Looking at the differences between the “This I Believe” essays I received and the “Definition” essays, along with the prewriting homework, I have to say that prewriting really works.
Brainstorming. Listing topics. Comparing articles and ranking them by style, or comprehensibility, or argument. Writing the conclusion in class before the student has done any research. All of these techniques fall under the category of prewriting, and I am finding that when I make my students do these techniques as homework or in class their essays improve exponentially.
I will have to post which techniques I have been using with each essay later. Not enough time in the day for work, school, and blogging, it seems.