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Structure Strips: Training wheels for making claims with evidence

Sure. There are probably some of you bike riding savants who had no need for them. You just hopped on and started riding, jumping ramps, and weaving through traffic – no problem.

But most of us needed them to get started.

Training wheels.

They let us get on our itty bitty bikes and tootle around town like we knew what we were doing. We could do basic stuff like steering around the dog and brake at the corner. But doing all of that while keeping our balance? Not yet.

Writing argumentative essays and making claims using evidence is a lot like that. You’ve got some kids that can jump on and just take off, no problem.

But most of your kids are going to need a little help. Especially elementary and middle school. And there are lots of things you can do to help them keep their balance while doing that.

But I’m really starting to like the idea of something called Structure Strips. I ran across them a few years ago while I was working with some elementary ELA teachers. They were using them to help students create descriptive paragraphs. A little more research highlighted how others were also using Structure Strips in a variety of ways, including in social studies.

And as I’m working with Kansas teachers to prep for next year’s state social studies assessment, these just seem to make more and more sense.

A Structure Strip is a simple but powerful scaffolding tool that can help kids focus on organizing their thinking and written responses to prompts. Kinda like training wheels.

The size of a large bookmark, a Structure Strip is glued or taped along the edge of a piece of paper or interactive notebook. Each strip has specific divisions with each area representing a paragraph of the writing response.

Each division contains information and examples of what each paragraph should contain. Some examples even suggest that the amount of space in that area represents how long that paragraph should be. A body paragraph might be longer that an introductory paragraph, for example.

So with the Structure Strip glued or taped along the edge, your kids can now respond to your prompt with the strip as a guiding scaffold.

Some things to think about:

  • These would be great for next fall at the start of school. Use them as a scaffold, as a way to model thinking and writing, to help your students at the beginning of the year.
  • Structure Strips are perfect for supporting different writing abilities. You might create a strip that includes very specific prompts and lists of evidence based terms for struggling writers while using a more generic strip for those at grade level. For your advanced writers, the strip might ask for more descriptive language or opposing viewpoints.
  • Have students develop their own strips as the year goes on. Perhaps have kids exchange strips that they create to see other possibilities.
  • Create different strips for different types of writing prompts. An expository structure strip will be different than an argumentative strip.
  • Copy the strips on bright paper to help them stand out more when glued on.
  • Use structure strips as a way for kids to do self and peer assessments of their own writing.
  • Remember that these are the training wheels of making claims and using evidence. You’re gonna have to take them off eventually.

Needs some samples?

I’m kind of liking the hands on / paper / glue thing going on here. But you could also do something with this in Google Docs or Keep or Padlet or any number of different digital tools. If you’re using Google Classroom or Canvas, I’m okay with that – you’re just going to lose the fun glue stick effect. But either way, you’re modeling for kids, helping them organize their thinking process, and supporting quality product creation.

So adapt away. Arrange your strips in whatever way makes the most sense for your grade and content. I’m thinking about trying to modify the SHEG historical thinking chart and the primary source analysis worksheets from the Library of Congress or National Archives.

In the meantime, download this quick PDF version designed for MS and HS (probably used on two pieces of paper) that you can print out and use next fall:

Looking for a Google Docs version? Head over here, download or copy, and edit as much as you want.

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Glenn is a curriculum and integration specialist, speaker, and blogger with a passion for technology and social studies. He delivers engaging professional learning across the country with a focus on consulting, presentations, and keynotes. Find out more about Glenn and how you might learn together by going to his Work with Me page.

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