When you tell your students they’ll be writing an essay in class, do you initially get a classroom full of smiling, happy faces, or do you hear the audible sound of dread spread through the room? That may be a little exaggerated, but for most teachers, the word “essay” doesn’t typically bring about the most positive of emotions in students.
Essay writing can cause a good deal of stress for some young writers, simply because they’re not confident with their writing abilities and/or the framework of essay writing. Here are 6 steps you can implement into your essay-writing routine to build a stronger framework for your students.
The thesis statement is a very important part of almost any essay. It is what gives the essay a foundation and direction. The topic, a claim about the topic, and a few points to support it are all parts of a a strong thesis, and it’s important for students to realize that these sentences contain the focus of the essay and tell the reader what it’s going to be about.
Here are some features of a strong thesis:
- A strong thesis expresses one main idea
- A strong thesis expresses a clear, specific point of view
- A strong thesis makes a bold claim (it’s OK if the reader disagrees with it)
- A strong thesis is original
- A strong thesis invites discussion (they don’t just state the obvious)
A weak thesis will only cause the rest of the essay to fall apart, so be sure to help your students, through modeling and examples, to know what a strong thesis needs and how to write one.
An essay outline is a road map to follow. It can be written before or after a thesis statement, and it serves as a guide to following through to the final writing product. There are many graphic organizers that aid students in creating a basic essay outline, but as long as students understand what needs to be included in an outline, they really can create their own; some printable organizers can be too restrictive.
Here’s what to include in a good essay outline:
- Introduction- including something to get the reader’s interest
- Thesis statement- usually a statement that has three points you’re going to talk about in your essay
- Body of the essay- usually includes a paragraph dedicated to each of the three points you’re going to talk about
- Supporting details and evidence- found within the body of the essay for each paragraph; two or three pieces of evidence, facts, details, and examples for each point that support what you’re talking about
- Conclusion- a summary, or fresh restate, of the thesis statement; includes a meaningful “wrap-up” to give the essay greater meaning by reinforcing the main idea (remember that a conclusion is not a place to bring up new ideas)
To keep an essay strong, word choice is key; words that are expressive, creative, interesting, and effective keep an essay from falling apart. Using descriptive words allows an author to show and not just tell.
Here are some keys to using descriptive words to keep any essay strong:
- use vivid sensory details where you can (paint a picture and appeal to your reader’s senses)
- make use of figurative language, when appropriate, to help paint that picture
- use specific nouns, adjectives, and strong action verbs
- keep descriptive writing organized (chronological, spatial, and order of importance)
The real meat of any paragraph comes in the supporting details. A paragraph topic sentence without the supporting details is like a sandwich with only the bread; the good stuff comes with the descriptions, facts, evidence, and examples that back up the claim.
Here are some important points to consider when adding effective supporting details to any essay:
- if you make a statement, just remember you need to be able support it
- supporting details should be convincing
- facts and statistics aren’t the only things that can support a claim
- remember examples are sometimes more interesting for a reader; tell a story from your own experience or make something up–as long as it illustrates your point
- don’t include details that do nothing to support the topic/claim
After an essay is written, taking a small break is always a good idea. Encourage students to take time away from their essay for a brief time so they can return to it with a fresh set of eyes. Most likely when they return to it, they’ll be able to look at it in a different way, and when it’s time for revisions and editing, they’ll be more open to making the changes needed for improvement. Just remember, sometimes our brains just need a little break!
Here are some easy and quiet break suggestions you can implement into your essay-writing routine:
- going to get a drink
- taking a small, quiet walk around the room
- reading for a few minutes
- working on something else for a minute or two
The last step in essay writing is the double-checking (or triple or quadruple-checking, for that matter). This is the part where you need to check, check, check. Students need to understand that once an essay is written, it most likely needs some editing and revisions. They need to understand this is a necessary part of the writing process; it’s not because they’ve failed to do it right the first time.
Here are some ways you can help your students with revisions and editing:
- don’t just require students take time to complete revisions–you most likely will not see improved writing
- provide specific comments
- ask questions directed at specific content
- design writing activities or lessons that help students to establish a purpose
- motivate students to make revisions because of the intended publication of the essay (whether it be reading finished works to the class, posting on a classroom blog or other social place, creating a finished work for a classroom library, sharing with a partner or small group, etc.)
I hope these six simple steps will help you and your students to build a stronger framework for essay writing. To help you get started in your classroom today, I’ve included a downloadable note-taking visual your students will be able to add to their writing journals or folders. All you have to do is teach the mini-lesson(s) so they have the information to add to their step-by-step visual.