In recent years, I’ve noticed that Social Studies teachers are incorporating more writing into their classrooms. This makes my teacher heart happy, as I know that writing is absolutely crucial for students to understand and think critically about history. Obviously, when teaching students to write, teachers develop strategies to make sure that student writing is sophisticated. One of the most common acronyms used among teachers is RACE.
I understand why RACE is popular. Many English teachers are utilizing RACE, so it’s easy for Social Studies teachers to carry the RACE acronym on over to Social Studies. However, RACE doesn’t fit Social Studies curriculum very well at all. Therefore, I’ve adopted a different acronym for my classes – MEAL. I thought I would break this down with a comparison for each letter, so that you can see why MEAL makes a much better fit.
Here students are typically re-wording the question into a full sentence. I understand this approach, as it makes for an easy introduction for students.
Instead, use “Main Idea.”
With this, I have students give me the point they will argue with their paragraph. With a single paragraph response, I typically ask students a question I want them to answer. They know to start their paragraph with a general response to that question that represented the main point they will argue, not just a rewording. For example:
Question – Why were colonists angry about taxation?
Main Idea – The colonists were primarily angry about taxation because they didn’t have representation in Parliment.
I don’t need students to do this, as they already did so with their first sentence.
With this students typically provide quotes from the text to support an answer they have given. I find this to be unnecessary. In upper-level History classes, students are typically discouraged from quoting. Therefore, I don’t want to start them out this way. Secondly, quoting in Social Studies doesn’t really add to the writing in Social Studies. Having students quote the definition for a particular act doesn’t tell me that they understand what that act really meant. (Students can still use quotes if they fit, however, it doesn’t pigeonhole them into doing so.)
Instead, use “Evidence.”
With evidence, I tell students to explain a historical event in their own words to support the main idea. I love this alternative because it can work for all levels of writing and naturally differentiates. For example:
Version 1 – They were angry when the Stamp Act was passed because they now had to pay taxes for legal documents. (Middle School)
Version 2 – Colonial leaders, like Ben Franklin, had drawn a line between virtual and actual representation. Although Parliment had argued that they had representation by being part of the British Empire, the colonists wanted actual leaders representing them in Parliment. Therefore, when the Stamp Act, an internal tax, was passed, some colonists were outraged. (Advanced High School)
See? In each of these versions, students are showing evidence of thought. This is a much better approach than having them simply quote the Stamp Act.
Explain is very similar to Analyze. However, I’d argue that analyze is more explicit in expectation. I tell students that I want to see how the evidence is connected to the main idea. Again, the analysis also allows for natural differentiation. For example:
Acts like the Stamp Act showed the colonists that they were not being treated like British citizens. Those in Britain may be upset about taxation, however, at least they had representatives in the British government.
Finally, my students end their paragraphs with a link back to the main idea. This reinforces the point they were making with their first sentence. For example:
Taxation alone did not cause the colonists to protest. Instead, taxation without representation was what made them most likely to write petitions or boycott British goods.
MEAL for Paragraph Writing
If you put it all together, it reads like this:
I can use MEAL for individual paragraphs, and for the body paragraphs of an essay. I have students write this way in 7th grade and in AP. I’ve noticed much more detailed and thoughtful paragraphs since I’ve implemented MEAL.
Have you considered changing your writing acronym for extended response questions?