Source Sandwiches: Teaching students how to integrate evidence

All, Teaching, Writing

I’ve been teaching argument writing for a long time and one of the moves I see student writers struggle to learn is integrating the source material they have found through research to support their argument. Common problems include a disproportionate reliance on that source material leading me to wonder “where is the student?” and a slavish obsession with direct quotes and block quotes — often with little to no intervening words from the writer. And, of course, many of these students also struggle with correct attribution and citation. My solution to my students’ perpetual problem with integrating evidence into their written arguments is the source sandwich. The source sandwich is two specific rhetorical moves I teach my students to make when writing arguments which will ensure that their source material does not overwhelm their original argument while also giving credit to the original source for the evidence.

First, it is important to note that my students begin writing in response to the writing of others from the first week of the semester. They read, they write, and we discuss both the reading and the writing, so by the time we are ready to move on to the formal integration of source material as supporting evidence they are very familiar with the process of identifying the claim argued by another writer as well as the evidence that writer used to support the claim — and they are accustomed to making their own claim in response to that writing (see Jumping Into Arguments).

The bellringer writing prompt is a simple series of quotes I select because the ideas intersect with the claims my students will make in their literacy narratives. I provide in-text citations with each quote because modeling. I direct students to copy their selected quote and then respond to the quote with their argument in mind.

After an overview of MLA paper format, we discuss in-text citation and introducing the sources of our evidence. I believe this is an important rhetorical strategy and so I always teach this specific move to my students. This introduction can vary in length according to the importance of its contribution to the argument. For a short assignment, such as the literacy narrative, it might be only a simple sentence: Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins School of Medicine, writes about her own battle with manic depression. Of course, for a longer and more substantial argument then you should also offer context for the evidence (ie. during a year-long study of suicide attempts among middle school students, the research team…). Depending on the skill level of the class, we might build the introduction together or I might simply give students a few facts and let them construct their own introduction.

Then I introduce the source sandwich framework. I ham this up and am completely goofy, which fits in with my teaching persona but also helps (I hope) to cement the simple structure into their memory so they can add this to their writing toolbox (although we will practice and reinforce the structure again before the semester is out just in case). I like to use peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in specific because it has the right number of ingredients and getting the proportion wrong can make your sandwich a disaster (note: I always tell the story of my son’s first culinary attempts – making a PBJ sandwich – and complaining because he could not get the proportion right).

The framework is simple:

  • The top layer of bread represents the student’s claim and argument in their own words.
  • They should then slather in the jelly — or rather their introduction to the source.
  • Then follow that with a layer of peanut butter — also known as the actual evidence they are pulling from the source.
  • The bottom layer of bread should be the student’s own words again connecting the evidence with their claim before proceeding on with their argument.

Then each student constructs a source sandwich using the writing they have already composed (their claim, their response to the quote, and the introduction). We talk a lot about proportion and rhetorical context. For their literacy narrative assignment a sandwich might be as simple as three or four sentences (one paragraph), but for more extended arguments later in the semester the sandwiches might be as much as three paragraphs (one page).

We do a lot more interesting and fun things in my class most weeks and yet every semester there are many students who tell me how grateful they are to learn these moves so I know students find the framework useful. How do you teach students to integrate evidence to support their claims?

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