[Our Anatomy of a Lesson series provides an in-depth view into the thinking and learning design decisions that go into TEL Library lessons for different topics. The primary content contributor for our "Introductory Paragraphs" lesson was Matt Huigens. Rob Reynolds served as course designer and Laura Pople is the Editorial Director for all TEL Library content. Click here to learn more about our Language and Composition mediabook.]
Background Thinking and Conversations
Anyone who has taught a first-semester English Composition course in college or an AP English Language and Composition course in high school is familiar with the “push and pull” tension between language and composition mechanics and critical thinking and personal style skills. We want learners to be able to express their interesting ideas in personally meaningful ways, but we also need them to have a solid grasp of writing basics so that their ideas don’t become lost in structural or grammatical mistakes.
We were certainly aware of this common tension as we worked on our “Introductory Paragraphs” lesson. This lesson needs to give learners both a good foundation and a reusable framework for writing introductory paragraphs for their essays. However, we also realized that students (and instructors) need the paragraph structure to be flexible, something that can be modified over time. More accomplished writers will experiment with the form, while less experienced writers will rely on the stability of a framework for their essays.
Finally, we also wanted to address the writing process. How can we help learners become more comfortable with writing longer documents? What planning and outlining steps should we reinforce? What types of questions about audience, language, and argument should they ask themselves during the planning and writing process?
Designing the Lesson
TEL Library uses a common learning design template for all of our lessons. This template incorporates a prescribed learning progression or experience that is designed to promote learner agency.
The lesson begins with our "Overview," in which we work to create both context and relevance for the learner. We decided focus our introduction on the idea of getting people’s attention. It’s something everyone needs to do and tries with varying degrees of success. Besides being relevant, ts also a concept that is easy to demonstrate concretely. Ideally, this will serve as an anchor of sorts for learners as they progress through the lesson.
You can see here that we integrate this at the beginning of our “Watch” section.
Our learning video style, which uses moving images and text call-outs, also provides a nice example of how to structure information in a presentation.
We continue modeling structured content organization as we move into the “Read” section of the lesson. This is where we present core information and explanations related to the lesson topic. In this instance, we break the paragraph-writing sequence down to the the sentence level, providing guidance for each of the five sentences.
We follow this with a quick poll, our “Reflect” section, that encourages learners to think about how the information applies to them personally.
After this reflection, we continue our topic elaboration by discussing additional considerations about language choice and how to capture a reader’s interest. Note that we have worked to weave our Big Question about stimulating reader interest in all four of these initial lesson sections.
Our next step in the lesson is to move learners past information into personal application. We accomplish this via a journal assignment in our “Explore” section. For our “Introductory Paragraphs” lesson, we decided to have learners read sample student essays from Oregon State University and to compare the introductory paragraphs from those essays to the five-sentence form presented in the lesson. The goal in those assignment is twofold. First, we want learners to move outside the strict confines of the TEL Library lesson in order to work on their digital literacy skills. In addition, we want them think more deeply about paragraph mechanics by analyzing essays and writing down their thoughts in a journal entry.
We extend this application of the topic by asking learners to discuss how they might write an effective “hook” for an audience that is unfamiliar. This discussion provides further reflection and learner agency, and also allows learners to engage with the ideas of other learners.
Using This Lesson in a Class
All TEL Library lessons are designed to be used within a variety instructional delivery models. In a traditional, face-to-face class, the core content will most likely be assigned as outside reading. The “Reflect” poll could be used as an out-of-class or an in-class activity to stimulate class discussion (learners can complete these via their mobile devices or computers), and there is also ample flexibility with regards to the journaling and discussion activities. These can be used as homework assignments or as in-class group writing and thinking activities. This flexibility is also valuable in flipped or hybrid classrooms, allowing instructors to pick and choose which content sections and activities to have students complete on their own, and which ones to bring into the classroom experience.
In our online, self-paced courses, some lessons, such as this one, may have an added writing assignment that asks learners to submit a writing sample as a type of formative assignment. For instructor-led courses, our assumption is that institutions and instructors have likely already defined their more formal (graded) writing assignments and/or prefer to personalize these to their own preferences and the experiences of their particular student learners.
You can learn more abut our Language and Composition course on this page, and also request access to a demo module that contains this lesson.