Teaching our students to write concisely and precisely is one of the hardest things we have to do as English teachers. Either they have nothing to say and struggle to conquer the seemingly insurmountable task of composing 300 words. Or, they get carried away and ramble well over the word limit.
How then to get our students to use the 250-300 words of a short book to their best effect. I don't claim to have the "silver bullet" answer, but I have had some success with using the following scaffold that helps students by telling them what to do with each sentence and guides them through the process step-by-step:
1. Identify the title/author and the genre that it fits into AND state your OVERALL impression of the book. For example: Mckenzie Graham’s latest sci-fi action adventure The Banana Strikes Back is a roller-coaster ride of intense intergalactic warfare that you cannot put down.
2. Elaborate upon the REASONS for your overall impression. Give two or three reasons for why you feel the way you do.
Genre – how it conforms to expectations but also challenges them
Style – first-person vs third-person, chapter length, descriptions, etc.
Characters – memorable, boring, cliché, etc.
Setting – original, authentic, believable, immersive, etc.
Theme – the central ideas or morals contained in the book
Plot – original, cliché, etc.
3. Explain the reasons for WHY you liked/disliked the novels treatment of each element in turn. One sentence per element.
4. Final recommendation – who would like this book best? What will the reader get out of it? Why should I read it?