Creative Rankings

Creative Ranking allows students to meet and interact with the major themes of a story or lesson before they have even seen a piece of writing or have heard a single lecture. Students are given a list of items (individual plot points, data, concepts, historic events, occupations of characters, ect.) and a set of criteria by which to rank them (personal connection, preference, by timeline, ect.). Each student should complete their ranking individually, without fear of being graded, and should share their decisions with a classmate, peer group, or with the class. The teacher can record the top rankings of the class and keep track of them as the lesson progresses.

I have used Creative Rankings in a high school Environmental Science class in order to introduce students to the evolution of insects. I gave each student a list of 8 groups of insects and asked them to rank each group, 1 to 8, from the earliest to emerge to the most recent:

Dragonflies

Beetles

Ants

Bees

Cockroaches

Cicadas

Flies

Butterflies/Moths

I admit that this was not exactly the most creative application of Creative Rankings, but it was an effective means of getting students to recognize major groups of insects while freely using their own logic and reasoning to place them on an evolutionary timeline. If this exercise succeeded only in getting the students to understand that insects did evolve on a timeline as all other animals on the planet–and did not simply appear all at once in a writhing mass of chitin–then both the students and I are better off for having used it.

My favorite part of Creative Rankings is that it allows students to put information into a personal context before they are formally introduced to it. This personal context serves two purposes. It allows students to identify with the material and become intrinsically engaged with it (a necessity for effective eduction), and it lets the teacher understand the students’ prior knowledge of the topic before the lesson even begins.

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Proposition/Support Outlines

Proposition/Support Outlines work in a variety of writing contexts, but are especially effective for position papers—essays that clearly present, support, call attention to a specific opinion, viewpoint, or idea. Position papers are widely used examples of persuasive writing, and commonly appear on final exams and standardized tests where students are directed to respond to a scientific hypothesis or literary prompt. To begin, start with a statement of fact. For example, “The amount of fish in the ocean is being depleted.” A fact can be proven or disproven, while an opinion (“I believe that…”) cannot. Now, make this statement of fact into a proposition by introducing an opinion or follow-up statement that requires argument supported by facts. Our proposition is now “The amount of fish in the ocean is being depleted because current fishing methods are unsustainable.” The outline below illustrates five methods of support for this proposition—facts, statistics, examples, expert authority, and logic/reasoning. An example of each is provided using information from Overfishing.org:

Like Dialogical Writing/Reading, this exercise can be done in reverse by having students deconstruct a piece of writing to identify the author’s point of view and the methods used for supporting it.

I like Proposition/Support Outlines because it forces students to think critically about how they approach reading and writing. This exercise should encourage questioning like “What is the author trying to say?” “How well-founded are the author’s arguments?” “Does the reasoning match the facts?” and “What are whole in the logic of the arguments?” This sort of critical examination of pieces of writing will allow students to better state and defend their own opinions, while discerning the supported from the unfounded in the over-abundance of propositions made in the Information Age.