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Writing Lesson Plan

The Abstraction Ladder (Using Examples in Essays)

Teacher: Allison McMurtrey
Age/Proficiency: Adult Advanced


Materials Needed:

Learning/Teaching Activities:






Put up the ladder overhead

Write beautiful woman next to the top rung. (Very general ideas come first)
Write young and pretty next to the second rung. (Fairly general ideas come next.) Why is this less general?
Write lovely smile next to the third rung. (Fairly specific ideas come next.)
Write still has all her teeth next to the last rung. (Very specific ideas come last.) Why is this the most specific?

Good papers move up and down the ladder with good balance. They have several different levels of examples for each generalization. It is difficult to defend or understand a paper that is too general because there can be so many interpretations.

What are some other abstract ideas that you could write about? -Wealth, power, love, happiness, pride, friendship, etc. (Write answers on the board.)


For the next class period, write a paragraph on an abstract idea giving examples from at least three levels on the ladder. Follow the model on beauty from your class notes today.

Possible Ideas For Future Lessons:

Have the students peer critique one another's paragraphs on the single abstract noun.

Present examples from essays on the overhead of this concept in practice (preferably a professionally written essay), and have the students decide where on the ladder the author's examples fit.

Have the students write a defendable persuasive essay using examples on the ladder and debate it in class.


I am my own worst critic. My own evaluation of the lesson was far more harsh than any of the evaluations I received from my classmates. I think that the lesson had some real strengths, but it also had its share of weaknesses. The analogy between the ladder and general v. specific ideas is a very good one. It is concrete and visual and makes the concept easier to understand. I think that the example of beauty that I used was very fitting. It moved well through the narrowing process, and the last example was specific enough, unexpected enough, and funny enough that it drove the point home well. It also made the idea easier to remember. On the other hand, I think that there wasn't anywhere near enough practice for a concept this advanced. Part of that was the time constraints; I didn't know what to do besides give a homework assignment for practice and still remain within my limits. In an actual classroom, I wouldn't even attempt to teach this concept in less than two class periods and more likely four or five for an ESL class. I would have them critique each other in small groups, write more paragraphs, and offer more feedback. Another problem was that I didn't handle the student answers at the beginning of the lesson very well. Rather than answering what physical beauty entails for them, they were giving philosophical answers about social expectations of beauty which made it more difficult to fit their responses into the lesson.

Overall, however, I believe that the lesson went well enough that I wouldn't change very much for using it as an introduction. I did the best that I had time for, and I think that I made the whole concept easier to teach for the native speakers in the class who couldn't articulate very well what they already knew.

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1997 © Dr. Lynn E. Henrichsen
Department of Linguistics
Brigham Young University
Last Updated: Saturday, June 7, 1997