Thoughts on Teaching Essay Writing

Some teachers often seem concerned with essay types. They ask, ”What kind of essay is it?” And they practice types of essay with their students; writing to a recipe.

This is the wrong approach.

The correct approach is to ask ”What is the question asking us to do?”

And to respond to the question within some basic essay form constraints.

The Form of Essays

The essay form constraints are:

An essay has to have:

  • A clear introduction which tells us what the essay is about and how the writer will approach the question.
  • Separate body paragraphs which deal, in a logical order, with the issues required by the question. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. Each paragraph should deal with one aspect of the question.
  • A clear conclusion as a separate paragraph which summaries and balances the argument and, if required, makes the writer’s opinion on the issue clear.

These form features are shared by all essay forms. There might be other requirements if it is an academic essay for example, but a standard examination essay response will just require these features.

Teaching Essay Writing

Once students understand these required features then they should focus on understanding essay questions, planning out their response so it conforms to these constraints and exhibits these features, and then writing their response.

So, students need to be introduced to these features in the first place, learn about cohesive devices which need to work in support of the coherence, and then learn how to answer different questions by writing lots of essays!