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A Teacher's Guide to Organizational Strategies for Thinking and Writing

reviewed by Lucy K. Spence - May 18, 2015

coverTitle: A Teacher's Guide to Organizational Strategies for Thinking and Writing
Author(s): Billie F. Birnie
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475814046, Pages: 60, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

I was intrigued by the word, “thinking,” in Billie F. Birnie’s A Teacher’s Guide to Organizational Strategies for Thinking and Writing. While the book did not fulfill my curiosity about engendering student thinking, it did lay out several organizational strategies for writing paragraphs.

For example, Birnie describes the organizational strategy as point-counterpoint. She provides a model paragraph that exemplifies this pattern for use with secondary students, college students, and adults. There is an additional model for the middle grades; however, Birnie deems this strategy unsuitable for the early grades. Some other organizational strategies addressed in this book are: chronological order; spatial and topical organization; comparison; contrast; question-answer; and extended analogy. The book provides models of each.

I agree with Birnie’s premise of using mentor texts as models for writing. This method is widely adopted to teach composition at the college level. Fairly recently, authors such as Katie Wood Ray (1999) and Ralph Fletcher and Joann Portalupi (1998) have popularized this method for teaching writing at the elementary and middle level. Ray, Portalupi and Fletcher provide compendiums of picture books, novels, and non-fiction books to illustrate the author’s craft.

These authors provide high interest mentor texts full of brilliant prose; in contrast, Birnie’s mentor texts seem dull and dated. One example includes gender stereotypes, “She married the prince and they lived happily ever after” (p. 30). Other models in this book exemplify a euro-centric perspective.

The organizational strategies are the meat of this slim volume, yet, it contains additional material. The book begins with simple descriptions of “what students must know about sentences” (p. 3) as well as paragraphs. Another section describes how to make use of student response groups. The book concludes with Birnie’s approach to poetry focusing on anapestic pentameter. Using this method, students discover the meter of a poem by marking the stressed and unstressed syllables.

Although I began by hoping to find useful ideas for my own teaching, I did not find anything engaging in this book and would not recommend it for early or middle grade teaching. Because some examples contain gender stereotypes and euro-centric perspectives, I would not recommend this book for secondary, college, or adult teaching.


Fletcher, R., & Portalupi, J. (1997). Craft lessons: Teaching writing K-8. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Ray, K. W. (1999). Wondrous words: Writers and writing in the elementary classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 18, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17968, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 6:36:38 PM

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About the Author
  • Lucy Spence
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    LUCY K. SPENCE is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina. She recently published the book, Student Writing: Give it a Generous Reading. Her current project explores Japanese writing instruction.
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