Prewriting Trail Tactics

      Sandy, Stoney, and Spring have been gathering information in Ms. Goodword's writing class for their expository essays.  They have mountains of research, but no real clue on how to organize their notes.            


Sandy, Stoney, and Spring have gathered mountains of information.




A graphic organizer.

      During class, Ms. Goodword passed out a graphic organizer for the students to use.  At the top of the organizer was the dreaded deadline:


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    Spring asks a question.

    Spring is at a loss.  She has "mountains" of notes and a graphic organizer, but asks, "How do I begin?"

Spring asks a question.

     A Mountain of Notecards!

A mountain of notecards.  A mountain of notecards.

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Spring asks Curley a question.    She seeks the advice of Curley, the "Master Trail Blazer."  She explains her dilemma and asks, "Can you help me get started on the right trail?"


     "Why sure, Spring," Curley replies.  "Just as I use maps to help me blaze new trails in the mountains, writers can use graphic organizers to map Remember to stick with one main topic.out the direction, or content, of an essay. " 

       Spring and Curley get to work.  Curley points out, "The goal of organizing ideas is to stick with one main topic and support it with facts and details.  Have you selected a main topic, Spring?"


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Spring isn't sure about a main topic.        Spring replies, "No, not really.  These three cards have ideas that interest me, but I'm having trouble coming up with a main topic."

Spring's Interesting Note Cards

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Curley suggests that Spring "look for a trail" throughout her notes.
         Curley is quick to respond, "Look for a trail through your notes.   Find an aspect that is common to all of them.  For instance, I see Card 1 is about the cause of the end of rights for Afghan women, Card 5 is about the new laws imposed on Afghan  women, and Card 3 is about the effects of the new laws on Afghan women.

What is the common "trail", or idea, of all of these notes? 

Click on the down arrow to view the responses. Then select the response you think could be used as the main topic.

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Spring wonders what the next step will be.      "Thanks, Curley.  That lightens my load.  I'm relieved that I've finally decided upon a main topic.  Where do I go from here?"   Spring asks.
      "Let's add your topic to the graphic organizer.   Then we will look at those notecards again and select subtopics that support the topic,"  Curley answers.                                    
Curley tells Spring to add her ideas to the graphic organizer.
     Spring knows the main topic of her essay is Afghan Women.  Help her choose three subtopics from the list below that support her main topic.

Click the boxes beside the subtopics you think Spring could use.

Afghan Children

Women in History

Cause of the End of Rights for
        Afghan Women              
New Laws for Afghan Women

Religious Beliefs

Effects of  the New Laws for
       Afghan Women              

     Remember, these subtopics are like trail signs.  They help the writer and reader stay on the trail and keep the focus of the essay.  Click here to see the subtopics Spring chose.

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Curley leads the way.Spring follows Curley's lead.   "Wow, Spring, now we are moving along!   The next step is to select the ideas and details you want to use from your notes and connect them to the related subtopics in the graphic organizer," Curley explains.      

     "No problem, Curley.  I just read over my notes," replies Spring.

Help Spring organize the details from her notes.   Click the boxes next to the ideas that relate to the subtopic below.  Then click the underlined sentence to see if you are on the right trail.

     When finished, click  here to see if you and Spring agree.  Note how she added the details to her graphic organizer. 
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Spring looks for details that connect.    "That wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be.   It's time to step on up and find details for the other two subtopics.  Let's see, which details connect?" Spring ponders.

Look at Spring's list of details below.  Help her organize them under the correct subtopics.


Click on the down arrow to view the subtopics.  Glide over and click to select your answer.

It was illegal to leave the house without a male relative.

Many were forced to become beggars.

Women lacked medical treatment.

Women were forced to leave jobs.

Women were mistreated and often punished publicly.

Women were required to cover all skin.

Click here to see them added to her graphic organizer.
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Sandy and Stoney team up and seek advice.   
       Realizing Spring's succesStoney and Sandy team up and seek advice.s, Sandy
and Stoney are quick to enlist Curley's advice, too.       

       "We are teaming up to do our essay.   Will you help us map a trail on our graphic organizer?"


Curley agrees to help.

     "Why sure, guys.  Let's take a look at those notecards," responds Curley.
     Sandy and Stoney share a "mountain" of notecards with Curley.  They know they want to write about something related to sports or recreation, but are having difficulty deciding upon the main topic. 

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Sandy feels like he's drowning in details.      They select the ideas and details that are most interesting to them, but quickly realize that all of them seem interesting

     "I feel like I'm drowning in details,"  moans Sandy.

     "Stop moaning," replies Stoney.  "I'm sure Curley knows what to do."

Stoney knows Curley will help.


Sandy's and Stoney's notecards. A lot of notes!

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Curley throws Sandy a rope.    
"Sounds like you're caught in a trivia bog," says Curley.  Here, let me throw you a rope."  As Curley throws Sandy a rope,  he explains the dangers of the trivia bog and how writers can avoid getting bogged down or stuck.

     "Sandy and Stoney, too many details will cause your essay to lack focus.  The reader will wander and have difficulty understanding it.  To avoid the trivia bog, first identify the main topic of your essay." 

Study the notecards and think about a main topic.

Study the notecards. Think about a main topic.

What do you think could be a main topic of Sandy's and Stoney's essay?

Click on the arrow to view the choices.  Then glide over and click the response you choose.

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                              Sandy inches out of the trivia bog.            Sandy inches a little out of the bog, pleased that he and Stoney have determined the main topic of the essay.  However, he's not out yet!  "I'm still having   trouble with this bog, Curley.  How do I get out of this mess?" he asks.

     Curley tugs the rope and adds, "You can ease on out by selecting the subtopics for your essay and adding them to your graphic organizer."

Can you help Sandy?  Select the subtopics that best relate to the main topic "Rock Climbing."

Benefits of Rock Climbing

Safety Issues

History of Rock Climbing

Expenses of Rock Climbing

Artificial Climbing Walls

Rock Climbing Equipment

Click here to see if the subtopics you chose are the same subtopics  Sandy and Stoney chose.

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Curley throws Sandy another rope. "You're mapping out an interesting trail, boys," Curley remarks.  "Why don't we take another look at your graphic organizer to see what needs to be added now?" 

     "It looks like we need to add details about our subtopics," Sandy replies.  "But there are so many!  How do I know which ones to use?  I don't want to sink back into the trivia bog!

     Curley throws the rope to Sandy again.  "Grab the rope and ask yourself two important questions:  Which details connect with the subtopics? and What can be left out?"

Look at the details Sandy and Stoney added to their graphic organizer. 

Sandy's Work

Stoney's Work

Subtopic 1:  History of Rock

Detail:  Rock climbing began in
              Europe 200 years ago.
Detail:  First organized climbs were
              short and fun.
Detail:  Requires mental toughness
              and proper preparation.

Subtopic 2:   Rock Climbing

Detail:  Harnesses attach a rope to
              the climber.
Detail:  Carabeaners are quicker
              and more reliable than
Detail:  There are three different
              types of anchors.

Who do you think did the best job of connecting details to the subtopic?
Click on the arrow and then select your answer.

Now tell why you think he did the best job.
Click in the box.  Then type your answer.

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Sandy and Stoney stay on the trail.   
      Sandy and Stoney stay on the trail and finish mapping out their writing plan.  The graphic organizer for their "Rock Climbing" essay is complete.  Now they will use their plan to write the essay.   

Click here to see their completed graphic organizer.



Yum! These s'mores are delicious.   Later that night the three trailblazers and Curley enjoy eating s'mores by the campfire.
Curley grins and adds, "These s'mores are delicious, but before we wind up our adventure I want to show you "s'more" examples of graphic organizers."


Click here to see other examples of graphic organizers.

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Curley and the trailblazers review steps for a writing plan.      "I hope those examples of graphic organizers were helpful," says Curley.  "Remember, the goal of organizing ideas is to stick with one main topic and support it with facts and details.

     As Curley strums his guitar, the trailblazers further review the steps they took to complete their writing plans.


Step 1Study your note cards and decide upon a main topic.

Step 2Select at least three subtopics that relate to the main           

Step 3Add details and ideas about each of the subtopics.  Avoid           the "trivia bog."

Step 4Remember to include an introduction and conclusion in           your essay.

Curley congratulates the trailblazers.    
      Curley ends the evening by congratulating the three trailblazers on a job well done.  Then he adds, "I'll be on the trail for the next couple of weeks.  If you need  help with other parts of your essay you can refer to these lessons:  Trailblazing Introductions, which deals with learning to write a successful introduction, and Trailblazing Conclusions, which addresses writing a successful conclusion."



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