A neat way to organize their "evidence" for each of their ideas is by using folders. I give each student colored folders, one for each of their reasons.
We spend one day collecting evidence on each of these reasons. The evidence is collected on lined paper, cut, and placed into the appropriate folder. Once they have a good amount of evidence, I spend a day on the introduction and another on the conclusion. The students have their folders next to them as they are writing these so it is very easy for them to restate their thesis and reasons in each.
This is where we are so far in our unit! Our next phase will be determining what evidence we should use and pasting it on the outside of the appropriate folder. Our finished product in our planning phase ends up looking like a long strip of folders, but with each of the five paragraphs organized in order.
So far my students LOVE this unit! Their thesis statements are hilarious! I'm seeing everything from "Dogs make great pets" to "Siblings can be annoying". As long as they can come up with their three supporting reasons, it is an acceptable thesis!
Does anyone else use the personal essay unit to teach essay structure? I'd love to hear about it if you do! I will post more once we complete the unit!