Thankful Tuesday – PAVESOF

First, and on an unrelated note, I’m thankful that in 25 minutes I get to turn on NY Med, the summer medical reality TV show. I’m an ER reality TV show junkie, but I only get to watch those shows (all four of them) when I’m at my parent’s house since I don’t have cable. I like that the networks allow me to indulge for a few weeks over the summer.

But, on to my core thankful note for this week… class starts next Wednesday, so this week is lesson planning week. I have a true confession to make: I hate writing assignment sheets. The assignment sheet has so much riding on it. When students don’t listen to me in class, the assignment sheet is what guides them. When students go to the writing center, the assignment sheet should be what guides them. The assignment sheet should indicate what will and won’t be the center of my focus while I’m grading. So.much.pressure. The assignment sheet needs to be a helpful document. So, I’m grateful to Sara Heisler. I have no idea who she is or where she teaches, but Janet Zepernick at the University of Pittsburgh passed along Heisler’s PAVESOF approach to assignment planning to me. This format is making assignment sheet development far, far less painful so far. I churned out this assignment sheet in under 30 minutes. Basically PAVESOF lays out the purpose, audience, voice, emphasis, support, organization, and format of an assignment for students.

I’m basing my class on This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and WomenThe following assignment ask students to write their own This I Believe essays. To illustrate the PAVESOF method, I’m copying it below. Forgive any rough spots. I’m now t-minus 10 minutes to NY Med, so there is no time for proofing. Plus, I tell students to let a piece rest overnight before editing, so I should take my own advice.

This I Believe Essay

Purpose: The purpose of this essay is to attach communal relevance to a personal experience. Much like an iceberg only partially exists above the surface of the ocean so too the details of the experiences in your life are often the visible manifestations of more deeply held values. This essay will reveal a value that you embrace.

Audience: Your audience for this essay is the general public. Imagine someone reading your essay when he has a few moments to spare in a doctor’s office or while she enjoys her favorite magazine with a glass of iced tea on the back porch.

Voice: Use the tone of the This I Believe essays that we are reading in class as a guide. Since you are using personal stories as a vehicle to communicate a value that you hold, you may use personal pronouns (I, me). Avoid lecturing your readers with “you.” Let the reader absorb the value in a non-threatening way.

Additionally, your words should be carefully chosen. Get the most out of each word by making it precise and vivid. At the same time, if you use a thesaurus to find these words, be careful to use them in their correct context. You do not have to use technical academic language as you write the essay.

Emphasis: The emphasis of your essay should be on your value. Make sure you have a clear “I believe in ______________” sentence embedded somewhere in your essay, probably at the beginning or the end of the essay.

Support: You should not look at any outside resources while you write this essay. Instead, focus on one event, habit, friendship, etc. from your own life that illustrates the value in focus. The stories can be funny, reflective, nostalgic, or sad among other tones; whatever you choose, make sure the story is personal, revealing an inner aspect of you, and make sure the story is specific, giving readers details that draw them into the story.

Organization: Organized your essay into paragraphs. These paragraphs may be shorter than usual since this is a short essay. Think beyond the typical 5 paragraph essay with an introduction, conclusion, and three body paragraphs. Instead, think about paragraphs as units that show separation in the scene of your story or as units that might help you transition from concrete story to abstract reflection (though you can weave together story and reflection in the same paragraph as well). Make paragraphs work for you. If you think you know about rules for paragraphing, make sure those rules apply to this genre of writing before you use them. Again, the essays that we are reading in class will provide some helpful guidance.

Format: The story should be 350 – 500 words long. Hint: if you are having trouble with the 350- 500 word limit, you might benefit from overwriting the story. Write a 4-6 page quick draft, which will provide you with far too much material. You can then chisel the longer draft into a short essay by seeking out your strongest material.

Use the MLA page set-up that we discussed in class.

(assignment based on This I Believe College Curriculum at This I

One thought on “Thankful Tuesday – PAVESOF

  1. Hello One English Teacher!

    I’m Sara Heisler, and I’m so happy to hear that Dr. Janet Zepernick’s advice using PAVESOF was helpful to you! I was facilitating a workshop about teaching writing on July 25 when a participant searched my name and up popped your entry! Thank you for your grateful words…always appreciated by a teacher…and very timely, too!

    I retired from public school teaching to pursue a dream of helping educators improve student thinking and writing by focusing on a few elements and patterns common to sending and receiving communication effectively. If teachers can retain their unique styles and diverse curricula, yet cooperate in using some common foundational practices, I think we can create beneficial changes in how we teach students of all ages. “Good thinking PAVES-OVER the way to good writing” is one of the mnemonic devices that helps us use the common elements in all communication. I’m grateful to Dr. Janet Zepernick for her support of my work, and I’m happy to hear she continues to pass along the tips.

    May I use your entry to help other post-secondary teachers envision the benefits of using these techniques?

    If you would like more information, I just opened a site through Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota that allows anyone to download free information. I would be happy to send you the directions to the site. Just email me at

    Best Wishes!
    Sara Heisler

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