You Can Teach Writing

Find information sources via ripple writing strategy.

Rippling seeks out information sources — people who know certain information — in a strategic process of identifying potential sources whose evidence will prove convincing to a writer's readers.

Expository writing is not simply explaining or informing readers about a particular topic. Expository writing asserts something about a topic — offers an opinion about it, if you will — and the writer must convince reader(s) that his/her working thesis is true.

In a very real way, all informative and explanatory texts are persuasive texts. If readers don't find writers' information credible or their presentation understandable, an I/E text fails in its mission.

The need to be convincing implies that writers must vet their sources so that the people they cite are sources whose opinions will carry weight with their audience.

Ripple writing strategy deliberately forces students to seek out people they can contact directly, so that instead of just looking for information, they seek information sources: people who know information.

Ripple strategy activates knowledge.

I developed ripple strategy to work on writing topics that are part of the student writers' curriculum. Having students write on authentic topics brings efficiency to the writing process and purpose to the learning process.

Ripple strategy uses a kind of focused brainstorming to activate knowledge students have already acquired on their writing topics.

For maximum efficiency when teaching expository writing to teens or adults, package authentic writing topics within formal writing prompts

Putting topics within writing prompts lets you provide each student with the information necessary for them to prepare their writing assignments regardless of impediments such as lack of Internet access outside school.

Rippling meshes with other planning strategies.

Ripple strategy meshes with other writing strategies I teach students to use for documents organized on the thesis-plus-support pattern.

Rippling allows writers to find out early in the writing process whether they have enough sources and information to adequately support their working thesis or can get it quickly enough that they can complete their work on time.

Ripple strategy is people-centered. 

Ripple strategy is different from traditional academic ways of going about research. Rippling encourages identifying primary sources that students can meet face to face or by Skype, rather than focusing on secondary sources accessible only through traditional mediums like books and journals. 

It's increasingly important for students to be able to:

  • find people in their networks with information that's not available in traditional resources
  • make tools, such as surveys, and use them for gathering data
  • work at a distance with people they don't know in person
  • use social media for business.
  • use personal stories to influence others

Ripple strategy doesn't require students to use living primary resources, but does forces students to think about using them.

Baby steps come before major strides.

Hint: The distinction between primary and secondary sources isn't particularly helpful to student writers. You can safely avoid presenting it until students are using both primary and secondary sources competently in their writing.

Ripple strategy focuses on results.

Ripple strategy is focused in two specific ways. First, it provides a single method for seeking both primary and secondary information sources on any working thesis statement, whether it's a working thesis for a college chemistry research paper or a working thesis for the author's high school valedictory speech.

While the primary sources may not always be appropriate as evidence, they can often provide anecdotal material to illustrate or humanize abstract material.

Ripple strategy is focused in a second way that's more important to novice expository writers:  It seeks evidence for the supporting points of a writer's writing skeleton™, not on the writer's topic, which very often is a sentence fragment.

When writers sit down to compose their documents, each bone of their writing skeletons will become a topic sentence  — the main idea — of a body paragraph of the completed document.

By rippling to uncover support for their topic sentences, students arrive at the composition stage with their paragraph development already planned.

Again, just as with the writing skeleton, identifying more than the three sources they expect to need provides insurance against some source drying up later on.

Any sources and information students identify as they go along go directly into the writers' complete plans for a particular document.

When they're rippling, students may not know enough to identify both a source and information that source can provide. They should fill in what they know; they can provide more precise information after further investigation.

Writers begin rippling from their own experience.

The center of all the ripples is the writer. Writers look first at whether they have personal experience with the subject of the writing skeleton bone they are brainstorming about.

Even if the writing situation makes personal evidence undesirable as support material, that material might be useful in an introduction. It should be recorded just in case it's needed.

Writers search their personal network next.

The first ring of ripple strategy is the student's personal network. Besides thinking about things they know about first hand, students should consider the experiences of people they know personally.

Perhaps the students' acquaintances include people with relevant expertise or experience. Those may be people the writers could interview.

Identifying sources from among family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers can lead to great information that usually can be secured fairly quickly.

Although schools sometimes makes students think the only acceptable information sources are published words, in any out-of-school situations, people depend on their informal networks for a great proportion of their information.

Note: It's not wise to require students to do interviews before they've become competent writers, but I do think it's important to plant the idea that sources and information may literally be under their own roofs.

They widen the search to "friends of friends."

Sometimes a person's network includes people who can provide a reference to someone else who has the information the writer needs. For example, perhaps a student's father knows a guy at work whose wife has relevant expertise.

The quickest way to get information is often by asking someone in person, by phone, or in an email.

Writers dredge up secondhand information next.

Students have a stock of information they passively absorbed from TV, radio, Facebook, magazines, and occasionally even from classroom instruction and textbooks.

Often the knowledge students have from these impersonal, secondhand sources is fragmentary or incorrect. They may have missed the first part of the broadcast, or perhaps they can't remember whether Hamlet's girl friend was Ophelia or Gertrude.

Students should write down what they recall, even if it's incomplete. What they do recall may be enough to give them a place to start looking.  And sometimes writing something down helps the writer remember more related information later.

Writers consider published sources last.

Students should have some information to jump-start research if you are giving them authentic, class-related writing prompts.

Sometimes, however, they don't have initial evidence on the specific writing topic. In those cases, they can:

  • consult their text books and print materials you've provided
  • consult resources you recommend and to which you've provided hyperlinks
  • search the Internet on their own.

As you're teaching students to find and use information sources, teach students to think about how long it will take them to get the information from the source. The Internet is so widely used for information searches that people sometimes overlook sources that produce results quicker.

For example, a high school teacher told me she spent an hour searching online for the meaning of vespers, which she could have have found in seconds in a print dictionary.

Sometimes the best source is the one students can access most quickly.

Ripple strategy primes the brain.

Identifying sources for all points of their writing skeletons on their first try is unlikely, even for experienced writers. Fortunately, using ripple strategy focuses students' attention on the kinds of information they must find, so they likely to notice additional sources later.

As students realize that brain-priming feature of rippling, you won't have difficulty getting them to use ripple writing strategy to find information sources.

For that to happen, however, you must begin teaching ripple writing strategy very early in each expository writing course.

If you assign writing on authentic, course-specific writing prompts, novice writers should be able to identify at least a third of the nine required sources for their writing skeleton in 20 minutes the first time they try. Your bright students will have done the job in  half that time.

With practice, all teenage and adult students should be able to come up with six of the nine sources within 10 minutes.

Ripple strategy gives students sources to check to find information to support their working thesis statement. They still need to see if the source has, and will provide, that information. Also, if students didn't identify enough potential information sources, they may need to come up with additional information sources.

What to read next

As students check their proposed information sources, the begin to flesh out their writing skeletons, turning them into complete plans. Read about the complete plan strategy, which uses an outline template to collect the writing skeleton,  source credentials, evidence, and locator information.

The writing strategies (WS) for students use are best read in the order in which you teach them and students use them. Begin with  WS1, Make a working thesis.  The other writing strategies are WS2, Make a writing skeleton; WS3, Ripple for sources; WS4, Make a complete plan; WS5, Speed draft; WS6, Do the evidence waltz;  WS7, Revise to match the plan; WS8, Do single error editing.

Content on this page was published 2009-05-26 and updated 2011-12-19 by Linda Aragoni at you-can-teach-writing.com. She published it to yctwriting.com 2018-01-01.

visitor comment about teaching writing and outlining.

Beginning in August I'll be teaching public speaking to high school students. While I have a general idea of the direction in which I want to teach the course, I've been panicking all summer about how to teach writing and outlining.

Your site is AWESOME. ~ Carrie