Elementary & Jr. High Essay Writing Review and Testing Tips March 11, 2010
You and your students have worked hard on writing all year… and now it’s time to make sure it gets all the credit it deserves. Sometimes mandated writing rubrics can have harsh consequences… because sometimes fantastic writing misses the mark when it comes to the rubric.
The goal here is to not only to improve overall writing skills but also to hit a bull’s-eye when it comes to the writing rubric. Almost all writing rubrics will contain the basic topics found here.
1. Address the writing prompt and stay on target:
• How on target is the writing? What is being asked for in the prompt?
• Do the titles for your students’ essays contain any words from the writing prompt?
• Are the words used in the writing prompt sprinkled throughout the essay?
• How can the writing be on target if students don’t use any of the words from the writing prompt in either the title or the essay?
2. Make sure students have an understanding of big picture essay structure and organization. Their essay needs to demonstrate a clear beginning, middle and ending. Students need to have an understanding of how paragraphs flow throughout an essay:
• Introduction – Idea 1 – Idea 2 – Idea 3 – Conclusion
• Introduction – First – Then – Finally – Conclusion
• Introduction – Cause – Effect – Conclusion
• Introduction – Cause/Effect #1 – Cause/Effect #2 – Conclusion
• Introduction – Cause #1 – Effect #1 – Cause #2 – Effect #2 – Conclusion
• Introduction – Problem – Solution – Conclusion (See Cause/Effect for more variations)
• Introduction – Similarities – Differences – Conclusion (See Cause/Effect for more variations)
• Once Upon a Time – Rising Action – Rising Action – Climax – and They (or I) Lived Happily Ever After
3. Plan, Write, and Revise – Students must allow at least a little time for each of these. Cover the concept of breaking up their allowed time. (Plan 15% Write 70% Revise 15%) If students don’t spend at least a little time in each area, it’s unlikely their writing will be as good as it can be.
4. Sentence Varity – A simple way to bring about sentence variety is to focus on how sentences start. It’s amazing how quickly these simple and fun sentence starting patterns can transform student writing. Kids like them. They bring a lot of rhythm, flow, and beauty to language… without a lot of rules.
Nine Fun Ways to Start Sentences
1. -ly Beginnings - Surprisingly, my parents liked the clubhouse I had built in our backyard.
2. Prepositional Phrase Beginnings – Beyond the moon, laid infinite possibilities for exploration.
3. Two Adverb Beginnings - Fast and furious, the little mouse scurried towards the cake.
4. Two Adjective Beginnings- Beautiful and elegant, the princess bride descended the stairs.
5. -ing Beginnings - Falling down the garbage chute, Billy started to wonder if he had made a wise decision.
6. -ing in the Middle - I brought my secret stash of money to the fair, hoping no one would stop me from spending every last cent of it.
7. Balanced Sentence Structure (Items in a series/ Parallel structure) – Eating ice-cream, watching TV, and wrestling tigers may be fun… but they are not healthy activities.
8. Appositives (Insert information or explanation) – Shark Cove, the place where all the sharks hang out, is not a place I like to go swimming.
9. Dependent Clauses – After the storm had ended, the sun began to break through the cloudy gloom.
5. Don’t Mix First Person and Third Person – The way students begin their writing is the way they will need to finish their writing. It’s best if students make a conscious choice right at the beginning of their essay. However, this is often doesn’t happen. Late in the essay process, it’s often better if students simply focus on how they began their essay and continue forward using that same point of view.
Student started with third person:
• “More and more people are developing a deep concern for protecting the environment.”
• “The government has started to enforce stricter environmental laws.”
Student wants to switch to first person:
• “I feel it is a person’s duty to help protect the environment.”
• “Everyone in my family recycles.”
Student should continue with third person:
• “Many people feel it is a person’s duty to help protect the environment.”
• “Studies show that more and more families are recycling.”
6. More Random Tips:
• Make sure the introduction contains a clear thesis statement. A thesis statement is a clear, explicit statement defining the purpose of the essay.
• Along with a clear thesis… see if you can also have a clear “hook.” (Curiosity, pose a question, pose a challenge, or pose a problem.)
• Have specific transitions between paragraphs. It’s best if there is some variety in the transitions.
• Students should demonstrate that they know who their audience is. Language, vocabulary, and tone all reveal who the author is talking to.
• Demonstrate purpose. Using the words “persuade” and “inform” can be a bit obvious, but they are effective. Have students consider all the possible synonyms they can use to be secretly effective. (Convince, facts, knowledge, information, data, report, statistics…)
• Give relevant supporting details. What’s relevant? Give value with every detail. Eliminate everything that does not give value.
• Details support, prove, clarify, explain, and give information about the topic sentences. If all else fails… focus on “prove it.” For centuries kids have said “prove it.” Having to prove something makes sense to them. “I had fun at the park.” Prove it. “Okay. I went with my best friend. We played soccer. My mom made a great picnic. I REST MY CASE.”
• Do not make the details sound like a list.
• Have the conclusion readdress the prompt and more explicitly state the thesis.
• Uses Standard English grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure. Use formal language. Students are not talking to their buddy out on the playground.
• Don’t repeat ideas and sentences. Each sentence communicates a unique idea.
• Don’t generalize. Compare “Peace would be good.” Vs. “Elimination of all war, hatred, and intolerance would be fantastic.”
• Have paragraphs end with a conclusion sentence. Beginning, middle ending… beginning, middle…
• Don’t add new information in the conclusion.
• Every sentence should either be “simple and concise” or “a work of art.” Alternate between these two types of sentences.
• Write neat!