Have Students Use “Says/Does Charts” to Assess Structure and Strategy

Do your students have a hard time understanding what you mean by a document’s “structure”?

Do they sometimes put information in illogical places—for example, including more than one main topic in a paragraph or putting information early that should come later?

Are they missing opportunities to include content that will enhance their documents’ rhetorical effectiveness?

Help is on the way, in the form of says/does charts.

Say what?

That was my reaction when I was chatting with a graduate teaching assistant after observing her Writing for Business class. When she mentioned having her students assess their drafts with says/does charts and I said I’d never heard of them, she explained.

In the field of rhetoric/composition (this student’s doctoral area), teachers often have students analyze the structure of a writing sample or their own work by going through the writing paragraph by paragraph and filling in a chart with three columns:

  • In column one is the paragraph number,
  • In column two is a synopsis of what the paragraph says, and
  • In column three is a description of the structural work the paragraph is doing (e.g., giving an example, acknowledging a counterargument, or providing a reason).

If we include rhetorical as well as structural work in the “does” column, a says/does chart could be a great way for bcomm students to assess their drafts, those of their peers, and the writing samples we bring to class.

Here is A Sample Says-Does Chart. To create it, I imagined an effective progress report that a group might turn in to me. In practice, the students would have the piece of writing in front of them as they analyzed how it was structured, but you can get the idea.

What I particularly like about this tool is that it can help students see, and help us talk about, the two layers of organization that most documents have: the logical layer and the rhetorical layer. When critiquing drafts, I often jumble together my feedback on these two levels, perhaps to the confusion of the students. A says/does chart makes it easy for students to track a document’s structural integrity and rhetorical strength.

This tool is in my toolkit for my next bcomm course. Who knows? Maybe the says/does chart will be even more helpful in bcomm than in comp!

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