Resources for Using They Say/I Say
This page will be updated throughout Fall 2008 by students enrolled in English 400: Rhetoric & the Teaching of Writing. For questions, concerns, or comments, please contact Prof. Kimberly Emmons (322 Guilford House, 368-6924).
Overview of TSIS
They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing is recommended for use in Sages First Seminars. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein have created a book of templates useful for "Demystifying Academic Conversation" (Preface ix). While the book has received mixed reviews (mostly related to the contentious issue of whether or not templates are useful/proper tools for use in writing instruction; see "Responses to TSIS" below), we present the following information to help you decide for yourself. In addition, you will find sample exercises from the text (some of which have been tested in the classroom) under "Links."
Overview of TSIS
Section 1, "They Say," acquaints students with the concept of engaging with others' ideas and writing. Chapter 1 deals with introducing an idea, whether it is someone else's or one's own. Chapter 2, "The Art of Summarizing," asks students to consider others' views while keeping their own in mind and to use verbs that "fit the action" of the subject matter (35). Chapter 3 discusses both "The Art of Quoting" and "How Not to Introduce Quotations" (39, 46).
Section 2 is entitled "I say" and gives students tools for making their own arguments. Chapter 4, "Yes/No/Okay, But" lays out strategies students can use to respond to others' writing: disagreeing, qualified agreement, and "agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously." The next chapter builds directly on the former, helping students differentiate their own voice from others'. Chapter 6 is about getting students to recognize where people might disagree with their own arguments and how to preempt them. Chapter 7 then has students identify why their argument is important and incorporate that into their texts.
Section 3, "Tying it All Together," focuses on some of the issues students encounter after initially encountering and manipulating their research (99). Chapter 8 presents the use of transitions and "pointing words" (i.e., this, that, pronouns) in order to further a paper's coherence, and explains such methods as creating a "constellation of key terms and phrases" and restating without "sounding monotonous" (107, 109, 111). Chapter 9 deals with the tone of a student's paper, commenting on when and how to "Mix Academic and Colloquial Styles" in regard to "audience and purpose" (116, 121). Chapter 10, "In Other Words," contains templates for producing "metacommentary" and provides examples thereof (123).
Appendices include "Entering Class Discussions," a section of "Readings" (essays for use in conjunction with the text), and an "Index of Templates" (133, 138, 163).
W. W. Norton homepage: click here.
They Say/I Say webpage within W. W. Norton: click here
Responses to TSIS
Arthur, Jason and Anne Case. “They Say/ I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing.” Composition Forum. Issue 18 (Summer 2008). Click Here
Far from ringing with endorsement, this review, which starts off as a simple play-by-play overview of Graff’s and Birkenstein’s companion piece to Graff’s Clueless In Academe(2003), offers up scathing yet deeply analytical responses to the book’s template endorsing form. Arthur and Case argue that although Graff and Birkenstein clearly intend, “this template-centered, traditional-to-the-point-of-being-clinical,”(*) narrative to become a vehicle of a ‘progressive’ and ‘social constructionist agenda,” by its very form the book does the exact opposite of what it’s authors intend. For Case and Arthur it seems that even though the templates in the book aim to give inexperienced writers,“the empowered sense of steering complex debates,(*) the fill-in-the-blank sections can lead to incoherent arguments marked by flawed syntax and illogical idea integration. Likewise the reviewers note that while the templates do indeed allow the inexperienced writer to contribute to academic discourse, the same templates lead, “to a discussion whose discussants are obliged to represent only the most dominant and sound-bitable voices of past discussions.”(*) Note: Because the source is web-based the attempt to assign any page numbers was not made.
Benay, P. "They Say, 'Templates Are the Way to Teach Writing'; I Say, 'Use With Extreme Caution.'" Pedagogy 8 (2008): 369-373.
While Phyllis Benay finds They Say/I Say an intriguing addition to the collection of composition guides, she is wary of using a template method to teach academic writing. Benay argues that while students may find it immediately helpful to fill in the blanks, they may lose out in the long run by failing to develop the complex thought processes necessary for producing good argumentation.
Edlund, John R. "They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing." California English 13.3 (Feb. 2008): 13.
Edlund's review is a general endorsement of Graff and Birkenstein's template based pedagogy. He notes that templates allow students to experiment with language in ways novel to them and he also tries to allay fears about students will slavishly adhere to the templates by noting that students will need, by necessity, to modify the models. One other interesting thing to point out is that his institution not only is the text used in freshmen courses, but it is also "recommended to upper division and graduate students whose writing require[s] some 'kicking up'" (13).
Grow, L.M. "If They Say Academic Writing Is Too Hard, I Say Read Graff and Birkenstein." Pedagogy 8 (2008): 363-368.
Laura M. Grow provides an overview of the chapters in They Say/I Say, commenting on each topic's usefulness as she proceeds. While she does admit "one weak point" in the text, Grow emphasizes the success she has had transitioning freshman students into an academic mode of writing using Graff and Birkenstein's template method (368).
Pickavance, Jason. "Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind/"They Say/I Say":The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing." Teaching English in the Two Year College 34.4 (May 2007): 438-440.
Not to much to say about this review. After noting how They Say/I Say is the practical side of Graff's theorizing of the need to give students the tools to participate in academic conversations which is explored in Clueless in Academe, Pickavance summarizes the book and recommends it not so much for its content per se--he says that he has not actually used the book extensively, though he likes its approach--instead, he values it for its smallness and cheapness as a textbook.