For optimal viewing on a mobile device, tilt your device to landscape mode.

5 Tips for Beginning Essay Teaching From Language Lady



Essay Writing Is the Easiest Writing Place to Start

The range of “fun” and difficult in essays can’t be beat! An essay can be fun (three reasons Superman is the best super hero), hobby related (three easy cross stitch patterns), personal (your three favorite vacation foods), straightforward (three colors of the rainbow), formal (three quotations about a topic or by a person), or research-based (three reasons smoking should be banned in public buildings). Essays are easier to scale in terms of difficulty level because even second graders can learn to write a one paragraph personal essay (compared to a research-based report or story with story writing elements).

Along with the difficulty level in general, the number of skills needed is significantly less in beginning essay writing than in other types of writing. A student in elementary school who has learned the fundamentals of what a sentence contains, what a paragraph contains, and how to create a simple outline can start essay writing. There are myriad of skills that are needed for research writing and/or story writing. (Not that essay writing can’t be complex, as shown in my book, Meaningful Composition 11 I: The Three P’s of Persuasive Writing. However, those skills are not needed to begin essay writing.)



Teach the Three-Topics-Three-Paragraph Method to Your Older Students

If your high schooler has never written a five-paragraph essay before, I recommend that you begin with what I call the “three topics/three paragraphs for the body” (P’soB) approach. This is a simplified way of teaching students how to write multiple paragraphs when they are not used to writing more than one or two paragraphs. In this approach, the student writes about three different things, such as three different foods or three different beaches or three different novels, etc.  For the overwhelmed older student who is trying to catch up in his writing skills, it is ideal because it feels like “three little essays” as opposed to three complete paragraphs for the body of a one-topic essay.

The beauty of this approach is that a student does not have to think about so much information for three paragraphs. He can simply plan out information for one paragraph of 6 to 8 sentences about one topic. He moves onto the next paragraph, and it is about a completely different topic. Then the student can tack on a thesis to the first paragraph and a closing sentence to the last paragraph—and have a three paragraph essay! I use this method extensively in my junior high writing books to teach students how to move into multi-paragraph writing painlessly.



Always Have Students Outline Before They Write

I have had students who come back from college and bring me a paper to help them edit. When I mention that it seems a little “rambly,” the student sheepishly tells me that she didn’t have time to outline. And it shows. (She couldn’t have gotten away with that in my cottage classes as we take a grade on the outlining/prewriting step as well as any research steps that are needed for report writing!)

Outlining keeps a writer from rambling. It helps him get thoughts on paper in shortened form—while the ideas are flowing. He doesn’t have to interrupt the creative process with writing out full sentences or paragraphs. He can jot down notes quickly—thus, keeping up a little better with the mind than writing full sentences usually allows .Outlining is the thinking/creating step. Writing is the style step. By learning to outline first, the student’s focus is on gathering data and organizing it in the order he wants it. He doesn’t have to do so many skills at one time—research (or think in creative situations), write notes, determine order/placement of material, write quality sentences, divide paragraphs, edit, etc.



Do Not Expect a Student to Include Too Many Unusual or “In Progress Skills” in One Essay

One of the most important things in teaching to me is student success. I want them to feel successful at the end of each project. The opposite of this happens when we assign a project without giving them the skills that are needed to complete the project. Because of this, all of the writing assignments in my books have skill building lessons for the tasks that are needed to complete the project. Thus, if they are doing a quotation essay, students will have lessons on how to punctuate quotes. If they are doing a research report, they will have lessons on how to research and organize material.


When students are first learning skills, we don’t want to expect too many of them all at the same time. For example, if he is still in the quotation process, have him simply add one quotation and be sure that, that week’s lesson includes quotation writing as a skill building lesson. Don’t assign a project with a formal tone if he doesn’t know the difference between first person, second person, and third person. In every project, a student should know how to do the skills that are expected of him in that type of writing.



Don’t Make the Essay Writing Process Too Open Ended

One of the reasons why students have so much trouble in writing is because we simply give them writing topics. I know because when I first began writing curriculum in language arts and composition, I had a bookshelf full of writing prompts or writing idea books. We have to understand the difference between telling a student to write something and teaching a student how to write that.

We need to be sure that he understands the parameters–how many paragraphs, what each paragraph should contain, whether he is doing an opening or closing, whether the opening or closing had to be a specific style, what person he’s writing in, the tone of the paper, and much more. Writing idea books and writing prompts do not give a student the tools needed to learn how to write.

Resources for this Slideshow:

  1.  Essay Writing Is the Easiest Writing Place to StartCheck out a two-week sample from one of my intermediate essay books

     2. Teach the Three-Topics-Three-Paragraph Method to Your Older Students Check out a two-week sample from my upper level high school essay book

  1. Always Have Students Outline Before They WriteGet a free one month writing book at any level 
  2. Do Not Expect a Student to Include Too Many Unusual or “In Progress Skills” in One EssayCheck out these pre-writing skills…
  3. Don’t Make the Essay Writing Process Too Open EndedSee how students need specifics, not vagueness in this lesson and download

Thanks for Joining Donna to Learn About Grammar and Writing!

Check Out Other “5 Tips From Language Lady” slideshows!

5 Places to Find Language Lady/Donna Reish Teaching Grammar and Writing

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This