How do I teach this text? A three-part model

Content, craft, and conventions are my 3 Cs for teaching a text.

Content: what it says

Content is what the text says. The story. The facts, The argument. If we’re reading an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye, the content is about Holden wrestling with his existential crisis. If we’re examining a chart, it’s the title, the headings, the axes, and the data. If we’re studying an editorial, it’s the writer’s argument.

Teaching students to grasp and wrestle with the content in a text is a way of leading them into a text-based speaking event or no opt-out reading assessment. We need students to understand the story, the facts, and the argument of a text in order for them to do deep thinking about it.

Content questions/prompts:

  • How did the character change over the course of the text?
  • Underline examples of anecdotal evidence used by the writer
  • What do you notice about the way the data changes over time?

Craft: how it’s made

Craft is the set of decisions made by the creator of a text.  Studying craft promotes higher-order thinking because it requires analyzing implications of aspects of the text. It is the design of the chart and how that serves the creator’s purpose. It is the use of extended metaphor in a poem. It is the daring use of diction in Leonard Pitts’s best editorials. In order for students to understand the decisions that writers make, and therefore get better at their own decisions, students should learn the craft of the text.

Craft questions/prompts:

  • How did the design of the chart help/hinder your understanding of the data?
  • Circle three examples of the writer’s voice
  • Emulate the poet’s use of extended metaphor in your own original poem

Conventions: why it’s right (or wrong)

And then there are the conventions of a text. How a newspaper article or thank-you note (thanks, Casey) is formatted. Where to put the commas. How to label a pie chart. These are a set of rules that good writers deliberately follow or intentionally break.

Conventions questions/prompts:

  • What are the three ways that the essayist uses a colon?
  • Identify the run-on sentence used by the author. Why did she choose to do that?
  • How does the format of a news article differ from the format of an essay you’d write for English? Why do you think these differences exist?

Of course, all three of these bleed together.

In order for students to understand the nuance of a writer’s argument, they should best understand how the writer has crafted that argument. And to understand the rules that the writer is expertly breaking to make that argument so convincing, they have to understand those rules in the first place–and that’s conventions.

The best texts that we choose will be rich in opportunities for teaching content, craft, and conventions. And the deepest speaking and writing that we inspire from students will probably mention all three at some point, too.

Why I want to point out the content, craft, and conventions model

I notice that becoming aware of this distinction of content, craft, and conventions helps me to sometimes use the same text to teach lessons across multiple classes.

Returning to the example of the editorial, I might be able to take a first amendment editorial and teach it to my Humanities 10 class to discuss the Constitution. Then, I may be able to compare that same argument to the students’ thoughts about Shirely Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and finally use the writer’s craft for a revision lesson later in the unit.

When we have so much work to do and so little time to do it, it is helpful to have frameworks around which we can organize our thinking, our planning, and our gathering of curricular resources. Content, craft, and conventions is one of those.

How do you plan text-based lessons? What texts can you use with any class?

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