Expository and Argumentative Writing Assignment Sheets

I’ll keep this brief (maybe, you know me), but in the last week I create argumentative and expository assignment sheets for my 7th graders. I wanted to give them a variety of topics to choose from, but I didn’t want to give them freedom of any topic on the internet. I created assignment sheets for 14 different topics, all using 3-5 paired sources. I tried to do a variety of sources–video, websites, articles, podcasts, etc. All are current event topics–things that have been in the news in the last couple of months. Here’s an example:

Some are argumentative and some are expository.

Today I spent a couple of hours making modified assignment sheets of the same assignments for my struggling writers. The modified assignments are the same topics, but I helped them out by giving some tips for an outline and doing the works cited page for them. I also put what the parenthetical citations will be.


I added these to my Teachers Pay Teachers store here: 14 Paired Text Assignment Sheets if you’re interested.

Hope that helps someone! If you try them out, I’d love to hear how it went! I’m always looking for ways to improve/revise.

Collaborative Work with Google Docs

I’ve mentioned before that I often have my students work in groups when we do writing. They learn from each other, help each other, and resist writing less. Another benefit is it’s less grading and/or critiquing for me! My “old way” was to have the students write their final product on a transparency. We’d project it and discuss it as a class. Then, the 1980’s called and wanted their technology back.

Enter Google docs! It has taken some trial and error, but I’ve made some big improvements in using collaborative docs for outlines and essays.

First, let me explain the activity I was doing here. A big skill in Common Core writing is pulling facts from multiple sources and combining those facts to write an essay. It is hard for kids to find relevant facts, but it’s even harder for them to look at that big overwhelming list of facts and then organize them into paragraphs with a main idea. Before doing this assignment, we’d already practiced this skill once as a whole class and once in groups. What they had to do was read two articles from Scope magazine. Every month, Scope has paired texts, which are two different types of texts on the same topic. For the PARCC test, they will need to read 3-4 texts, and the texts will be much more complex (Scope is high-interest, low level), but this is a good activity to practice the skill. If I tried to practice this skill with difficult and/or not interesting texts, I’d lose them. With their groups, they had to take notes on both sources, decide how to sort the facts into paragraphs, and then create an outline. After I checked their outline, they were ready to type the essay. The essay itself actually doesn’t take that long because each group member only has to write 1-2 paragraphs.

Here are some problems I faced and how I solve them (most problems are not specific to computer work but group work in general):

Problem #1: Unequal distribution of work – Isn’t this the most common complaint of working in a group, both of teachers and students? (who are we kidding…it’s a common complaint in the professional world, too). With Google docs,  I can easily see who did what using the “revision history” feature. Each group member is assigned a color, which is listed next to their name in the revision history box. I can see who typed which cell. At this point, this group was taking notes on the articles. They gray cells were already filled in at the point of this revision; the colors are the changes made.

Once their facts were finished, they figured out what their paragraphs would be about and they were using Roman numerals to label their facts. The “pink” student was not helping here. By the way, I made this basic spreadsheet for them with the outline on it and they had to make a copy of it for their group.

Now, they are working on their outline. “Pink” is back in action.

Problem #2: Off-topic chatting. When we are working on a document, I have my students all have their own computer even if they sit together. This helps them all stay focused. For some projects, they never sit by their partner(s). For this particular assignment, they sat together the first day. The following days, they stayed in their own seats and used the chat feature to communicate. When you have more than one person in a document, a little “chat” icon shows up in the top-right. Here I am, chatting with myself between my school account and my personal account.

Of course, these chats need to be monitored. This is how I do it: one member of the group creates the document and shares it with the rest of the group AND ME. I save the link to each group’s document on a spreadsheet:

During class, I open all of the groups’ documents on my computer and leave them open. I don’t watch them much during class–I typically walk around. I do look over their shoulders at their chats somewhat, especially if I see too much text in the chat window and not enough on the document. When class is over, I scroll through each group’s chat to make sure it was polite and related to the assignment. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I was at a conference in Springfield. While at the conference, I opened all of their documents and watched their chats from three hours away. Teaching from afar!

Have you ever done collaborative work on a Google doc? Do you think you’d like doing a group project this way?

Google Tip Tuesday

Do you consider yourself a good Googler? I have given myself the title of “Google Queen” at work because I think I can find almost anything on the internet. I really wish I had the same skills when looking for lost items at home… anyhow, here are some tips for Google searching like a pro.

Tip #1 – Use quotation marks to search for exact terms. This will cause only websites with the words in that order to show up (and without words in between).The first few results will likely be similar with or without quotes, but further down the list things will be different. It’s really handy when you’re searching for a name. Here, I searched for “Calgary Stampede results” with quotes:

and without quotes:

Tip #2 – Use “vs” to figure out items comparable to what you are searching for. For example, if I type “Merrell Pace Glove vs” in the search box, Google will autocomplete with items that are similar.

Tip #3 – Use the “-” sign to search for a site without a given word. Searching for “track workouts -400” will bring up only pages with “track workouts” but not any that also have “400” (because everyone hates 400’s right?).

Tip #4 – Use quotation marks to show that insignificant words are a required part of the search term, such as “the”, “how”, “when” or “and”. Google automatically ignores these types of words when search to speed up the search.

Tip #5 – Search within a site by using “site:”. Here are the results for trail run site:imrunningonfumes.com. It searched only my website for “trail run”.

Tip #6 – Track your packages by typing a tracking number right into the Google search box.

Tip #7 – Find related websites by starting your search with “related:”. I found sites similar to Lululemon by typing in “related:www.lululemon.com”.

Tip #8 – Be very specific in recipe searches by clicking “search tools”. Check it out:

The search tools button will change based on what you search for. Here, you could search for websites with Milwaukee, WI in the past 24 hours.

Tip #9 – Find measurement conversions by typing in the information you have and the information you need, such as “5k in miles”. This works for currency, time, and pretty much any conversion.


(did you know about that .00686??)

Tip #10 – Search for synonyms using the “~” symbol. Here, I’ve searched for “post run ~snacks”. The results include both “snacks” and synonyms for snacks.

Tip #11 – Do pretty much any math problem.

Tip #12 – Search by file type by using “filetype:” like this, where I’ve searched for PowerPoint files of marathon training plans:

Of course, don’t forget about the basic tools across the top, like “maps”, “shopping”, etc. You really can find almost anything by Googling!

There are more tips here: Google Search Tips

Do you have a tip I left off? Share it in the comments!