Just the other evening, I was enjoying some (rare) quiet time in my house of four children under twelve by reading from the essays of Paul Graham. I've written about Graham's ideas before (here on procrastination), but as I've not brought him up in a couple years, let me say for anyone who's missed it: Graham is a genius, and his essays will make you smarter.
But in one of the essays I read, Graham made a fascinating, implicit claim: the reason he's smart is because he writes.
Here's the essay — it's called “Putting Ideas Into Words.” (Thank you, Paul Graham, for making me feel less bad about obvious titles 😂.)
Now here's how to use it to help your students value writing more.
Step 1: Start class with something like this: “Students, I know of a guy who claims that if you don't write about things then you'll never have a fully formed thought. In your whole life.”
Step 2: “And actually, he says this in an essay he wrote, called ‘Putting Ideas Into Words.' In a minute, I'm going to ask you to read and annotate the essay. As you're reading, I'm going to ask you to record any questions you have from the essay — any points of confusion or unfamiliar words, anything like that. Then after you read, I'll ask you to put those questions to your partner, and then we'll discuss any lingering questions as a class.”
Step 3: “And after this is done, guess what!? We're going to debate whether or not this guy, Paul Graham, is right!”
Step 4: Pass out essays and ask students to begin. Optional: model purposeful annotation for a few minutes on a document camera.
Step 5: As students are reading, circulate to monitor progress and help where they're stuck.
Step 6: Once about 75% of students are finished, tell them, “Just a minute more. Get as far through the essay as you can.”
Step 7: Do the pair-share activity forecasted in Step 2. Your goal here is to increase each student's comprehension of the essay (especially its main arguments) by at least 1%.
Step 8: Re-explain Pop-Up Debate.
— Every speaks at least 1x.
— To speak, stand up and start talking. If multiple people do this simultaneously, politely yield the floor.
— Everyone can speak up to 2x, and if I open the floor at any point to folks who have already spoken twice, feel free to speak again.
— Pull out your page of notes on Paraphrase Plus. Use these templates to structure what you want to say.
— Oh yeah, one more thing. Have fun!
What this will accomplish
When you give students an essay as well-written and well-argued as Graham's, you're certainly going to have students disagree with him. But if you can keep guiding students back to Graham's evidence, you'll also get some students arguing that writing is truly the only way to have clear, fully developed thoughts.
And *everyone*, no matter which stance they took, will have given some serious thought to writing — a starting point for Value if every I've heard of one.
It's hard to Value what you never think or argue about!
If you try this, colleague, let me know how it goes!