Writing About Literature: Organizing Your Information

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 12879

When a snack machine has as sign that says, "Out of order," that's a sign that the machine doesn't work. When the details in your writing are out of order, that means the piece is not going to work!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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It's hard to find what you need in a disorganized kitchen or storeroom. Could you follow a story in a movie that consisted of a bunch of out-of-order scenes? What if a recipe had the steps out of order? What if YOUR information in YOUR paper were out of order?

In the previous lesson of this Literary Response Paper series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you learned how to choose a topic for a literary response paper, and you developed a topic for the paper you will write in this series.

On a piece of paper, write down the steps you should follow in order to develop a strong topic for a paper.

Look back at the steps that you wrote down. These steps are types of prewriting. Prewriting is a term used to describe the activities that you do before starting the rough draft of a paper. These steps can include brainstorming, exploratory writing about a topic, and more formal organization of ideas. To develop your topic, you brainstormed in your lists and did exploratory writing in your freewrites. In this lesson, you are going to do more structured prewriting to take your ideas and organize them in preparation for writing your draft.

There are several types of prewrites that can be used in the writing process. You have already used two of them in the previous lesson: listing and freewriting. In this lesson, you are going to learn one more type of prewriting that will help better organize your ideas: clustering.

A cluster chart is sometimes called a "mind map," "bubble map," or a "word web." Look at the image below of a generic cluster chart.

  • Can you guess why cluster charts are also called by these other terms?

cluster diagram image

  1. To create a cluster chart, start with the main topic of your paper.
  2. In the middle of a piece of paper, write down the topic of your paper and circle it.
  3. Then, you put supporting ideas in their own bubbles and connect them directly to the topic.
  • These supporting ideas are the arguments supporting your claim.
  • For example, if you were arguing that "Goldilocks likes the Baby Bear's household items because she is most similar to him," you would put that idea in the middle bubble.
  • Your supporting ideas would be the reasons why you have chosen this position. For example, you might say that Goldilocks is closest in age to the Baby Bear and that Goldilocks is closest in size to the Baby Bear. That would be two supporting arguments. In the image above, these would be placed in the blue bubbles.
  • The bubbles that are farthest from the center — the black bubbles in the images — are the details that prove the supporting arguments. So, if you were saying that Goldilocks is closest in age to the Baby Bear, you could say that Mama Bear and Papa Bear are adults, so they are much older. You could say that Baby Bear is a child, so he is closer in age to Goldilocks, who is also a child. These would be the details from the story to prove the reasons that support the claim.

To review, the cluster chart for your paper will have three levels (groups of bubbles):

Level One (the central bubble): The topic of the paper, which is the claim that you are proving in the essay
Level Two (the bubbles directly connected to the central bubble): The supporting ideas that are the reasons you believe your claim is true. A strong essay should have at least three supporting ideas.
Level Three (the bubbles connected to the supporting idea bubbles): The specific details that prove the supporting arguments. Each supporting idea should have at least two specific details. These can be direct quotes from the novel or material summarized in your own words.

A cluster chart can have many or very few supporting ideas. Also, the number of details might not be the same for every supporting idea, since some supporting ideas might be broad while others might be very specific. For example, there might be fewer details to prove Goldilocks' age compared to the Bear family, and there might be more details to show how she is the same size as Baby Bear as she tests out all of his belongings in the Bear family's home.

Now that you know how to create a cluster chart, answer these questions on a sheet of paper:

  • Why is creating a cluster chart helpful during the prewriting process?
  • What are other names that can be used for a cluster chart?
  • Why can a cluster chart have differing numbers of details for supporting ideas?

Once you've discussed the questions, move on to the Got It? section to practice your clustering skills.

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