The CD:CM Ratio: It's All Relative.


Dear Dr. D',

What do I tell my department when they would like to change the ratios from what they were taught? 

Frustrated Department Chair


Dear Frustrated,

Your question is one which I address on a regular basis; and, now you have given me the opportunity to blog it. New teachers to the writing program have a tendency to change or customize the ratios for specific assignments. Sometimes, depending on the students, it works. Most of the time, however, changing the tried and true ratios reduces the effectiveness and authenticity of student writing and, more importantly, confuses the students.

The ratios should remain pure:

  • 1:2+ is for literary analysis, style analysis, and rhetorical analysis
  • 2+:1 is for expository, narrative, argumentation, synthesis
  • 3+:0 is for a summary that requires no commentary
  • 1:1 is for the DBQ in AP social studies

Please trust me on this. Since 1984, we have reviewed essays from AP tests, college entrance examinations, and state and national tests. These ratios earn the highest scores. 

Instead of changing the ratios, your teachers and their students will fare well if teachers make their expectations clearer in the writing prompts and the scoring guides. Let me provide you with examples of both:

The writing prompt.

I have had the privilege and pleasure of training a wonderful science teacher named Brandon, and he told me that he wanted his ninth grade students, who had just recently been trained in the JSWP method, to write summaries in which they demonstrated their knowledge of the five different elements of scientific inquiry. Therefore, Brandon asked me if his ratio could be 5:0 for a summary response. 

My response to Brandon -- Let's keep the ratio 3+:0, so the student recognizes the type of writing s/he is doing, but explicitly give the instructions this way:

Here is his prompt:  Science is a way of thinking, questioning, and gathering evidence. Read 1.3 “Scientific Thinking and Processes.” Then, write a one-chunk (3+:0) summary response that identifies the (5) different elements of scientific inquiry. A concluding sentence is not required.

The scoring guide or point system.

Another wonderful teacher, Alison, said, "Deborah, when I write 2+, the students only write two sentences. How do I motivate them to write more?"

My response to Alison -- 1) Work more with the Tchart, so the students will have more fodder for sentences; and 2) Send the students a clear message about your expectations regarding the number of sentences – something like this --

  • 2 simple sentences = highest score is a C
  • 3 simple sentences = highest score is a B
  • 4 or more simple sentences = highest score is an A

More importantly, when they learn “types of sentences,” provide a scoring guide that assesses their learning of sentence types:

  • Simple sentences only = 2 points
  • A combination of 2 or more simple, compound, or complex sentences = 3 points
  • A combination of 2 or more simple, compound, or complex sentence combined with 1 or more compound-complex sentences = 5 points

Finally, adding “chunks” is also a way to “get more” from those noggins . . .

Write a well-developed multiparagraph essay 

  • Ratio: 1:2+ 
  • 1-3 chunks per paragraph

Of course, the writing scores are also contingent on the content of their sentences, not simply the number or the types of sentences, and that’s why you stipulate “highest score” or "points." But the “types of sentences” option truly increases the sophistication of the writing, even without weaving. (By the way, with regard to scoring guides, I am working on a new scoring guide that emulates gaming; students receive points and status.)

In English Language Arts (ELA) classes, teach the sentence types to the class as a whole and make the above grading stipulations a formative assessment. The “Shaping Sheet” is a wonderful graphic organizer for you and your students to examine the “types;” to provide one-on-one conferences for relearning; and, to display models of sentence variety before moving on to final drafts. Then, after they have practiced with “types,” add the weaving technique for those individual students who are ready. This works well!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. D'