Classroom Activity: Evaluating Focus

Although students often struggle at first to achieve focus in their own writing, they are generally able to identify focus problems as readers. When classroom discussion is accompanied by concrete examples of effective and ineffective attempts at focused writing, students are better equipped to achieve focus in their own writing.

On an overhead screen, display examples of focused and unfocused sentences and paragraphs. Ask students to comment on the writing samples as a class, identifying what works and what doesn't work and how any of the samples might be improved. As a class, create a list of principles and considerations for achieving focused writing. Encourage students to apply these principles to their own writing.

Example Sentences

Use these sentences or compose your own:

  • Too many people treat animals badly in experiments. (unfocused)
  • The cosmetic industry often harms animals in unnecessary experiments designed to test their products. (focused)
  • Grades are an unfair pain in the neck. (unfocused)
  • Course grades based solely on one term paper don't accurately measure a student's knowledge of a subject. (focused)
  • Getting the right job is important and can lead to rewarding experiences. (unfocused)
  • Getting the right job can lead to an improved sense of self-esteem. (focused)
  • The Fourth of July picnic was a big success. (unfocused)
  • Everyone at the Fourth of July picnic ate well, enjoyed the swimming pool, and had a chance to chat with old friends. (focused)

Example Paragraphs

Use these paragraphs or compose your own:

When I first brought my cat home from the humane society she was a mangy, pitiful animal. It cost a lot to adopt her: forty dollars. And then I had to buy litter, a litterbox, food, and dishes for her to eat out of. Two days after she came home with me she got taken to the pound by the animal warden. There's a leash law for cats in Fort Collins. If they're not in your yard they have to be on a leash. Anyway, my cat is my best friend. I'm glad I got her. She sleeps under the covers with me when it's cold. Sometimes she meows a lot in the middle of the night and wakes me up, though. (unfocused)

When I first brought my cat home from the Humane Society she was a mangy, pitiful animal. She was so thin that you could count her vertebrae just by looking at her. Apparently she was declawed by her previous owners, then abandoned or lost. Since she couldn't hunt, she nearly starved. Not only that, but she had an abscess on one hip. The vets at the Humane Society had drained it, but it was still scabby and without fur. She had a terrible cold, too. She was sneezing and sniffling and her meow was just a hoarse squeak. And she'd lost half her tail somewhere. Instead of tapering gracefully, it had a bony knob at the end. (focused)