If you are an educator who has been tasked with teaching essay writing to high schoolers, do not lose hope. There are resources out there at your disposal. For many (not all) high school students, essay writing can be quite an arduous task, and if it is not properly taught then the student will suffer in the long run.
Teaching Tips for Essay Writing
There are many ways that you can approach the task of teaching essay writing. The main thing that you should do is keep an open mind. While you should not ignore the basic rules of essay writing, you should also come up with your own approach to making the teaching process and the simultaneous learning process productive for both you and the students in your class.
Usually high school English classes require a basic five paragraph essay as the standard for testing a student’s writing ability. The best way for you as an educator to convey this is by breaking the paragraphs up into smaller parts. Students will better be able to digest the brunt of the lesson when you break each paragraph up. In doing this you can actually put together a mini outline as a means of illustrating to your secondary students how to effectively write an essay.
Thesis and Writing the Essay
It is not unusual for students to feel intimidated by having to write an essay. That is why it is up to you as the educator to put their inquisitive minds at ease.
- Have each student select a thesis by asking them to write down a few strong or even argumentative sentences.
- If the task is to write about a book, then you should pick out five statements as relevant to the storyline of that book. This will definitely eliminate the tension and stress that surrounds the whole notion of navigating through a book for a thesis.
The key to teaching secondary school students about writing is to ease their tension at all costs. So initially, the more tools that you provide them with, the better off they will inevitably be.
Examples and Guides
- Once you have five statements about the book written out, you should select one to use as a guide for the class.
Let’s say (for the sake of illustration) that you are reviewing the book The Count of Monte Cristo; you can draw a few strong statements from that book, such as “revenge can be bittersweet.”
As the educator you can either choose to expand upon that phrase or just leave it as is and allow the students to draw examples from the book in support of or against the phrase. Revenge is a pinnacle theme in that particular book and as you illustrate the idea your outline will first reflect the thesis being “revenge is bittersweet” and the supporting paragraphs that are either in favor of or against the thesis.
- Illustrate how each paragraph in the essay would need to begin with a topic sentence. So if the first paragraph is an introductory paragraph that presents the thesis, the second, third and fourth paragraphs, will each need to begin with a topic sentence in support of the thesis.
- Emphasize how the students should use quotations from the story in support of their stance. You can do this by having at least six quotes that you have pulled from the story that are either in favor or in opposition of the thesis.
- If you give the students a paragraph a day to complete along with their outlines for homework within a week’s time you will be surprised how fast they will catch on and desire to learn more.
- The fifth and last paragraph should be a conclusion type of paragraph that ties everything together and verifies that the thesis was actually proven. This is probably the easiest paragraph that students will write because they can draw from their other paragraphs.
As long as you encourage creativity and integrity in the classroom, your secondary students will thrive when writing their essays.
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Teaching Essay Writing in Secondary Schools
By YourDictionaryIf you are an educator who has been tasked with teaching essay writing to high schoolers, do not lose hope. There are resources out there at your disposal. For many (not all) high school students, essay writing can be quite an arduous task, and if it is not properly taught then the student will suffer in the long run.
Getting into an elite college has never been more cutthroat. Last year, Harvard’s admissions rate dipped to a record low, with only 5.3% of applicants getting an acceptance letter. Stanford’s rate was even lower, at 5.05%.
These days, it takes more than impressive grades, a full roster of extracurriculars, and a deep commitment to community service to get into a well-ranked school. Experts say that a stellar essay is the linchpin that will win the admissions department over. But what is less well known is that different colleges favor particular topics and even specific words used in essays.
This is a key finding from AdmitSee, a startup that invites verified college students to share their application materials with potential applicants. High school students can pay to access AdmitSee’s repository of successful college essays, while college students who share their materials receive a small payment every time someone accesses their data. “The biggest differentiator for our site is that college students who share their information are compensated for their time,” Stephanie Shyu, cofounder of AdmitSee, tells Fast Company. “This allows them to monetize materials that they have sitting around. They can upload their file and when they check back in a few months later, they might have made several hundred dollars.”
Shyu says that this model has allowed AdmitSee to collect a lot of data very rapidly. The company is only a year old and just landed $1.5 million in seed funding from investors such asFounder.org and The Social + Capital Partnership. But in this short time, AdmitSee has already gathered 15,000 college essays in their system. Many are from people who got into well-ranked colleges, since they targeted these students first. The vast majority of these essays come from current college students who were admitted within the last two or three years.
AdmitSee has a team that analyzes all of these materials, gathering both qualitative and quantitative findings. And they’ve found some juicy insights about what different elite colleges are looking for in essays. One of the most striking differences was between successful Harvard and Stanford essays. (AdmitSee had 539 essays from Stanford and 393 from Harvard at the time of this interview, but more trickle in every day.) High-achieving high schoolers frequently apply to both schools—often with the very same essay—but there are stark differences between what their respective admissions departments seem to want.
What Do You Call Your Parents?
The terms “father” and “mother” appeared more frequently in successful Harvard essays, while the term “mom” and “dad” appeared more frequently in successful Stanford essays.
Harvard Likes Downer Essays
AdmitSee found that negative words tended to show up more on essays accepted to Harvard than essays accepted to Stanford. For example, Shyu says that “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard,” and “tough” appeared more frequently on Harvard essays, while “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve” appeared more frequently in Stanford essays.
This also had to do with the content of the essays. At Harvard, admitted students tended to write about challenges they had overcome in their life or academic career, while Stanford tended to prefer creative personal stories, or essays about family background or issues that the student cares about. “Extrapolating from this qualitative data, it seems like Stanford is more interested in the student’s personality, while Harvard appears to be more interested in the student’s track record of accomplishment,” Shyu says.
With further linguistic analysis, AdmitSee found that the most common words on Harvard essays were “experience,” “society,” “world,” “success,” “opportunity.” At Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
What the Other Ivies Care About
It turns out, Brown favors essays about volunteer and public interest work, while these topics rank low among successful Yale essays. In addition to Harvard, successful Princeton essays often tackle experiences with failure. Meanwhile, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania tend to accept students who write about their career aspirations. Essays about diversity—race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—tend to be more popular at Stanford, Yale, and Brown.
Based on the AdmitSee’s data, Dartmouth and Columbia don’t appear to have strong biases toward particular essay topics. This means that essays on many subjects were seen favorably by the admissions departments at those schools. However, Shyu says that writing about a moment that changed the student’s life showed up frequently in essays of successful applicants to those schools.
Risk-Taking Pays Off
One general insight is that students who take risks with the content and the structure of their college essays tend to be more successful across the board. One student who was admitted to several top colleges wrote about his father’s addiction to pornography and another wrote about a grandparent who was incarcerated, forcing her mother to get food stamps illegally. Weird formats also tend to do well. One successful student wrote an essay tracking how his credit card was stolen, making each point of the credit card’s journey a separate section on the essay and analyzing what each transaction meant. Another’s essay was a list of her favorite books and focused on where each book was purchased.
“One of the big questions our users have is whether they should take a risk with their essay, writing about something that reveals very intimate details about themselves or that takes an unconventional format,” Shyu says. “What we’re finding is that successful essays are not ones that talk about an accomplishment or regurgitate that student’s résumé . The most compelling essays are those that touch on surprising personal topics.”
Of course, one caveat here is that taking a risk only makes sense if the essay is well-executed. Shyu says that the content and structure of the story must make a larger point about the applicant, otherwise it does not serve a purpose. And it goes without saying that the essay must be well-written, with careful attention paid to flow and style.
Shyu says that there are two major takeaways that can be taken from the company’s data. The first is that it is very valuable for applicants to tailor their essays for different schools, rather than perfecting one essay and using it to apply to every single school. The second is that these essays can offer insight into the culture of the school. “The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu says. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
A final tip? If you want to go to Harvard and write about your parents, make sure to address them as “mother” and “father.”