In order to teach students to write, we must raise their metalinguistic awareness. When students are having trouble staying on topic, it’s sometimes useful to make them closely examine the subjects and verbs in every sentence to see what kinds of patterns they find. For example, they could highlight the verbs in blue and the subjects in yellow. Tasks like these can be helpful, but some students find them to be very dry.
Here’s an alternative activity with a similar outcome. Have students create word clouds using the Wordle website:
The visual nature of this activity will help students to see how much repetition their paper is showing. If the largest (most used) words in their clouds aren’t specific to their thesis statement, their paper isn’t going to be very cohesive.