© 2015 paulwhankins

The Pre-Search Packet: Building-In Backround/Beefing-Up Response

Yesterday, we talked about the basic pre-search packet our AP English Language and Composition students create in advance of their formal response to our question from Tuesdays with Morrie this winter and spring.

Today, we’ll talk about The Background, Definitions, and Limitations Page.

This page comes right out of the classic elements of oration. You remember these, right?






I am of the opinion that to introduce and to teach NARRATIO is an essential move away from the traditional 1:3:1 or 5-Paragraph Essay. It asks the student writer to really consider what needs to offered to the reader by way of background and definitions before launching into the response of the paper. As I tell the students, we craft this piece of the pre-search packet with the intent of “dropping it right into the formal response.”

What I find is that student writers really have a difficult time coming to terms with what they don’t know. And what their peers don’t know.

And that it’s okay not to know for the moment.

As Zymborska celebrates the power of “I don’t know,” I will celebrate the power as well.

NARRATIO asks us to stop and provide essential background information, definition of key terms to be explored, and the limitations  upon the subject that the author will employ given the limited number of pages he or she may have to respond.

So, here are the key components of the Background, Definitions, and Limitations Page of the Pre-Search Packet

Background–this is a nice way to teach students how to transition from element to element within the body of the response. Really. . .if EXORDIUM (or “the hook”) brought them into the discussion, the NARRATIO brings them up to speed with what has been happening prior to their arrival.

“Before discussing ___________, perhaps some background information would be helpful” is a nice “stem-like” phrase with which to approach this section of the pre-search packet. Here the student writer can offer essential definitions that will guide the response. Their peers may not be able to enter into a response without these essential definitions in place. This is a great opportunity to introduce “word etymology” for the student writer wherein they can purposely and stylisitically look at the key words that will appear within the body of the response (or the CONFIRMATIO).

Here is an example. The other day, a young lady in Room 407 proposed a exploration of “therapeutic humor.” Left in tandem, the phrase brought back approaches that emloy humor as a part of a patient’s therapy. Not very helpful. By exploring the two words separately via etymology, a definition that demonstrated keen insight into the term to be explored within the response was drafted by the young lady in the room. And we were both happy with the results.

Assuming that the teacher is the only reader of our work done in school is the primary reason NARRATIO goes unconsidered in the traditional classroom. The teacher might assume that is not needed at their level. And the student goes without a sense that there is an authentic audience for the work that may go beyond the teacher. I use the line, “Imagine your paper was left behind in a booth at the local Cracker Barrel. You’ll want your reader to have a sense of why you were writing all of this in a quick manner.”

Doing the NARRATIO early on gives me an opportunity to talk about “Governing Bodies” for the first time (this page in the pre-search packet will be explored tomorrow). Student writers are quick to move to Dictionary.com or FreeDictionary. com (a funny anecodote–I had to tell a student that using or not using the dictionary is not a “cost issue; ” we just don’t do it in formal research and response). Asking the student writer to consider more deeply the source from which a defintion comes is the first step in moving the student to considering reputable and necessary voices for the response.

This also gives the group its first look at MLA style citation. In this regard, the Background, Definition, and Limitations Page is giving me–the lead learner–an early look at how my writers place themselves within the discourse community, phrase themselves within the discourse community, and position themselves for the response to the discourse community that is to come. I get an early conferring point on the importance of defining one’s terms (rhetorical modes), I get a quick lesson on MLA citation, and I am helping students to see that they are actively writing toward the formal response even as they are doing something that feels “outside of the work that will be collected later on.”

Of course, this works for literature analysis as well. Yes. Everyone in the room has read Of Mice and Men, but it is not bad practice to have the student writer provide that background information to the book, its summary and a few points regarding the book followed by the proposal of the response to come (this is actually called PROPOSITIO and is a part of NARRATIO that is very effective in forecasting what the paper will be about).

We’ve gone long again. I look forward to your questions regarding this element of our pre-search packet. Tomorrow, we will look at Thesis Formation (which is already beginning as we draft the Background, Definitions, and Limitations element (another bonus of working upon this element together).

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