When I first encountered Graff and Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say, I was skeptical of the use of templates. My skepticism, however, had no foundation other than the fact that I didn’t know how to incorporate them into the classroom. To this day, I still have a difficult time introducing students to the vast number of templates found in the text. Yet, over the years, as I’ve experimented and tried this and that approach, I have developed/adapted one template that has proved to be useful in a variety of ways. In particular, I’ve joined the “research purpose” template provided by John Creswell, and the “introducing an ongoing debate” template in Graff and Birkenstein’s book. This template, which you’ll find below, has allowed me to explain more fully the macro “moves that matter in academic writing,” as well as provide a way into discussing the micro templates Graff and Birkenstein provide.
As to the benefits of using this template, I can point to four: 1) This template is useful when asking students to critically read a text. By having them fill-in the blanks, students are asked to look for and name the requisite parts of an argument. In other words, this provides an easy-to-use heuristic for tackling and annotating articles/chapters/etc. 2) In addition to providing guidelines for critically reading, the template can easily help students build their own arguments. That is, once students have completed the template, they have the essential parts for their own argument. 3) A completed template provides an entry point for constructing an essay as a whole. What I mean is that each sentence or two corresponds to and can guide the writing of a particular section within an essay, something that can assist those students who seem to have a hard time “just getting started”; it can spur the invention process. The sentences in the template point to a “Intro/Lit Review” section, “Method” section, “Implications” section, “Theoretical Frame” section, etc. 4) Lastly, by having a template that outlines the macro-level of an argument, it more easily allows for a transition to the micro-level (paragraph-level) moves that Graff and Birkenstein provide.
While this may not be an earth-shattering suggestion (I’m more or less reiterating things Creswell, Graff, and Birkenstein have already said), using this has proved to be more useful in introducing and addressing the broader, more generic moves we make in academic argument. It asks students to develop arguments grounded in the previous literature, think about their method and theoretical approach, and explicitly state the importance of their argument. By pointing to this template early and often in both class readings and writings, you will provide students with foundation for analyzing and composing effective arguments at both the macro and micro levels.
Mike Ristich is a PhD candidate in the department whose research interests are at the intersection of rhetorical and critical theory, particularly as they relate to the study of radical political movements. He currently serves as the Graduate Student Tutor GSA in the Writing Center.