Today, we have a guest post for all those secondary teachers out there, which is all about teaching how to write essays!
If you’re a high school teacher, there’s a good chance that you teach students the standard five-paragraph expository essay. And there’s also a good chance that you don’t have much positive to say about the essay or the process.
The expository essay has been long-derided as an ineffective and formulaic way of teaching writing and argumentative skills. But teachers continue to use it because there are few viable alternatives. Students need to learn how to make an argument and organize their thoughts. They need to be able to relate their points back to a written text and break down their main points into smaller sections. And they need to understand thesis statements, topic sentences, and concluding paragraphs. All of these skills are important for their future educational and work careers – and all of them can be taught through the expository essay.
But how can we teach the strengths of the essay without stifling creativity and being too formulaic? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
-Relax the rules. Not all students can be motivated to learn in the same way; among college attendees, for example, private student loans can be a positive motivator or a negative burden in the academic arena. Similarly, while some students may be more inclined to write an essay when given set rules, these very rules may cause others to do a shoddy job and feel disinclined to write in the future. Along these lines, relaxing the rules can be one of the best ways to insure greater creativity and avoid suspect motivators. You should still require that every essay contain a thesis and introductory paragraph, but paragraph counts, sentence numbers, topic sentences, and quote usage do not need to be closely regulated.
-Separate out the approach. Many teachers have bemoaned that the expository essay is a great way to teach argument organization but a poor way to teach argument writing. With this issue in mind, we can separate out the two and focus instead on the benefits of the expository approach. This can be done two ways: either students can write their essays with a “freeform” style and then adapt it to the expository format afterwards, or they conversely can make an outline that mirrors the expository format and then use that outline to write an essay that has no strict organizational requirements. Both of these approaches use the “expository essay” more for its structure than its content.
-Turn the “funnel” into a “staircase.” You may have explained the expository essay to your students using the funnel analogy: you begin the essay at the funnel’s wide brim, narrow down (ie funnel) your focus into the body paragraphs, and then widen your argument once again upon reaching the conclusion. This description can be effective but it doesn’t teach students to adequately build on their arguments as the essay goes. Instead, you may want to teach the staircase analogy instead. Here, the point of the essay is to get from the first floor to the second.
Students should begin by setting the stage (i.e. describing the first floor). Then they should start “climbing the stairs” by writing paragraphs that build on each other. Finally, they should reach the second floor, where they describe how far they’ve come and write about where to go next. Students taught this approach often display a discernible improvement in fluidity and transitional style as a result.
These are just a few tips to consider when looking to teach the expository essay in the most effective manner. While students certainly won’t be writing 5-paragraph papers in their collegiate and professional careers, they will need to remember several elements of expository writing whenever they compose a written work in the future. These are the elements that should primarily be conveyed – and highlighted – in the teaching process.