Easy Way To Teach Essay Writing

“Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end.”

Many of us recall our teachers drilling this writer’s mantra into us and our fellow students.

This is as true for a good essay as it is for a good story.

An essay needs a coherent structure to successfully articulate its arguments, and strong preparation and planning is crucial to providing that structure.

So, how do we go about this?

After all, essay writing can be challenging for the ESL student. Not only does the student writer have to contend with the challenges of ordering their thoughts and constructing their arguments, they have to do this in their second language.

Navigating the rocky bluffs of syntax and idiomatic expressions isn’t easy at the best of times! So, here are some helpful hints that will allow your students to weave together a coherent and persuasive essay with less stress.

The 7 Helpful Habits of ESL Essay Writing

1. Build the essay around a central question

Encourage your students to build all their writing around one central question of the essay.

That central question is the engine of the writing, it should drive everything!

If a word or sentence is not assisting that forward motion toward the explication of that question and its possible answers, then it needs to be reworded, rephrased or just plain cut out and discarded.

Lean writing is merciless. Focusing on that central question throughout the prewriting, writing and rewriting stages helps develop the critical faculties required to discern what to keep and what to throw away.

2. Use the traditional 5-paragraph essay structure

Providing a clear structure for the student to approach essay writing can do much to build their confidence. The 5-paragraph essay, or “hamburger” essay, provides that clear structure for emergent ESL writers.

Generally, this structure employs five separate paragraphs for the entire essay. Each paragraph serves a specific purpose, melding together to form a coherent whole.

Paragraph 1: The introductory paragraph. It makes the thesis statement, orientating the reader to the purpose of the essay.

Paragraphs 2 to 4: The body paragraphs. These make individual points that are further backed up by the various forms of evidence.

Paragraph 5: The conclusion paragraph. This provides a summation of the arguments and a final statement of the thesis.

While they do not need to follow it rigidly forever, this simple structure outlined above can serve as excellent training wheels for your students.

3. Work from a plan

Using the 5-paragraph structure as outlined above makes planning clear cut.

Once they have their theses and are planning their paragraphs, share with the students the ridiculously useful acronym P.E.E. This stands for point, explanation, evidence.

Each body paragraph should make a point, or argument, in favor of the central thesis, followed by an explanation of this point and relevant evidence to back it up.

Extol the necessity for students to constantly refer to their planning. The mind-mapping techniques popularized by Tony Buzan can be useful at the planning stage and make for easy reference points to ensure focus is maintained throughout the essay. Having a visual reference such as this can help ensure that your student-writers see each piece of the whole as well as that elusive “bigger picture,” so it become a case of seeing the forest and the trees!

4. Do the homework

Just as the planning is crucial, so too is the research.

Often ideas or connections do not occur until the writing process has begun. This is a good thing. Essay writing is a creative act, so they can have more ideas along the way and work them in. The key is to always be able to back up these ideas.

Students who have done their homework on their subject will be much more confident and articulate in expressing their arguments.

Even with thorough planning and research, writing oneself into a linguistic cul-de-sac is a common error. Once the plan is completed and the student embarks on the choppy seas of essay writing, it may or may not be plain sailing. Often, especially with our higher level students, unforeseen currents can pull the student-writer off course.

Sometimes just abandoning the sentence helps. Going back to the drawing board and rewriting it is often best.

Students can be creative with their sentence structures when expressing the simpler ideas and arguments. However, when it comes to expressing the more complex concepts, help them learn to use shorter sentences to break down their arguments into smaller, more digestible chunks.

5. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Essay writing falls firmly in the camp of non-fiction. That is a given. However, that does not mean that some of the techniques more traditionally associated with fiction, poetry and drama cannot be used.

One technique that is particularly useful in essay writing is repetition. Just as poetry relies heavily on rhythm, so too does argument. Repetition can provide that sense of rhythm. Written language has its origins in the oral language. Think of the great orators and demagogues and their use of repetition. Speech-writers are well aware of the power of repetition.

The writing principle of the “rule of 3” states that ideas expressed in these terms are more convincing and memorable. This is true of words and the ideas they are expressing.

The very structure of the 5-paragraph essay lends itself to planning for this repetition. Each idea that is explored in a body paragraph should be outlined first in the introductory paragraph. The single body paragraph devoted to the idea will explore it at greater length, supported by evidence. The third rap of the hammer occurs in the summation of the concluding paragraph, driving the point securely and convincingly home.

6. Close the circle

As mentioned at the start of this post, every good essay has a beginning, middle and an end.

Each point made, explained and supported by evidence is a step toward what the writing teacher Roy Peter Clark calls closing the circle of meaning.

In planning for the conclusion of the essay, the students should take the opportunity to reaffirm their position. By making reference to the points outlined in the introduction, driving them home one last time, the student-writer is bringing the essay to a satisfying full circle.

This may be accomplished by employing various strategies: an apt quotation, referring to future consequences or attempting to inspire and mobilize the reader.

Ending with a succinct quotation has the double benefit of lending some authoritative weight to the argument while also allowing the student to select a well-written, distilled expression of their central thesis. This can make for a strong ending, particularly for ESL students.

Often the essay thesis will suggest its own ending. If the essay is structured around a problem, it is frequently appropriate to end the essay by offering solutions to that problem and outlining potential consequences if those solutions are not followed.

In the more polemical type essay, the student may end with a call to arms, a plea for action on the part of the reader.

The strategy chosen by the student will depend largely on what fits the central thesis of their essay best.

7. Edit to the end

For the ESL student, the final edit is very important.

It is one final chance to check form and meaning. For all writers this process can be daunting, but for language students especially.

Often ESL students will use the same words over and over again due to a limited vocabulary, encourage your students to employ a thesaurus in the final drafting before submission. This will freshen up their work, making it more readable. This will also increase their active vocabulary in the long run!

Another useful strategy to use at this stage of the process is to encourage students to read their work aloud before handing it in. This can be good pronunciation practice, and allows for an opportunity to listen for grammatical errors. It also helps the students to hear where punctuation is required in the text, helping the overall rhythm and readability of the writing.

 

Essays are a great way not only for students to learn how the language works, but also to learn about themselves.

Formulating thoughts and arguments about various subjects is good exercise for not only the students’ linguistic faculties, but also for understanding who they are and how they see the world.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.

Bring English immersion to your classroom!

Step-by-Step Guide to Writing an Essay

So your teacher assigned another essay to write. Does the mere thought of putting pen to paper – or fingers to the keyboard – send shivers down your spine? For many students in elementary, middle or high school, it does, but writing an essay shouldn’t be intimidating. As long as you know the basic steps of essay writing, you should be well-equipped to handle any essay topic.

Determine What Type of Essay It Is

There are many different types of essays you might be asked to write in elementary, middle or high school. Some of the most common include narrative, expository, argumentative, persuasive, comparative and literary. Are you presenting an overview or telling a story about the topic (narrative) or are you providing an analysis (expository)? Do you have to convince the reader to adopt a certain point of view or to take a particular action (persuasive)? Are you writing an essay about a book you read (literary)? Determining the type of essay is the first step to writing a targeted essay.

Create an Essay Outline

An essay outline is your road map. It will guide you through to the finished product. When you create an outline, you organize your thoughts about your topic. First, write your topic at the top of the page. Then list all the points or arguments you want to make about the essay topic. Finally, list the facts, examples and statistics that support those points or arguments.

Develop a Thesis Statement

Your thesis should inform the reader what point you will be making or what question you will be answering about the topic. In other words, it is a prelude to your conclusion. A thesis statement should be as specific as possible and address one main idea. Strong theses also take a stand or illustrate the controversial nature of a topic.

Introduce Your Topic

The first paragraph of your essay will introduce your topic and provide direction for the entire essay. The introduction should discuss your main idea, or what the essay is about, then state your thesis and points or arguments that support your thesis.

The introduction also sets the tone for your essay, and you want to grab the reader’s attention with interest and clarity. To capture the reader’s attention, you can make a challenging claim about the topic or present some surprising (but factual) information.

Write the Body of the Essay

The body of the essay provide details for the points in your introductory paragraph that support your thesis. Take the points you listed in your introduction and discuss each in one body paragraph. First, write a topic sentence that summarizes your point then explain why you feel the topic sentence is true. Finally, support your argument with evidence such as facts, quotes, examples and statistics.

Present Your Conclusion

The conclusion summarizes the essay and gives the reader closure. In three or four concise sentences, you should reiterate your thesis and review the main points of the body of the essay. Just be sure not to restate your previous words exactly. You can even briefly describe your opinion of the topic. Your final sentence should uphold your main idea in a clear and compelling manner.

Just remember to tackle each step one at a time. Some people do better when they work backwards from the conclusion. Write a rough draft of your essay first – don’t try to get it perfect the first time through. After you finish your rough draft, proofread it thoroughly and revise until you have a strong, informative essay.

Interactive Essay Writing Classes

Online lessons like Time4Writing’s essay writing classes can help children build and strengthen the foundation for strong essay writing skills in elementary school, middle school, high school and beyond. These interactive essay writing classes build basic writing skills, explain essay types and structure, and teach students how to organize their ideas.

Time4Writing is popular as a writing homeschool curriculum, for afterschool enrichment, for remediation, and as a summer school alternative. All of Time4Writing’s online lessons are led by certified writing teachers who provide valuable feedback after every writing assignment.

Learn more about Time4Writing today!


0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *