For the Instructor

Chapter 5: Maintaining Focus and Purpose: The Body Paragraphs

For the Instructor

When our students reach this stage of the writing process in our courses we like to dedicate a class to the In-Class Midterm Essay Draft Exchange. We identify a “draft” as the close reading essay-in-process and we require each student to come to class with at least one typed double-spaced page of their essay. We ask that each student provide a complete introductory paragraph and at least one complete body paragraph. It is understood that this document is a draft, and while we ask our students to produce their best work, we let them know that their essays will still undergo several changes before they are ready to submit the final product.

We remind students that an introductory paragraph must contain a three-storey thesis in which they use the information gathered through analysis to establish a focus, stake a claim, and explain the purpose of the proposed essay. For the purposes of this assignment, we ask our students to underline the first storey, italicize the second storey, and bold the third storey. We have discovered that this is beneficial in both the writing and review processes. For the student writing the thesis, the different fonts make visible the connections between the storeys and, most importantly, make visible which storeys need to be lengthened or shortened. If a student’s introduction is almost entirely underlined while containing only a few bolded words, it should be obvious to that student that too much time is being dedicated to textual material and not enough time is being committed to establishing the student’s particular reading. Differentiating the storeys by font is also beneficial in the review process as students new to this way of writing can use the visual aid when assessing the parts of a three-storey thesis.

We put students in groups of three so each student gives and receives two sets of feedback. If time permits, we also like to have each group meet with the instructor for debriefing and additional feedback before they leave the class. We encourage students to write on each other’s drafts and we also provide them with a feedback sheet with direct questions about various aspects of the draft:

Introduction/Working Thesis

1. Can you identify the writer’s thesis?

1. What is the text-grounded focus identified in the first storey?

2. Does the second storey contain a controversial claim? If so, what is it?

3. Does the author explain the significance of his/her analysis in the third storey?

2. Does the thesis make a claim that is unique to the text the author is analyzing? Does the author use general language and terminology that could be applied to almost any essay? If applicable, please identify the generalizing terms or phrases and suggest more (text-)specific alternatives.

3. Is the thesis clear? Do you understand exactly the sort of reading the author is proposing? Do you have any suggestions to help the author establish his/her thesis?


Body Paragraph(s)

1. Does the paragraph have a topic sentence? What is the main point or claim of the paragraph?

2. Does the author use textual evidence and/or quotations? Too much? Not enough?

3. Does the paragraph contain a warrant? Does the author explain adequately how the evidence supports the claim?


We require each student to answer each question as thoroughly as possible, and we make it clear that simple yes/no answers are not acceptable. We typically make the In-Class Midterm Essay Draft Exchange an assignment worth 5% of the term grade, and this tends to incentivize maximum participation. This is one of our favourite classes of the term as students grow comfortable with sharing their work while they experience and enjoy the benefit of the in-class writing workshop.