Making Points: How to Organize Facts

This week, I’ve been thinking about the Internet a lot, and not in a “Gosh, how I love the Internet” kind of way. Ha. Quite the opposite. I have a group of kids who need to find factual information to support their positions in a writing class. Have any of you adults tried to accomplish this task lately? If not, I invite you to do the following. It will give you a new understanding of the difficulties your teens face in this age of too much information.

  1. Pick a controversial topic. Gun control, abortion, vaccination. That kind of thing.
  2. Pick a side.
  3. Find information from experts to support your side. Research studies, surveys, expert testimony. You get the idea.
  4. Are you ready to scream yet? If not, try to find supporting texts for the other side of the argument. I’m sure you’re screaming by now.

It is a labor intensive process to find support material that would pass muster in an academic essay. It is never a half hour session of Internet searching to find what you need. Set aside hours. Pain. So much pain.

So assuming your cherub has gotten past the difficulties of searching for reliable data, what then? I’m interested in this question, because it gets at the heart of a skill that is still in development in the teen years, namely, the organizational or “outline” ability.

Teens must take a series of facts and organize them into some sort of outline in order to use them effectively to support the points they are trying to make in a paper. When faced with thousands of words and no clue how to arrange them, a child may  be daunted by the task.

My suggestion for you today: Have your kids practice with fake facts! I made the following exercise for kids in my co-op class, using a topic I love: chocolate. I made up a thesis statement and provided a list of imaginary facts found in my “research” (though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone put up some of these “facts” on the Internet by now. They’re all true, honest!).

My goal was to give the kids a variety of supporting particulars and then to ask them to write overall points these particulars supported. We were working through material in Help for High School by Julie Bogart. This program is a self-directed writing program for high schoolers. I love it! You can find it here.

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The kids had fun reading my imaginary facts. It made the task of organizing information less daunting. They worked together and came up with points such as, “Those who consume too much chocolate are prone to violence,” and “Eating chocolate causes consumers to lose the ability to focus on performing tasks unrelated to chocolate.” Luckily we don’t live in this world, right?

Here is the activity. Note that we had already discussed how to make a strong thesis statement and what points and particulars were.

Here is your thesis: Although consuming small quantities of dark chocolate has been shown to improve health, chocolate consumption in fact leads inevitably to the destruction of society.

Now, what are the points? I don’t know yet, but I have the following particulars. Your job is to organize them under three points that help prove my thesis.

Point 1:__________________________________________________________________

 

Point 2:__________________________________________________________________

 

Point 3:__________________________________________________________________

Particulars:

Known fact: Eating a piece of chocolate immediately leads to a quest to eat another piece of chocolate. The cycle continues until the chocolate eater gets tired and has to go to bed.

Joe Bob, author of Chocolate, Oh No You Di-nt recounts the story of his first trip to Hershey’s Chocolate World. After the chocolate ride, as each person emerged and ate their complimentary chocolate, there was a general, “rolling of the eyes” and “jiggling of the bodies” as “drool poured from their mouths in copious amounts.” Then the group ran back to the entrance to ride again.

The Chocolate Research Lab conducted a study of 1200 self-defined chocoholics and found they spent 95% of their time planning the destruction of mankind. The other 5% of their time was spent looking for more chocolate.

In interviewing Pulitzer Prize winner turned chocolatier Julia Dragon, when the interviewer asked her to recall significant works on the existential crises of young men in post-war Vietnam, her sole response was, “Where do you buy your chocolate?”

We must recall the sad events of December 1, 2011. When one man in Topeka, KS stationed himself outside the Godiva chocolate shop and held up pictures of broccoli and carrots to all potential customers, the customers were so traumatized as to require hospitalization due to Post Vegetable Viewing Disorder. The man then entered the store and ate the entire display of Chocorific truffles.

Known fact: Humans have a chocolate gene that, once activated, can never be deactivated.

An entire co-op literature class was arrested in St. Louis, MO and subsequently imprisoned after one chocolate-eating session led to cannibalistic activity. One member of the class was overheard to say, “I know there’s chocolate in there.”

The New York Times article, “Halloween, Family Game Night Killer?” tells the story of the Halloran family who, until Halloween 2009, had faithfully gathered each Friday night for family game night. Not having celebrated Halloween up to that point because of a strict “no sugar, no cavities” policy put in place by their dentist parents, the kids at last gained permission to trick or treat one time, “for the experience of it.” Upon their return, the children’s mouths were covered in chocolate and their eyes had a distinct glassy quality. They then declined an invitation to play Monopoly. In fact, the only way they would agree to play from that date forward was if chocolate gold coins were substituted for paper money in the game.

A survey of 1200 chocolate factory workers revealed that while 95% liked their jobs, 95% also expressed frustration at their inability to make and eat the chocolate at the same time. 98% have requested a transfer to the chocolate tasting department at some time in their careers. 99% failed to identify possible jobs they could hold outside the chocolate factory. One respondent wrote the following: “Why would anyone work outside the chocolate factory? What’s the point?”

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