Improving Student Writing: Focusing on writing about quotes

Improving student writing: Focusing on writing about quotes

“In this quote…” “As stated in the quote…” “This shows…”

Students use these common commentary starters in their writing when they write about and add analytical thought to their writing. And while it’s essential that students include quotes and write about their selected quotes in their essays, teachers (especially at the high school level) should dissuade students from including phrases like, "this shows," and "in this quote" in their writing.

When we teach students to use phrases like, “this quote shows” or “as stated in the quote” after embedding quotes in their writing rather than pushing them to think of an alternate, more complex statement, we limit students’ ability to grow as writers. Furthermore, this type of writing also lends itself to a more stifled and formulaic writing style.

It’s time to push our students to reach beyond the “this shows” and the “in this quote” phrases to help them become stronger writers. One way I do this in my classroom is by spending an entire writing unit on just the commentary. I use my Writing Spotlight: Writing about Quotes in my classroom in the middle of an essay unit as a way to focus on improving student writing.
Improving student writing: Focusing on writing about quotes
Writing Spotlight: Writing about Quotes

One of the main reasons students come into high school automatically writing “this shows” after each piece of evidence is because of the push for including relevant evidence in their writing starting at an early age, which isn’t a bad thing. As the years progress and my students have more and more immersion in common core ELA instruction, I’ve seen an improvement in their ability to find and include relevant quotes to support their claims. And since students begin learning about including evidence at such an early age, teaching kids to write “this shows” is one way to help younger writers grasp this concept.

I feel that teaching kids to use sentence starters such as “This shows,” is perfectly acceptable for upper elementary students. They need to build the foundations on which to connect the quotes to their analysis. However, as kids advance through middle school and enter high school, these sentence structures, they need to use more specific details from the quote, and words like “this” should be eliminated from commentary sentences.

Improving in upper-elementary

Rather than teaching “This quote shows” or “This quote proves,” eliminate the word quote from the sentence starter. Students will still be able to write either “This shows” or “This proves,” but they won’t start the habit of writing about their writing. Just by eliminating the word quote, students improve their writing early on.

Improving in middle school

As kids enter middle school, they should begin moving from “This shows,” and “This proves” to a sentence that singles out a particular word or short phrase from the quote. Why did they choose that particular quote? What specifically about that quote proves their topic sentence? Use these guiding questions to help kids drop the “This shows” phrase from their essays. One helpful strategy is to have kids go back to their quotes and highlight or circle key concepts from the quotes they chose. By doing so, students will add a visual element to their writing.

Improving in high school

Once students have mastered the structured, five-paragraph essay, they should start exploring different writing structures and organizations. By eliminating phrases like, “In this quote,” “As stated in the quote,” and “This proves,” students will be able to break away from the structured topic sentence, concrete detail, commentary form. Instruct students to draw conclusions or inferences from the quotes. Have them make connections between the quotes they choose and the greater meaning or purpose of the text.

Just as kids learn early on that they can never, ever start a sentence with the word because they also learn early to use “This shows.” While at the high school level this isn’t excellent writing, these structures and scaffolds are essential to help young writers build the foundations they need. It’s our job as middle school and high school teachers to build upon the structures they learn early on so that our students can become strong writers.