About the Process Essay:
Process analysis, which in general presents the steps or sequence of
events of a procedure or activity, can be divided into two types.
One type of process analysis results in a directional or “how-to” process
essay which instructs readers how they can do the process, such as “How
to Change Your Oil.” The other type of process analysis leads to
an informational process essay which explains a process which readers will
not do, such as “How a Hurricane is Formed.”
Pat Lively and I thought that the process essay, specifically the directional
process essay, was a good choice for her class’s DESK writing projects
since by definition the pattern of development of this type of essay dictated
a sequential structure which would be relatively easy for the students
to understand, generate and maintain. Thus, after students established
the steps of their processes, they could concentrate on the development
of vivid and detailed ideas within the established structure of their essays,
a skill necessary to all types of writing situations. Also, we planned
to guide students in the selection of essay topics that they were very
familiar with so that they would feel confident of the content of their
We also wanted to have each student write to a very specific audience,
so that the students would come to see writing as a form of communication
not unlike forms they may feel more comfortable with, such as talking,
signing, e-mailing, writing letters, etc.
Introducing Giving Clear Instructions:
In the first meeting with the class, if necessary briefly introduce yourself
and explain the program for the benefit of new students.
Ask the students how many of them have ever told someone how to do something.
Volunteered examples ranged from, “I once told my brother how
to mow the lawn” to “I told my girlfriend how to make her boyfriend jealous.”
When asked, a few students said they had written “how-to” essays before.
Tell the students that they will be working for several weeks on writing
process or “how-to” essays. Explain that each student’s goal is to
explain very clearly a process he or she is an “expert” in to a specific
person who isn’t. Emphasize that they will be choosing their own
topics and the people to whom they will be writing.
Without discussing the essay assignment any further at this point, tell
the students that you will show them in a “non-writing way” what they will
be doing in this project.
- I wanted to do this exercise to introduce the concept of clearly
communicating a process to an audience in a way that did not involve writing
to make a connection between “everyday” instructions and the essays they
would be writing. Also, I have found that demonstrations that do
not rely exclusively on language, especially written language, are effective
with deaf and hard of hearing students.2
Additionally, I hoped this would be a fun ice-breaker so that I could establish
both a rapport with the students and a tone for our work in the DESK Program.
Put a clean write-on transparency on the overhead projector and ask the
classroom teacher or another teacher to help with the demonstration.
Positioning yourself facing the students but with your back to the volunteer,
hold up a very simple drawing so that the students can see it but the volunteer
can not.3 Tell the students
they are going to see how well the volunteer teacher can follow directions.
Explain that you will be telling the volunteer teacher how to draw the
picture without telling her what the picture is. 4
Instruct the volunteer teacher how to draw the picture with instructions
such as: “Draw a medium-sized circle in the center of the page. Now
draw a small triangle at the top of the circle a little left of the center.”
- Of course, the results were not only amusing, but this exercise
let the students vividly see how difficult it is to give clear and precise
instructions that someone else can follow. Mrs. Lively, who is hearing,
and I switched places for an equally effective, if not embarrassing, demonstration.5
However, when we attempted to let students volunteer to draw and instruct,
we discovered that this works best with hearing people for the simple fact
that signed instructions, either from the interpreter to a deaf student
or from a deaf and signing student to another student, are often the shapes
drawn “in the air.” Thus, the pictures actually became a little more
accurate and the intended lesson was not as effective.
In beginning the discussion of choosing a subject for the process essay,
tell the students that it is essential that they choose not only subjects
that they know about but also subjects they like. Explain that each
student must know his or her subject well so that the instructions will
be clear and accurate, and each student must like or be interested in his
or her subject so that the instructions will be vivid, enthusiastic, and
make the readers want to try the process.
Using the “About My Subject” checklist on an overhead projector (see
example), read and explain each criterion.6
Considering Subject and Audience Together:
Discuss the concept of audience, of being conscious of writing to actual
readers, even one specific reader. Ideally the above discussion of
subject and the discussion of audience should occur during the same class
period so that students see how important it is to consider the audience
or readers when choosing a subject.
Using the “About My Audience” checklist on an overhead projector (see
example), read and explain each criterion. 7
- Since high school students are often somewhat unused to writing
to specific readers, other than their teachers, I spent more time explaining
and discussing these criteria. I found it helpful to offer several
“what if” examples. For example, when considering “Who are my readers?”
I asked my students how explaining the Viet Nam war to a younger sibling
would be different from than explaining it to a history teacher in a class
discussion. When considering “What do my readers know about my subject?”,
I asked the students if it would be easier to explain how to send e-mail
to a fellow high school student or to their parents. When considering
“How can I help my readers read my writing?” I asked the students to consider
what would happen if they were explaining how to bake cookies and just
said, “Add some sugar” or if they didn’t present the steps in order.
Beginning to Choose Process Essay Topics:
To conclude the discussion of subject and audience choices, use the following
brief exercise to emphasize how interconnected these considerations are
and how they must both be contemplated before the students decided what
their process essays will be about.
Present a list of possible “how-to” topics on the left side of the chalk
board and then a choice of a “good” and “bad” audience choice.
Reading each topic, ask students to choose the more appropriate audience
After students have chosen, ask why their choices are appropriate.
Answers such as “She’s too old” or “He already knows that” will reinforce
the criteria discussed with the “About My Audience” checklist.
The “Choosing a Good Audience” chart (See Example) can be reproduced and handed
out as a quiz, used as an overhead transparency or transferred to the chalkboard.
- If time allows I found that students enjoyed generating their
own “good” and “bad” audience choices for additional topics I provided.
Referring to the list of hypothetical “how-to” subjects, such as the one
in “Choosing a Good Audience” chart, explain to the students that
they will soon be selecting their own topics which might be similar to
the ones listed.8 Since by now
the students should have a working knowledge of process essays, briefly
remind them that they will each be giving instructions to a specific reader
in a series of clear, well-explained steps.
At this point, and frequently throughout the topic selection process, stress
that to be a process topic the instructions must occur in a sequence.
- I explained that a topic such as “How to Choose a Friend” might
actually present several things to consider or do in choosing a friend,
but that those considerations or actions did not necessarily go in a step-by-step
process. For example, “look for someone who has similar interests”
and “look for someone who is honest” don’t necessarily follow any required
After reminding students that they must choose topics that they know about
and like, ask them each to take out a sheet of paper and a pen and
as quickly as possible list five possible essay topics. Explain that
this form of brainstorming is best done without a lot of thought, but is
just meant to get the “juices flowing.”
After giving the students about five minutes or less to list five topics,
ask them to each quickly circle the topic they liked the best.
Then list each student’s choice on the board (or overhead projector) in
a “How to . . .” format under the heading of “Subject.”
If time allows, ask each student questions about how they chose that topic
or when they learned how to do this process as it gives them the opportunity
to reveal areas of interest and expertise to their classmates.
To the right of the heading “Subject,” write the heading “Audience” and
tell the students that it is important for each of them to decide who will
be an appropriate audience or readers for their topics. Brainstorming
audience possibilities for the list of topics can be done in several ways.
The following list is presented in order of least time-consuming to most:
In a discussion format led by the teacher, students can offer audience
suggestions for the topics on the board, not necessarily for just their
Students can spend a few minutes considering an appropriate audience for
their own topics and then present them to the class as the teacher lists
them across from the matching topics.
Students can spend several minutes and generate a possible audience for
each of the topics on the board and several audience choices can be put
on the board for each topic.
How to make breakfast
How to fish
How to use the Internet
someone who doesn't know how
someone with friends but little money
The students’ audience choices at this point may be rather general, such
as “a person who doesn’t know how to fish.” Therefore, explain to
the students that while it is certainly possible for them to write to more
than one person or a certain type of person, for this assignment they must
choose one specific person whom they know, so that they see this process
essay as “real” communication.
At the end of this activity, tell the students that the final selection
of their subject and audience will be done on their own and due for the
next DESK Program session. 9 Remind them
to consider the criteria for subject and audience selection. In closing,
stress that, above all, they must each choose a subject that they know
about and like and a reader or audience member that they know personally.
When the students have chosen their subjects and audiences,10
list them on the board to acquaint the entire class with their fellow students’
topics. This is important so that students will be somewhat familiar
with the other students’ topics in advance of any group revision.
Determining the Steps in the Process:
The students are now ready to begin determining the steps in their selected
processes. Again, this can be done during a DESK Program session
or as homework.
Ordering and Completing the Lists:
An effective method is to have one student tell another student the steps
in the process and have the other student copy down the steps either on
paper, on an overhead transparency or on to a computer disk. This
reinforces the idea that writing is a form of direct communication, not
too unlike signed/spoken communication.
At this point, students and teachers should not be concerned with ordering,
grouping or subordinating steps. Simply encourage the students to
list everything they need to tell their readers so that the readers can
do the process.
Prior to this activity, copy each of the students’ lists on separate overhead
transparencies.11 Allow space between
the listed items so that additions can be made.
After placing one of the students’ transparencies on the projector, first
read the complete list of steps to the entire class.
Remind the students that this listing process was done quickly and probably
needs to be revised. Ask the student who wrote the list whether the
steps were in the right order or if anything had been omitted.
After giving the writer an opportunity to revise the list, open the discussion
up to the entire class, asking the other students if they have any suggestions
for improving the list. Make additional suggestions only after
allowing ample time for student input.
Revisions to the list can be done on the overhead by numbering the items
and inserting additions between items.
Here is the revised “How to Fish” list of steps. Boldfaced
steps were added in the revision process.
- check the gas
- get the fishing poles
- check the plug
get the paddle
- put equipment in the boat
- hook up trailer and boat to truck
- take license
go to Bonaventure’s on False River
- launch boat
drive your boat to an area with dead trees
get your fishing gear ready
- put your hook on the line
While this group revision process does take a significant amount of time,
it makes clear to each student that his or her list must “make sense” to
other readers. If time constraints and/or class size make it impossible
to discuss and revise each student’s list, one or two can be used as models
and students can do the revision process during regular class time or as
Grouping the Items and Labeling the Groups:
Once the lists are ordered and complete, turn the class’s attention
to logical grouping of the listed items.
Results should be similar to the following:
Explain to the students that since the goal for each of them is to write
a process essay, not merely a list of steps, that it is now time to start
thinking about how a process can be communicated in several paragraphs.
Explain that they will be grouping several of their previously listed “little”
steps into “big” steps and that for most of them, a “big” step will probably
become a paragraph. 12
Because the concepts of classification and subordination are somewhat abstract,
demonstrate with a simple example, such as below. Put the following
list of “little” steps on the board and ask the students where they feel
lines should be drawn to separate these steps.
Then ask them if they can “label” the groups they had formed.
Making a Cake
Since this grouping and labeling requires substantial consideration, it
is best for the students to work on their lists on their own. If
time allows during a DESK Program session, it is helpful for the director
and classroom teacher to walk around the room, monitoring the students’
work and offering suggestions from time to time. Alternatively, this
grouping and labeling can be done in regular class time or as homework.
|get out the bowl
get out the beaters
get out measuring cups and spoons
get out the pan
|Get out the Equipment
|get out and measure the flour
get out and measure the sugar
get out and measure the oil
get out and measure the flavorings
|Get the Ingredients Ready
put the ingredients in the bowl
mix the ingredients with the beater
|Mix the Cake Batter
Turning “Big” Step Labels into Topic Sentences:
The sample above can also be used to demonstrate that the labels they
had provided for the “big” steps could be very easily “turned into” the
opening, or topic, sentences of the essay’s paragraphs.
Quickly, and not too carefully, write sentences similar to the following.
Intentional mistakes help students realizing drafts are not final products.
When you are as done, read through the sentences, underlining the first
words in each sentences. Ask the students why the underlined
words would be helpful to a reader.
|Get out the Equipment||First, you should get together the utensils and equipment you will use.|
|Get the Ingredients Ready||Second, you will need to get out and measure the ingredients
listed in the recipe.|
|Mix the Cake Batter||Next, it is time to mix the cake batter.
Assigning the First Draft:
End this demonstration by explaining how their lists of “big” step sentences
will serve as excellent outlines or guides as they begin drafting
their essays and that their original lists of “little” steps would help
them describe the “big” step and develop their paragraphs. Caution
the students, however, that they will probably have to add to these paragraphs
to make them very clear and detailed.
After the students have completed their own grouping and labeling as described
above, they can convert their own labels into topic sentences during the
DESK Program session, regular class time or as homework.
Explain to the students that they will now be using their lists to draft
the bodies of their process essays but that at this point they should not
write introductions or conclusions.
Ask them to keep in mind that they are each writing to a specific audience,
and encourage each student to write that person’s name on the top
of each piece of paper used in drafting.
Since I find that high school students are sometimes hesitant to use
first-person and second-person pronouns in their writing, I assured the
students that since this was not an extremely formal or academic assignment,
they could write “I” and “you” and call the person by name. I told
them that they could even think of this assignment as a process letter
if that helped them write to their readers. As a relevant example,
I explained that writing situations can call for different ways of writing.
In a brief example, I asked to them consider how writing to a bank loan
officer asking for money would be different from writing to a parent asking
If possible, distribute a sample process essay to the students to be used
in a later discussion led by the classroom teacher.
I used one written by a college freshman in one of my composition classes.
However, care must be taken that such a model is not so polished and the
process so complicated as to intimidate the high school students.
The first draft of the process essay is best done for most students out
of class as homework, although an in-class writing session during regular
class time is also effective.
Ask students to bring the complete body of their essays to the next DESK
Program session. Have each student bring a typed draft printed out
on paper and reproduced on an overhead transparency.
Revising the Body of the Process Essays:
Find the Purpose--the Thesis Statement:
Since the students’ paragraph beginnings, or topic sentences, have been
drafted and discussed earlier, spend most of the session discussing how
to make the content of individual paragraphs more clear, detailed, and
Place one student’s transparency on the projector and ask that student
to remind the class of the process topic and the reader.
Discussing a paragraph at a time, analyze one or two body paragraphs from
each student’s essay. Elicit suggestions, first from the writer and
then the rest of the class, as to how the writer could develop a paragraph
more fully and in doing so make the step described both clear and interesting.
Using an overhead transparency marker, make brief comments in the margin
as suggestions were made. Encourage each student to also make notes
on the typed copy of the essay as his or her essay is discussed.
At the end of the session, return the transparencies to the students and
ask them to revise their essays before the next session.
Considering the Introduction: 14
Begin by telling the students that with the bodies of their essays drafted,
they are now ready to “invite” their readers into their essays with introductions.
As a way to (re)introduce the concept of thesis statements, write the following
chart on the chalkboard and ask the students to reproduce it on paper and
to write their essay topics and readers on the appropriate blank lines,
leaving the “Why” blank incomplete:
WHAT? (Your topic)TO
WHOM (Your reader)WHY?
Ask the class to consider the following questions:
Why should your reader read your essay?
Why do you want your reader to read your essay?
How will reading your essay affect your reader?
Then ask each student to complete the following sentence:
I want (reader’s name) to read my essay about how to (topic)
because . . . . .
When they are done, put their responses on the board.
Explain that when they have completed these sentence, they have answered
the question “Why” and have thus stated their purposes in writing the essay.
Ask them to each write their purpose on the “What
Further explain that communicating that purpose in the essay will give
each of their essays a point, or a reason, an argument, an angle--what
we call a thesis statement.
Revising the Introduction to the Process Essay:
Tell the students that since they now have a sense of their essays’ purposes,
they now have to make sure that they grab their readers’ attention in their
opening statements and lead them to their purposes which were stated in
their thesis statements. Stress that it is especially important that
each writer “talk” to his or her audience in the introduction.
Ask the students to each bring an introductory paragraph which includes
a purpose or thesis statement for the next session. Have each student
bring a typed draft printed out on paper and reproduced on an overhead
In doing group revision of the introductions, follow much the same procedure
as in working on the revision of the body of the essays. However,
with only one paragraph per student, more time can be spent on this step
with references to the introduction criteria.
- Following are the examples of the students’ introductory paragraphs:
Hey, wake up sleepy head! It’s time to go fishing. If you want
to eat a delicious fish dinner, then let’s go. The fish are probably
jumping in the boat at False River now. If you follow my instructions,
you will catch fish easily and quickly.
Diamond, do you want me to fall in love with you? I will show
you how to write a poem. You can learn poetry because it’s easy to
write and it’s a good way to express your feelings. What if you try
telling me about your feelings? It’s important to let me know what
you’re feeling inside. I hope you will be please to learn how to
write a poem.
Hey, do know how to shock your friends? Then you have to listen
to what I will teach you about a fantastic card trick. Are you ready?
Then get where you feel comfortable, girl.
Are you tired of having to pay for long conversations on the TTY?
I know that some deaf people have to pay dreadful bills for the TTY, but
you can learn how to use AOL. People who have AOL don’t have to pay
high bills every month! I’m enthusiastic about AOL because it’s an
easy and cheap way to communicate with friends.
Troy, do you want to impress your date? Then you have to learn
how to make breakfast for your girlfriend. Don’t worry; cooking is
easy! I will teach you how to make an egg sandwich for your girlfriend’s
Completing the Process Essay:
Several subsequent class periods can be spent putting the pieces of the
essay together, adding brief conclusions, revising and editing.
- During these sessions, Mrs. Lively and I frequently worked one-on-one
with students as they worked at their desks or at computer terminals.15
Occasionally, we put students in pairs to work on revision and editing.
When the essays are complete, give each student a final copy of every other
Is my subject
interesting to me?
What do I
know about my subject? Is it enough?
What is important
about my subject?
What is interesting
about my subject?
Is my subject
the right “size” for the assignment?
Who are my
readers? Age, sex, education?
What do my
readers know about my subject?
Are my readers
interested in my subject?
How can I
interest my readers in my subject?
my readers expect when they read my writing?
How can help
my readers read my writing?
Choosing a Good Audience
A GOOD AUDIENCE
"A" OR "B"
|How to get a date for the Prom
||a high school girl
|How to bake a cake
||a newly wed
|How to choose a skateboard
||your best friend
|How to change a tire
||a new driver
|How to divide fractions
||your math teacher
||a student failing math
Is the main
point of the stated clearly in the topic sentence?
of the relate to the topic sentence?
Is the paragraph
developed with enough specific evidence or detail to be convincing?
Is the paragraph
developed with the right kind of specific evidence or detail to be convincing?
intro paragraph grab our attention?
intro paragraph move from general to specific?
intro paragraph flow smoothly?
intro paragraph provide necessary background info?
intro paragraph address the audience?
2 Examples of these types of non-writing
demonstrations are discussed in The DESK Program Handbook (1999-2000) in
"Workshop Two" where I had students evaluate miniature chocolate bars as
a way of introducing the evaluation essay and in "Workshop Six" where I
had students compare or contrast name-brand and store-brand sandwich cookies.
3 It goes without saying that when a teacher
using an interpreter is working with deaf and hard of hearing sutdents,
care must be taken that all students can easily see the teacher and the
interpreter. When visual aids or other people must also be seen,
it often takes some adjustments in the front of hte classroom. I
routinely and frequently ask the students, "Can everybody see?"
4 See the original cat and
boat drawing for examples. Drawings using simple geometric shapes work
best. Coloring books for very young children are a good source of inspiration.
5 See this one example of the results of
6 This sheet might also be reproduced and
given to the students to use as they consider their subjects later.
7 This sheet might also be reproduced and
given to the sutdents to use as they consider their readers later.
8 Depending on the amount of time available
and the skill and interest level of the students, you may or may not wish
to make a distinction between directional and informational process essays.
I did not explain informational essays but instead Mrs. Lively and I tried
to guide the students into choosing directional topics and frequently used
the term "how-to" essay.
9 The program director and classroom teacher
should decide together whether work done outside of DESK Program sessions
will be done during English class time with the classroom teacher or as
homework due for the next DESK Program session.
10 If the students make thier topic selections
during a DESK Program session, do this at the end of that session when
the selections are finalized. If the sutdents select their topics as homework
before the next session, do this at hte beginning of the next session
before moving on to "Determining the Steps of the Process."
11 Students can do this as homework by
hand or their lists can be printed out on the computer and xeroxed onto
tranparencies, but these transparanencies cannot be reused, of course.
Lists can be written on the chalkboard.
12 It might be necessary to briefly remind
students of the purpose and characteristics of the well written body paragraph.
13 See "Workshop Four: Revising the Evaluation
Essay," The DESK Program Handbook (1999-2000), 14-17.
14 For a more complete discussion of essay
introductions, see "Workshop Five: Essay Introductions," The DESK Program
Handbook (1999-2000), 18-25.
15 For a complete discussion of using computers
in one-on-one conferencing, see "Workshop Nine: Working One-on-One with
Students," The DESK Program Handbook (1999-2000), 42-45.
Overview / 2000
- 2001 Program / Unit 1
/ Unit 2 / Unit
3 / Credits