Although I’ve been a longtime proponent of teaching “quote sandwiches” to help students write effective paragraphs (see HERE and most recently HERE), lately I’ve begun to notice that students who use this approach (context, quote/evidence, explanation) seem to overemphasize the “quote” part, often to the detriment of the explanation. They seem to believe that the evidence is the most important part, possibly because of the name “QUOTE sandwich”—i.e., it’s not “EXPLANATION sandwich.” Either they skimp on the explanation or the explanation does not actually explain how the evidence supports their argument. As a result, their paragraphs feel disjointed.
While conducting writing conferences with students recently, I’ve found that when I ask them to simply explain their ideas, they can do so pretty easily. If I then ask them to explain how the evidence supports their ideas, sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t. Some are clearly struggling with Argument vs. Evidence Step 2.5 (“Given arguments, select the most relevant evidence to support them.”). As long as they find SOMETHING, they think they can drop it in. After all, it’s a QUOTE, and that’s what a quote sandwich needs, right?
So now I’d like to propose a new metaphor: “quote lasagna.” As any lasagna fan knows, the recipe calls for MULTIPLE LAYERS of pasta, sauce, meat, veggies, and various cheeses. While most chefs adhere to that general principle, there is not one correct way to make lasagna. The goal is to create something yummy by blending these ingredients, layer upon layer, in a way that makes sense (I think we can all agree that five layers of noodles without anything else in between would be silly).
How does this idea translate to paragraph writing? Effective paragraphs BLEND evidence and explanation. As long as you provide enough context so that we know what you’re talking about, there is not one right way to sequence what you want to say. Sometimes you need to explain BEFORE you provide details. Students who believe they are only allowed to provide evidence FIRST might struggle to explain not because they’ve picked weak/irrelevant evidence but because they feel constricted by the “rule” that the evidence should be between the context and the explanation.
I think using the metaphor of layers and blended ingredients might free students to start with explanation if they need to. With a slightly less rigid structure, they might write more clearly and coherently.
Let me know what you think.