Teacher Notes on Description-Writing Exercises

Exercise 4: Post-it Notes

Context for this case:

Prerequisites:
  • Segmented Post-it note description cut into 16 pieces.
  • Heading list to guide rebuilding.
  • (Optional) student art.

Cognitive Apprenticeship Features:
  • Facilitates coaching on value of reader signals and how to rebuild by using them.
  • Externalizes role recognition of every descriptive piece.
  • Builds cognitive maturity.

Supporting References:
Relevant CA Content Standards  
Goal:
To have students reconstruct a coherent, adequate technical description from scrambled parts (as they read them aloud). The description topic is Post-it notes, the text parts are sentence length (fine grained), and no figures accompany the text.
Strategy:
This is the second of several exercises in which students use the features and signals embedded in a good technical description to rebuild it from its scrambled parts. In this case students are familiar with the technique from Exercise 3, but they must more closely attend to the internal text features and signals because Exercise 4 involves fewer headings, no supporting diagram, and much smaller text chunks (not whole paragraphs but just sentences or long predicates from lists). Exercise 4 thus refines and sharpens the same feature-recognition skills as Exercise 1 and 2, and the same text-reconstruction skills as Exercise 3. (Student design of a good figure to supplement this description is one of the extended activities below.)

POST-IT BACKGROUND:
Like paper clips, Post-It notes have an interesting back story that you can share with students to motivate work on this technical description (and to help them recall from Exercise 1 the important difference between charming biographical facts and descriptively relevant features). A branched, four-part summary of how the unusual repositionable adhesive developed by Spence Silver came together with the practical bookmark needs of product designer Art Fry one day at 3M Corp. to yield the Post-it note prototype (with subsequent "productization") is available on the 3M company web site at
www.3m.com/us/office/postit/pastpresent/history.html.
And, just as he analyzes paper-clip evolution, engineer Henry Petroski retells the Post-it note story in his own terms in Chapter 5 (pp. 83-86) of The Evolution of Useful Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).

HOW TO USE THIS EXERCISE:

(A) (Optional) Role Recognition.
You can use Exercise 4 for more practice in recognizing the features of a description and their roles, if you wish. Below I provide a student version with text (left column) and feature prompts (right column), which you can pair with the fully annotated version to drill role recognition (as with earlier descriptive exercises). I prefer to use this exercise for text reconstruction, however (next).
(B) Text Reconstruction (Background).
If you have not used text reconstruction before, see the discussion of its linguistic basis and work-relevant "authenticity" in the Strategy section of Exercise 3 (teacher version).
(C) Text Reconstruction (Process).
Below I provide a "segmented" version of the student description of the Post-it note. It has the same text (without the scaffolding) as before, but marks (---) divide it into 16 sentence- (or predicate-)sized chunks. The descriptive chunks omit the headings, which appear in a separate short list for you to use as the project outline. Although much shorter than in Exercise 3, the text chunks still contain important signals or rhetorical clues about each chunk's intended role in and contribution to the overall description.
  • Print out
    the segmented version of the Post-it description and cut it into pieces (of paper) along the marks (---) indicated.
  • Enlarge
    each text chunk on a photocopy machine for easier in-class reading and sharing. Alternatively, use less enlargement and reassemble the description on a big table.
  • Scramble
    the text pieces so that their original order is hidden.
  • Distribute
    the (enlarged) text chunks randomly, one to each student (or perhaps to each pair of students).
  • Read each piece aloud
    and try to find its best place. Use its internal rhetorical features (as mentioned on the guidelines) as clues and the list of headings as an organizing "target" framework, a broad outline of the intended result. Student discussion may perform most of this work in some classes; you will need to provide considerable leadership and encouragement in others since this is valuable but unfamiliar territory for many students. In some cases, even reading their text chunk aloud for classmates to consider may challenge the student who holds it.
  • Post
    each text chunk on a wall or blackboard (with little pieces of tape or Post-it notes) as students decide on its preliminary role and place. But don't tape the paper sheets to each other unless you can easily undo them, because changing the order and grouping is a natural and appropriate part of reconstructing the whole description from its parts.
  • Adapt
    the growing description as new pieces of the puzzle are read and reviewed. As in real life, first guesses may need to be revised to accommodate later arriving chunks of text that clarify the overall structure of the description that you are (re)building.
  • Review
    the emerging whole as the last pieces fall into place, as you would with any puzzle. This approach enables students, cooperatively, to "write" a long, complex technical description using important, real-world design principles (the guidelines), without having to compose each separate piece of prose. It shows "actively" how the pieces of a good description have features that knit together to form a coherent pattern intended to help readers use the text well. Since the students must focus on those same text features to rebuild the description, they come to see why writers bother to deploy them.
Case:
Student version [headings only, for outline]:

Description Case 4:  Post-it Note


Overview

The Paper

The Adhesive

Student version [with scaffolding]:
Description Case 4:  Post-it Note

     Description                                  Analysis

Overview

A Post-it note is  an easy way           FEATURE:
to temporarily annotate a                WHY:
document by applying a small
square of colorful, durable
paper using a strip of
repositionable adhesive on the
back of the note.

The Paper                                FEATURE:
                                         WHY:
The most common Post-it notes
are 1.5-by-2-inch rectangles
of nonwhite (usually yellow)
paper available in pads of 100.

However, 55 larger sizes and
shapes (up to poster size) are
also available.

Post-it paper is well suited to          FEATURE:
making reliable notes because it:        WHY:

(1) does not tear or fray easily,
    even after repeated uses,

(2) is highly opaque, resisting          FEATURE:
    bleed-through from ink or            WHY:
    felt-tip pens, and

(3) comes in 29 colors that
    visually contrast with the
    document pages to which the
    notes are applied.

The Adhesive

The adhesive that holds the note
to its target page lies in a
half-inch strip along the top
edge of the back of each Post-it.

Post-it adhesive consists of             FEATURE:
tiny sticky spheres that do not          WHY:
easily dissolve or melt, and
that have about the same diameter
as the paper fibers they touch.

This adhesive therefore combines
several unusual properties.

First, the adhesive is clear and         FEATURE:
thinner than standard plastic            WHY:
mounting tape.

Second, unlike an adhesive               FEATURE:
bandage, it leaves no residue on         WHY:
the page to which the Post-it is
applied.

Third, the adhesive is long-
lasting while undisturbed;
Post-it notes will cling for
months (at room temperature)
before falling off their applied
surfaces.

And fourth, the adhesive is also
reusable.

A clean Post-it may be removed
and reapplied in the same or a
different location dozens of
times before the adhesive strip
fails to hold the note to its            FEATURE:
target (unlike most tape).               WHY:

Art Fry of 3M Corp. first                FEATURE:
developed the Post-it note in            WHY:
1980.

Student version [segmented, no scaffolding or headings]:
Description Case 4:  Post-it Note

                                       ---
A Post-it note is  an easy way
to temporarily annotate a
document by applying a small
square of colorful, durable
paper using a strip of
repositionable adhesive on the
back of the note.
                                       ---
The most common Post-it notes
are 1.5-by-2-inch rectangles
of nonwhite (usually yellow)
paper available in pads of 100.
                                       ---
However, 55 larger sizes and
shapes (up to poster size) are
also available.
                                       ---
Post-it paper is well suited to
making reliable notes because it:
                                       ---
(1) does not tear or fray easily,
    even after repeated uses,
                                       ---
(2) is highly opaque, resisting
    bleed-through from ink or
    felt-tip pens, and
                                       ---
(3) comes in 29 colors that
    visually contrast with the
    document pages to which the
    notes are applied.
                                       ---
The adhesive that holds the note
to its target page lies in a
half-inch strip along the top
edge of the back of each Post-it.
                                       ---
Post-it adhesive consists of
tiny sticky spheres that do not
easily dissolve or melt, and
that have about the same diameter
as the paper fibers they touch.
                                       ---
This adhesive therefore combines
several unusual properties.
                                       ---
First, the adhesive is clear and
thinner than standard plastic
mounting tape.
                                       ---
Second, unlike an adhesive
bandage, it leaves no residue on
the page to which the Post-it is
applied.
                                       ---
Third, the adhesive is long-
lasting while undisturbed;
Post-it notes will cling for
months (at room temperature)
before falling off their applied
surfaces.
                                       ---
And fourth, the adhesive is also
reusable.
                                       ---
A clean Post-it may be removed
and reapplied in the same or a
different location dozens of
times before the adhesive strip
fails to hold the note to its
target (unlike most tape).
                                       ---
Art Fry of 3M Corp. first
developed the Post-it note in
1980.
                                       ---
Annotated version:
Description Case 4:  Post-it Note

     Description                                  Analysis

Overview

A Post-it note is  an easy way           FEATURE: overview
to temporarily annotate a                WHY: show role
document by applying a small
square of colorful, durable
paper using a strip of
repositionable adhesive on the
back of the note.

The Paper                                FEATURE: parts
                                         WHY: show role(s), relations
The most common Post-it notes
are 1.5-by-2-inch rectangles
of nonwhite (usually yellow)
paper available in pads of 100.

However, 55 larger sizes and
shapes (up to poster size) are
also available.

Post-it paper is well suited to          FEATURE: specifics
making reliable notes because it:        WHY: relevant to use

(1) does not tear or fray easily,
    even after repeated uses,

(2) is highly opaque, resisting          FEATURE: comparison (implicit)
    bleed-through from ink or            WHY: show role(s)
    felt-tip pens, and

(3) comes in 29 colors that
    visually contrast with the
    document pages to which the
    notes are applied.

The Adhesive

The adhesive that holds the note
to its target page lies in a
half-inch strip along the top
edge of the back of each Post-it.

Post-it adhesive consists of             FEATURE: specifics
tiny sticky spheres that do not          WHY: relevant to making
easily dissolve or melt, and
that have about the same diameter
as the paper fibers they touch.

This adhesive therefore combines
several unusual properties.

First, the adhesive is clear and         FEATURE: comparison (overt)
thinner than standard plastic            WHY: relevant to use
mounting tape.

Second, unlike an adhesive               FEATURE: contrast
bandage, it leaves no residue on         WHY: relevant to use
the page to which the Post-it is
applied.

Third, the adhesive is long-
lasting while undisturbed;
Post-it notes will cling for
months (at room temperature)
before falling off their applied
surfaces.

And fourth, the adhesive is also
reusable.

A clean Post-it may be removed
and reapplied in the same or a
different location dozens of
times before the adhesive strip
fails to hold the note to its            FEATURE: contrast
target (unlike most tape).               WHY: relevant to use

Art Fry of 3M Corp. first                FEATURE: omit this!
developed the Post-it note in            WHY: irrelevant
1980.

Extended Activities:
Besides the primary activities explained above, you can have students pursue secondary activities with the descriptive text of Exercise 4. See Exercise 3 for general suggestions also applicable here.
POSSIBLE FIGURES.
Because Exercise 4 has no supporting illustration, you can have students explore text-graphics integration by asking them to:
(A) develop (sketch) one or more possible figures for this description, or
(B) compare the relative merits of several possible figures that you offer for this description.

Because Post-it notes are so visually simple, mere photographs or drawings of the product (as for advertising) add little or no value to the descriptive text. (See the comments about drawn technical art near the start of the Strategy notes for Exercise 2.) Explanatory diagrams are what we need. Consider a drawing that shows the adhesive strip limited to the top back portion of each Post-it sheet (this explains why you can easily remove Post-its: they only stick along one edge, by design). Or consider a drawing that shows the spheres of adhesive clinging to gaps in criss-crossed paper fibers about as big as the adhesive particles (this shows how the repositionable adhesive works). If you or a colleague (or a student) can sketch and share such possible supporting figures, you can focus student attention on why technical art, like technical text, needs careful design to really help readers.

Note:
This exercise most closely supports the following Common Core State Standards.
Reading:
Grades 6-8, RST6-8.1 "Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts."
Grades 6-8, RST6-8.5, "Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic."

Writing:
Grades 11-12, W11-12.2b, "Write informative/explanatory texts...develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic."
Grades 11-12, W11-12.2c, "Use appropriate and varied transitions and syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts."

Contact: T. R. Girill trgirill@acm.org