Using frames or templates is a great way to scaffold instruction and build learners’ confidence in writing, particularly in writing tasks and genres with which they have little prior experience. A writing frame consists of a skeleton outline given to learners to scaffold their writing. By providing a few sentence starters and some rhetorical phrases common to the task or genre, frames give learners a structure that allows them to focus on expressing their thoughts. They also help learners incorporate vocabulary they have learned in a given topic and create more sophisticated sentences and paragraphs. An example is a science lab report with clearly delineated sections, expectations, and sentence starters that scaffold a learner’s successful writing of the report. Advantages of frames include the following:
- Provide a structure on which to hang ideas.
- Can provide suitable sentence starters.
- Provide support for struggling writers.
- Can be differentiated to stretch more competent writers.
By making academic literacy explicit in this way, writing frames can help learners improve their reading comprehension and begin to predict and follow the academic style of writing. The use of a frame should begin with a discussion and teacher modeling. This discussion should be followed by teacher and students jointly using the frame and then by students independently writing using the frame as a support.
It’s Not Cheating!
Using frames or templates to write is no more cheating than it is to learn to dance with an instructor counting the tempo and calling out the directional moves. It allows the learner to focus on making the right moves with his or her own style and topic at hand. Learners will use the frames only as long as they are helpful. Dancing coaches—and writing coaches— know when to remove the scaffolds: when students are combining moves in creative ways that show their grasp of the fundamentals and their own personal expression.
Persuasive Argument Frames
Persuasive writing follows a structure of (1) presenting an opinion, (2) stating reasons for the position, (3) stating counter-arguments, (4) providing rebuttal of counter-arguments, and (5) drawing a conclusion. Steps 3 and 4, stating counter-arguments and providing rebuttal, are important areas of instruction because omitting the counter-arguments and rebuttal can weaken the writer’s position. Consider using sentence and paragraph frames for academic persuasive writing, such as an essay on a controversial or “hot” topic or in response to an assigned reading. Adult learners usually have plenty to say on these topics; the challenge is to help them construct powerful arguments in writing that express their opinions and show their learning.
Frames and their rhetorical uses in academic writing for postsecondary students are compiled by Graff and Birkenstein (2010) in They Say/I Say. The main argument of this book is that academic writing is a dialogue; helping students understand how to insert themselves into the conversation requires a few writing “moves” that can be helpfully provided as frames. By beginning with a frame, students can focus on the meaning they are trying to convey, use appropriate vocabulary, and make their point. Figure 4 includes a few frames from the book.
Writing frames also can be used as a type of cloze technique to check for understanding. The same frames provided in Figure 4 can be used as prompts for an Exit Ticket (see the Writing-to-Learn section) to ask students to reflect on the classroom discussion.
You can certainly make your own frames, too. Draw from the classroom discussion, referencing back to the vocabulary generated and argument moves made by learners. Perhaps there had been two or three clear “camps” of thinkers on a topic. Write up the three frames on the board, handout, or word processing program, and ask students to write their response, thinking back to the class discussion and using the vocabulary discussed.
It is useful to connect writing frames to summarization when the task is to provide an opinion or critique of a text. Including a summary of the text’s main points before introducing your opinion or critique is a solid structure for a persuasive and thoughtful essay. (For more information, see the Teach Summarization section.)
Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2010). They say/I say: Moves that matter in academic literacy (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.