply the internet. Once you select a photo, you are able to scale it for Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and then decorate it with over 50 fonts.

Some might argue for a different app such as Pic Collage, because you can filter, blur, draw on and add text to your photos. However Font Candy still has many more capabilities. It is compatible with all photo collecting apps that exist on your phone, including less popular ones such as Boomerang and Flipagram while Pic Collage only carries Instagram, Facebook, and web searches. Creators of Font Candy were also able to zero in on one feature, fonts, carrying 84 free fonts, plus more available for purchase. Pic Collage has less than 40 fonts available.

Being a teenager in the twenty first century, pen and paper to me is like an air book mac to an elephant, i.e, of no use whatsoever. I can create art of all types on my phone, whether it is in video form or picture. But with smartphones dominating over the original flip phone, everyone can take a picture and Instagram it. However not everyone has the time and patience to turn their photos into quotable designs. So Font Candy offers an advantage to creative Instagrammers, to spice up photos with an abundance of fonts.

Hope this helps. If you try this out or have experienced similar lessons, please let me know how the lessons go!  AND BTW – this lesson experience opened my eyes to some easy ways to teach introduce counterarguments—more on this soon.



Kit Kats vs Snickers to teach argument/opinion writing

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Here’s an idea for motivating students to research and then design an argument–use candy bars. I did this with a group of sixth grade students. There were two teams of four students and each team was charged with studying different sources — the nutrition label, advertisements on YouTube, etc. to come up with logical reasons why their candy bar was the best. This meant they also had to consider resources on the second candy bar so they were prepared for counterarguments. They had a blast. And what I learned was they needed more instruction on the difference between reasons (the Snickers bar has nutritious value) and evidence (the Snickers bar has peanuts which are a source of…). I was able to do some coaching for this while they engaged in the research and writing of notes. They did not write papers…instead they presented their research using a debate format. See some of the artifacts below.

This is the anchor chart that got us started and that I referred to over and over again as I coached the groups. Notice how I provided additional words to describe the words “value” (importance, worth, usefulness) and “logical” (clear, sound, well thought out). This really helped the students articulate for themselves what their task was.


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I had Chrome books ready with an advertisement I’d viewed to make sure it was appropriate in advance of the lesson. We talked about appeal and why that would make for a better candy bar (or does it even?)…

I also had them look at the nutrition labels on the back. When one group decided that peanuts in the Snickers bars made them nutritious–I pushed them to research on the Internet the nutritious value of peanuts. We could have gone on and on with this –thinking about sugars and so forth. I didn’t —I was aiming towards fun and initial experiences this time around.

As a team, they had to list (and write) “logical reasons” as they did their research and engaged in collaborative conversations.


At the end, we spent about 15 minutes going through a debate format for presenting their logical reasons and evidence. Only one team got to present their research. I’d give them 90 seconds to present. The other team had to listen and be able to summarize what was said and then offer an attempt at a counterargument--using their own researched candy bar reasons or questioning the validity of the first team’s point. They were hungry to spend more time developing counterarguments--a luxury we didn’t have, but that I’d make more time for in the future. Maybe each team could present three logical reasons in advance of the debate and the other team could do research to develop counterarguments. This was all just an initial attempt and I wanted them to have fun and be playful…but I also coached for logic and attention to what was being said.


Three sources I found helpful in studying and planning for this –

  • I found the idea for the candy bar activity on-line in a PDF entitled “Debate Games and Activities”– from the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association. This guide has some good ideas – especially for older students.

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speak out debate


Okay…hope this helps.