Essay Writing

Teachers can involve their students in activities that expose them to a variety of essay styles.

By Amy Wilding

Essay Writing

While the “five paragraph” essay is the one students may be most familiar with, there are many alternatives. In order to graduate, many high school students are required to show proficiency in different essay formats. Depending on your specific instructional needs and curriculum guidelines, I suggest choosing a format that targets specific learning goals, demonstrates student comprehension, and challenges them. I have included several essay formats that I have used, as well as some tips for instruction.

One type of essay students need to be familiar with is the expository essay. This can take different forms, one of which is a synthesis essay. Essentially, the synthesis essay is a representation of multiple points of view from various sources, supporting a central thesis. The students begin by analyzing a source and determining the author’s point of view. Then they write a focused and succinct essay incorporating theories and opinions. It can be difficult for students to focus on a specific thesis and pick supporting details from the articles, effectively transition from one paragraph to another, and do all this in approximately two to three pages. My suggestion is to find examples of articles and work through the process as a class. Before having students work independently, it is extremely important that you outline the process they will follow. Otherwise, it will be a nightmare for both of you.

One tip—the first time students work on their own, provide them with four or five articles that you have chosen.  Make sure that you include the text you are working on.  Have the students select three of the articles. As a group, review the articles and make sure students understand the author's purpose before they construct a thesis.

In the past, when I taught my Shakespeare unit, I often assigned a five-paragraph essay as part of my lesson plan. Recently, I had them do a compare/contrast essay instead.  I found this format much easier for students to grasp, and believe it improved their comprehension. They, not only, grasped the basic plot line, but the more subtle details of the play as well. I provided my students with two different compare/contrast outlines—block and point-by-point.  As a group, we reviewed the pros and cons of each.  We selected a sample topic and constructed the outline as a prewriting exercise.  Once the students fully understood the format of the outline, they chose which one they liked best. There were many benefits to choosing this type of essay. The students practiced the entire writing process, they actively worked through the text and transferred quotes and ideas to paper, and they were able to take some ownership of their learning by choosing how to complete their essay.

One tip—take some time to practice the art of constructing an outline.  Make the students write out specific quotes and specific ideas.  If you can, use a writing lab and definitely make their outline part of the final grade.  If they know their hard work is paying off, it will make the process a bit easier.

With more importance being placed on standardized tests, the in-class essay is becoming a part of the everyday classroom routine.  In standardized tests, students are asked to construct a well written and thought out essay in approximately 52 minutes. This task cannot be achieved without practice, practice, practice. I think the biggest challenge for students is coming up with a thesis. Many students can't come up with an idea that is focused enough and still presents a specific point of view. A way to help them get the idea is to use a classroom text and spend time devising some example thesis statements together.  As I mentioned above, be sure that you review the entire writing process, start-to-finish. 

This timed essay should be limited to only one body paragraph, three total. It is vital that each sentence moves seamlessly into the other. You can review some fundamentals of writing with your students, including how to transition from one sentence to the next.  The last big challenge for my students is writing the conclusion. Many of them spend so much time brainstorming, that they did not set aside a few minutes to wrap things up. Again, review a few good conclusions and a few bad conclusions.  You can discuss and analyze each.

One tip—don’t make this assignment sound like a big deal.  Do a few practice runs until the final essay is due.  Make your students confident!!!

Essay Lesson Plans:

Two Modest Proposals

This lesson is a great example of how to teach a persuasive essay.  It can easily be adapted.

Foreshadowing-Quote Identification, Discovery and Essay-Prompt Analysis

I love the premise of this lesson.  It incorporates the pre-writing element as well as the in-class timed writing essay.  I look forward to using this!

Writing Structure and Paragraph Lesson

This is a basic lesson.  It addresses the five-paragraph essay, but what I like about it is that the students analyze "good" vs. "bad" topic sentences.  I think that the foundation of the lesson is good, and can be adapted to fit your needs.

The Renaissance Person-Composing an Extended Definition Essay

This is an interesting lesson.  The lesson includes some additional references and examples that can be used.  It is an assignment for higher level students.







Literature Guide

Amy Wilding