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Teaching Essay Writing Skills...

Discussion in 'English' started by fantastischfish, Apr 5, 2010.

  1. fantastischfish

    fantastischfish Established commenter

    Hi everyone,

    I was wondering if anyone had some good ideas/methods for teaching essay writing skills, particularly for the Literature poetry and novel.
    My usual way has been to encourage pupils to write an introduction, then choose one of the four poems to be their 'Lead Poem'.I then get them to compare this lead poem with the 3 other poems one at a time, ensuring they write about language, imagery and structure throughout the essay, although not necessarily for every poem (e.g. they might have little to say about the structure of Stealing, but may focus on language, then talk about structure for another poem).
    However, I've been asked by the HOD to conduct some revision classes over Easter (getting paid!) and need some good activities to do with the kids based on essay writing skills. I will have about 4 different groups, arranged by target grade. I'm not sure that my essay style, outlined above, will be quite sophisticated enough for the A* candidates - I have always had lower set classes, so my structure has work in grinding out the grade Cs, but not really anything higher.

    Any ideas appreciated.
  2. Here are a couple of essay plans.
    First plan
    1) Start with one or two sentences saying what the whole poem is about.
    2) Go through the poem in order, one paragraph per stanza (or line/couplet if a very short poem). Keep the paragraphs approximately equal length and say something about each stanza, either words, or technical matters of metre and rhyme, or meaning.
    3) Conclude with one or two sentences, ending on something upbeat.

    Second plan
    1) Take the single most difficult /obscure / seemingly pointless line or couplet or image in the poem. Quote it.
    2) Try to explain why the poet chose to write it that way, gradually pulling in the rest of the poem as you do so.
    3) Conclude with one or two sentences saying what the whole poem is about,

  3. The plans above are no good for AQA Spec A where candidates must compare throughout.
    I suggest (to my students) choosing poems and then planning three main points. Find examples in the poems to compare and contrast and then put in order. I tell them to focus on two poems at a time, bringing in another if appropriate. In the Lit exam there is no requirement to cover poems equally, just mentioning third and fourth is enough. They can make more than three points, of course. But three is a good start and better, I think to write a lot about a few points than a little about several.
  4. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I agree with Pink Ruby, but with a couple of additions:
    I work hard on introductions and ban 'In this essay I am going to write about .........', instead concentrating on a compare/contrast opening paragraph without quotations. e.g. 'The poems X and Y address the theme of ... in similar ways, whereas poems A and B take a different view'
    There are marks for personal responses and I encourage pupils to include these in the conclusion.
    I prepare the 'meat' of the essay using Venn diagrams with quotes.
    The essay pretty much writes itself, then.
  5. fantastischfish

    fantastischfish Established commenter

    Thanks Gruoch and Pink Ruby, that advice is helpful.
    In addition to writing the full essay though, I was wondering what little 10-15 minute activities people did within lessons to practice essay writing skills. On the revision day, I will have one group of kids (from my own class) for 2 hours in the morning and have got some ideas for them (detailed below, let me know what you think), but was hoping for some activities for the afternoon, when I've got four groups for 30 minutes each (withdrawn from another teacher's lesson) and each group has different target grades stretching from E to A*. I'm supposed to be doing essay writing skills, but obviously don't have time to do full practice essays with them: I was hoping for some activities in which I will see progress in their understanding of essay writing, but won't necessarily require them to write and full essay.
    My ideas for my morning group are as follows:
    To start (10 mins): power point that spins through the slides really quickly. Each slide contain a quotation frmo a key poem. We pause the slides at random and one pupil has to say which poem it comes from. I'm thinking of introducing a dice into this: have the child roll the dice which can land on either content, viewpoint/attitude, imagery, language, structure, comparison and they have to do what it says on the dice. E.g. if it lands on comparison they have to compare it to another poem etc.
    Main body: Look at different types of essay question (list, 2 parter etc) and consider the pros and cons of answering each kind. Look at a sample question, and practise writing our own bullet points (higher candidates), working out what the 'question within a question' is.
    More main body: Give the kids a sheet with 3 or 4 extracts from essays on, and get them to continue that section of the essay and make a comparison. So for instance it might say, "Havisham uses language extremely effectively to present the emotions of the speaker..." and they have to continue it with a quote and then compare of contrast it to another poem.
    To conclude: Another power point, this time running through the names of the poems. They throw the dice again and have to quickly recap what they know. E.g the ppt lands on 'Homecoming' and the dice says 'imagery' and they have to explain the imagery of the yellow coat and the trust exercise.

    I want to get a balance between revising the poems' content, but also ensuring they have revised essay skills too. I feel as though there's only really time in lessons to revise content because writing practice essays takes up too much time, therefore I'm looking for short activities that address essay style etc, but don't mean sitting in silence doing an essay (and generating marking for me!)
    Any further ideas appreciated. Thanks so far xxx
  6. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    How about getting them to grade responses? Or just paragraphs? Gets them understanding the difference between an A*, a C and an E
  7. fantastischfish

    fantastischfish Established commenter

    Problem is, I find the mark scheme so difficult to translate for them to understand and apply. 'Conceptualised reponse', anyone?
    Also, they tend to just stick the longest one at the top of the pile without any awful lot of consideration!
    Maybe I could give them an example grade D response and give them a bullet point list of this that need improving, and they have to find the correct bits and improve them? Then put the grade D answer next to the new one and decide what grade it is together.
  8. CarolineEm

    CarolineEm New commenter

    Here's how I do it:
    Opening paragraph: name all four poems relating them to the question with one or two relevant words for each.

    Compare a structure point for poem 1 with a structure point for poem 2
    Compare a language point for poem 3 with a language point for poem 4
    If time, add a language comparison next from either poem 1 or 2
    Conclusion: poem most successful (ie. personal opinion) and why

    For revision, I get them to do timed plans. The above becomes:
    Name of 4 poems and a couple of words to sum each up relative to the question
    Create a grid with headings of Structure / Language
    2 poems under structure and what going to compare (eg. both use many features sonnet form but both modify this... how / why)
    2 poems under language and what going to compare
    Which poem for conclusion and what going to say.

    I get them to do these in 5 mins (buzzer / calling out Bingo when finished etc. to make competitive!) Once planned like this, the essay pretty much writes itself!
    I hope this helps.
  9. manc

    manc New commenter


    I'm glad I'm not having to do that.
  10. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    But it could be a load of irrelevant waffle.
    Maybe picking paras might be a better focus?
    The trouble with poetry is that the mark scheme is pretty waffly - 'conceptualised response' being a good example. A relevant quote = a C is easy enough to understand, though. I've always gone through the mark scheme with them and 'translated' it, but when I had to do this for myself on an OU course I found it really difficult (though I did get my eventual grade right).
    I think your idea of giving them a D to improve is a good one. Especially for D/C borderlines. For Higher I'd give them a B to improve.
    Hoop jumping - doncha love it?
  11. AQA have some student responses which are quite useful - some are partially annotated so students can see where points of the marking criteria are met.
    I've been using post-it notes to help my groups with planning - rather than a spider diagram, they write each point down on a separate post-it note and post it to A3 paper, they can then organise the post-it notes to form a coherently structured essay. Students could also do this in groups and then share plans, noting different points made by other groups and adapting their own plans. Sharing will help them to extend their own ideas, hopefully!
    In terms of aiming for higher grades, it helps to encourage students to have 'secret responses' to the poems. If they have a good idea, they quietly tell you and you encourage them to keep it secret as it will help with the individual and original responses needed for the higher grades. I'm encouraging them to do lots of planning by providing them with lists of past essay titles - the aim is to start off by spending 15 minutes planning and then reducing the time with the ultimate goal of 5 minutes.
  12. Find one that is and compare it with a shorter one which got a better mark. Cutting out waffle and getting to the meat of the essay would do most candidates a great deal of good.
  13. me too!
    The difficulty with following other people's ideas is the one I have as a cover supervisor. I get told "this is is a piece of cake, the kids know exactly what they have to do..." Invariably the lesson is a disaster.
    Working with kids who are not used to you, the timings go out the window. 5 minutes becomes half an hour if you're not careful. ( I have never known an essay to write itself!).
    What about with the higher level students assume they know all the basic stuff and focus on one or two 'insightful' or slightly novel interpretations of each poem that should help lift their answers to a higher grade. Even as an exercise this can lead to some unexpected revelations and opportunities for comparison.
    Running out of time in an exam is a problem for some students so what you can do, rather than write whole timed essays is to get a bare bones format down on paper but leave half a page between paras. then go back and expand each point. That way, if you run out of time, you still have an essay which covers the basics. Any gaps you can just draw an arrow from the last word of one para to the first word of the next! (essay writing for dummies, maybe but it stops the panic scenario).
  14. Hi Eva,

    Here are the top 5 tips we advice students:

    5. Plan your time, start early, don?t rush. Starting your assignment early doesn?t mean writing it 6 months before the deadline, it just means start planning out your time, thinking about ideas, writing your coursework essay plan and start your reading. Starting early helps get you mentally prepared.

    4. Understand what you have to do. Analyse the coursework question, understand what you have to do and scope out the project

    3. Organise! Sort out all your research material and highlight/note down sections for your coursework essay. Add the information, quotes, notes into your coursework plan so its can be easily accessed when you need it. As you collect information, you should be building/putting together your evidence for your arguments in your essay. Think about how you are going to put the information together.

    2. Learn by examples. Still stuggeling for ideas, inspiration, guidance and structure? A great way to learn is by looking through thousands of essay examples, search through the EssayCoursework.com essay database and find thousands of essay examples in your coursework topic. Look at how the author introduces the topic, develops the idea and provides a clear conclusion. Does it flow like a conversation or a good lecture? How does the writer make the topic interesting? Is the language and style consistent or does seem to jump around?

    1. Plagiarism! Make sure you have quoted all ideas and concepts used in your coursework essay. Make sure you have quoted everything correctly to your univeristies guidelines.

    We also have a essay guides and resources section on our website - http://www.essaycoursework.com/guides-resources

    Hope this helps


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