Brussels sprouts versus broccoli. Chocolate versus cheese. Cheryl versus Mel B. My 11- to 13-year-old students had chosen weighty topics for their analytical essays and, thanks to Google, had conjured up a mass of evidence to back up their positions. What they didn't have, though, was much interest in organising their arguments.
When I told the students we would be spending a lesson planning their essays, groans ensued. However, when I explained and modelled the road map method, eyebrows rose and interest was sparked.
I began by getting the class to draw outlines on large sheets of paper. The pattern of each outline resembled the course of a looping mountain road, with long unswerving stretches leading to hairpin bends. Roads snaked from the top of the page to the bottom with three or four sudden curves along the way.
Once the routes were set, each student wrote down the details they would include in their initial paragraph on the first straight length of road. When the path turned, they outlined their first argument. From then on, the straight sections were divided into a topic sentence, evidence and a concluding sentence.
Beside each bend, students drew road signs with appropriate connectives emblazoned on them. On white backgrounds with red borders, "on the other hand", "nevertheless" and "however" were drawn in bold, black letters, offering warnings to readers. After each sign, a counterargument was developed.
Of course, the final stretch was reserved for each child's last paragraph, heralded by large, colourful arrows pointing in the direction of "The Conclusion".
Although some routes resembled spaghetti junctions, by the end of the lesson beautifully illustrated roads coursed down each child's page, with the previous jumble of facts, figures and views now given clear purpose, shape and direction.
Tobias Fish teaches at a secondary school in Cambridgeshire