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Lesson Plan

So What Do You Think? Writing a Review

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So What Do You Think? Writing a Review

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Susanne Rubenstein

Susanne Rubenstein

Princeton, Massachusetts

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • read a variety of different kinds of reviews.

  • determine the qualities and characteristics of an effective review.

  • use critical thinking skills to formulate their own opinions about a writer's work.

  • apply their knowledge to write their own reviews.

  • compare their ideas and their work to that of professional reviewers.

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Session One

  1. In this first class session, work to generate interest in writing a review-and to convince students that they do have strong and valid opinions.

  2. Begin by asking students what they thought of yesterday's cafeteria lunch or last night's sitcom. Encourage them to be specific, using questions such as the following to guide discussion:

    • If lunch was "gross," what made it so?

    • If the show was "really funny," why did it make them laugh?
  3. Ask students why they go to certain movies, buy specific CDs, or choose to eat in particular restaurants. Encourage them to explore where they get their "recommendations" from.

  4. Invite students to share both positive and negative experiences they have had as a result of listening to someone else's opinion.

  5. Lead the discussion to a point where students begin to see that word-of-mouth recommendations and published reviews essentially serve the same purpose: to comment on and evaluate a work or an event.

  6. Share two conflicting reviews with students.

  7. As a class, students should note:

    • the kind of information included in both reviews.

    • the specific points the reviewers agree and disagree about.

    • any differences in focus between the reviews.

    • which review is more entertaining—and why.

    • which review is more convincing—and why.
  8. Ask students to list various kinds of reviews and to suggest where they can find these reviews (newspapers, magazines, journals, and online).

  9. For homework, ask each student bring one to three reviews to class.

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Session Two

  1. In this second session, focus on helping students determine the qualities and characteristics of a good review.

  2. In groups of three or four, ask students to share the reviews they collected as homework, compiling a list of features that are evident in each review. These include:

    • the name of what is being reviewed

    • a clear statement of the reviewer's opinion (i.e., a thesis)

    • specific examples that support the reviewer's opinion

    • a particular tone (use of humor, sarcasm, authority, etc.).
  3. Students should also note differences seen in reviews of various types, such as the following:

    • book reviews may include quotations from the work.

    • restaurant reviews may discuss atmosphere.

    • both music and literary reviews may trace developments in the writer/musician's history.
  4. Each small group should choose one review to read to the class along with their own short oral analysis.

  5. As a conclusion to the activity, the class as a whole should compile a list on the board or on chart paper of qualities that contribute to a good review. If desired, share the Components of a Review handout, which reviews the parts of a review.

  6. The teacher should collect all reviews students brought in for homework for use in future sessions.

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Session Three

  1. In this third session, work to get students to focus on the particular attributes of a book review in preparation for writing their own reviews of the literature they're reading.

  2. Ideally, the teacher should have a selection of book reviews from those collected from students the previous day. In case students have not brought in book reviews, the teacher should have such reviews available. These reviews should be carefully chosen so that their content is accessible to students. It's best if some reviews focus on works students may have read while others are of work unfamiliar to students.)

  3. In small groups of three or four, have students examine a book review and break it down into its components to determine how the introduction, the body, and the conclusion allow the writer to make his/her points.

  4. Next, students should examine the particular style of their group's review and determine how the writer achieves a unique voice. Each group should try to determine the tone of their review (i.e., pompous and authoritative, humorous, enthusiastic, analytical, etc.) by noting such things as word choice, sentence structure, and use of detail. If students have collected reviews written by the same reviewer, these "elusive" qualities may be easier to spot.

  5. Invite a class discussion about how a review combines the informative aspects of straight journalism with the "pizzazz" of personal narrative.

  6. Finally guide students to consider the importance of audience by asking questions such as the following:

    • Where did your review appear?

    • What do you know about this publication?

    • Who do you think the audience for this publication would be?

    • What would a reader who had read the book take from the review?

    • What would a reader unfamiliar with the book take from the review?

    (Note: It's important for students to recognize that the reviewer never wants to spoil the work for the reader by giving away too much!)

  7. By the end of the session, ask students to compile a class list of broad, basic guidelines for writing a review. Example guidelines are also available.

  8. Now that students have looked critically at reviews, they are ready to start writing their own review.

    • Invite students to begin writing the first draft of a review based on the particular piece(s) of literature the class is studying.

    • If students are reading one book, that one work would be the focus of the review.

    • If students are reading more than one work (i.e., a number of short stories, poems, or essays) by an author, the review can cover any or all of this material.
  9. Ask students to design a rating system to include with the written review. The system can be as traditional as 1-5 stars or something more creative.

  10. As with all writing, students use the process approach in writing this review. Portions of class periods will be spent in response and revision with the teacher determining how much additional guidance is needed. If students need additional guidance with their review, direct them to Scholastic's Write a Book Review with Rodman Philbrick. This site breaks down the process of writing a book review with step-by-step instruction.

    NOTE: Older students tend to get the style and tone of a review quite quickly, while younger students often produce something more like a book report in the early drafts. Writing instruction should be geared to the ability of each class.

  11. Use the Writing a Review Checklist as a guide to help students draft and edit their reviews.

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Session Four

  1. In this fourth session, introduce critical commentary into class discussion.

  2. When the students have completed their reviews, invite them to publish their reviews using one of the options on the ReadWriteThink Printing Press. Print them when they are complete.

  3. With their final drafts complete, have students read professionally written reviews on the same text and compare their ideas as well as their writing to these reviews. Depending on the accessibility of these reviews, you can collect all published material or students can be assigned this task. (It's for this reason that this aspect of the assignment works best if the writers reviewed are contemporary.)

  4. When comparing their reviews with the published pieces, students should find points that are raised in both. This process demystifies critical commentary and allows students to feel comfortable discussing the work of reviewers. For example, one of my students writes of his appreciation of Carver's "deadpan humor."

  5. Teachers can use such excerpts to generate lively classroom discussion. If desired, use the this suggestion for creating a classroom discussion.

  6. After all students have reacted to each excerpt, invite the class to break into pairs or small groups, with each group responsible for sifting through the material on one of the papers.

  7. Finally, have students present conclusions based on their peers' responses to the critical commentary.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Reviews are meant to be published, with the material and opinions shared with an interested audience. Possible publishing options include:

    • a classroom bulletin board displaying reviews, accompanied by artwork and photographs of the authors.

    • a class compilation of reviews. Students can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to compile their reviews in a reader-friendly format.

    • a class publication with all reviews collected in a booklet, brochure, or binder and saved for future classes who will be studying the same author. This collection can be added to over the years to create an "historical perspective" on a particular works/authors.

    • submissions to print and online publications that seek reviews. (Note: Teen Ink seeks student written reviews on all topics.)

  • When students are comfortable with discussing shorter pieces of critical commentary, they can participate in other focused activities involving analysis of entire reviews. Such activities include:

    • writing an individual response to a review to then share with the class.

    • revising and rewriting their own original reviews to address points raised by the professional reviewer.

    • working with a partner and each taking a side in response to a review, with one student proving the reviewer is "right" and the other proving him/her "wrong."

  • When students are comparing different types of reviews, invite them to use the Venn Diagram interactive.

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Grade the review as a complete writing assignment.

  • As students write and revise their reviews, guide their work with the Review Checklist, a worksheet that outlines the vital features of a good review and asks students to verify that their final review includes these specific features. This checklist can be used by the teacher in evaluating the review.

  • Students can assess their own work and learning by completing a Reflection Sheet that is handed in with the review. As with all reflection sheets, the form should include 4–5 questions that make writers really think about their pieces and the process that led to their creation.

  • Publish student reviews using one of the options listed above to provide further feedback and assessment for students.

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