They Say I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (Graff and Birkenstein)

This book has a few very basic and important ideas. The authors, writing more for writing students than for teachers, defend the notion of using templates in academic writing. Their primary example, one that can extend into classroom discussions, is the notion of “They Say / I Say.” This is predicated on the notion that to write an academic piece is to enter a conversation and that a writer (and a participant in a class discussion) must acknowledge what has been said before prior to offering a new take on the argument.

Having tried a few of the ideas (a template for writing introductions, the notion of a biased summary of the opposition) that Graff and Birkenstein offer with some of my struggling writers, I can say that they really work. More controversial is their defense of the personal pronoun  in the academic essay. I know I shouldn’t have done it (especially not solo), but I gave the students some freedom with this, and most of them did not abuse it.

There are only disappointing things about reading this book.

First, I wish I had read it much sooner in my teaching career.

Second, when I was in the middle of it, I learned that there is a new edition (, with more supplemental readings. The one in the 2nd Edition, about fast food, is an excellent piece to use for practice with students.


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