Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: Great Essays 4: Keith Folse

Great Essays 4 is the most fabulous book that I've been using this semester to teach Advanced Composition to English Majors, who are mostly 3rd and 4th year students.  I was given this book to teach and didn't choose it myself, but thankfully, it's one of the best writing textbooks I have ever used, if not the best.  Why is it so good? 

Because it's kind of a hybrid between the process approach to teaching writing (focusing on brainstorming/selecting main points/editing, etc) and the product approach to teaching writing (using a model text upon which students should use to base their own essay upon).  It's like the authors have selected the best from each approach and combined them into one, easy to use and teach book. 

The first chapter is an introduction to essays in general, and then subsequent chapters cover a certain type of essay (narrative/comparison, etc) in detail.  There is always 3-4 example essays and some questions to help the students analyze it.  The questions are helpful at getting the students to notice the subtleties of the text, but not too detailed that it's burdensome.  I've found assigning the reading of an essay and answering the questions an excellent homework assignment.  Then, I put the students in groups of 3-4 and give them about 15 minutes to discuss their answers together. 

The second part of the chapter is more focused on the actual process of writing, with things like writing good hooks and thesis statements, brainstorming, or vocab focus.  And then finally at the end there are some topics for that kind of essay, as well as a timed writing assignment.  I've been using the essay topics for graded homework assignments and the timed writing as in-class practice. 

Weaknesses?  I'm not sure I love the vocab focus.  While I like the idea of it, it's just one of those things that I never use due to time constraints and I'm really not sure it's the most important thing to focus on.  I also don't love the peer editing, for reasons mentioned in this other post about teaching writing, and the book seems a bit heavy on this.  I'd MUCH rather have some stuff in there about self-editing, complete with checklists, etc.  It's actually a major weakness in my opinion.

Anyway, Great Essays 4: you can't go wrong if you teach very high level students who are at the point where they are ready to write academic, 5-paragraphs essays.  And if they're not quite there yet, check out something like Great Paragraphs.  I've also used this book and was quite happy with it.

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