For Teachers

5 Tips for Teachers Assigning Essays to High School Students

By The Room 241 Team November 7, 2012

Essay assignments are a nightmare for many high school students. The fear of essay writing is often the result of not fully understanding the purpose of an essay or the writing process for completing one. A helpful tactic when teaching essay writing is to start with essay concepts, which may help to reduce the student’s apprehension.

What kind of essay should students write?

There are several types of essays and it’s important to explain the kind essay you wish the student to create. This clarity helps the student focus on techniques specific to that essay type. Is this to be a persuasive essay to bring the reader into agreement with the author on a topic? If so, then students should understand how to present a thesis and the supporting evidence behind it. These two concepts can be taught in separate classes since they are complicated issues to understand.

If you are assigning a narrative essay then the process of describing an experience becomes important. The students learn how to establish a setting, with a plot and characters, much as in fiction writing. Unlike fiction, the purpose of this type of essay is to make a point instead of entertain.

Because these two essay genres have quite different purposes, it is good to work with one until students are comfortable before moving to the other type. The knowledge of both of these types of essays will serve the student well when applying for college, performing their college-level work or later when applying for jobs.

Teach how to outline

A typical classroom scenario is assigning an essay to a roomful of high school students and then watching them stare at a blank sheet of paper. At this point in their education, the words may not come easily and they need a tool to get them started. Teaching good outlining techniques gives the student a way to organize random thoughts into a structure.

A useful outline for a persuasive essay might be:

  • State the thesis
  • Present Topic No. 1
  • Present the supportive evidence for Topic No. 1
  • Present Topic No. 2
  • Present the supportive evidence for Topic No. 2
  • Present Topic No. 3
  • Present the supportive evidence for Topic No. 3
  • Summarize the thesis

Discuss what information is a fit for each section and what is not. A verifiable fact that supports the thesis might be appropriate while an anecdote may not.

Using class time to write

Have the students spend some time in class working on their essays. This gives you a chance to observe and comment on the students’ process. Good examples can be highlighted to the class so they learn by the scenario. Questionable examples or ones that the student is “on the fence” about can be posed to the class for discussion.

Your presence while the students write is as an authoritative resource, something they may not have when writing at home, in the library or in study hall. This also facilitates a “learning as you go” environment which means the student need not fully understand a concept before continuing to write.

Teach the mechanics

High school students rarely have the opportunity to practice writing essays over and over to develop expertise. By focusing on the structure and how to assemble thoughts on the paper, you give the student a foundation on which to build their skills. Practicing the use of good essay structure frees up the student to begin to think about content.

Introduce and reinforce creativity

Along with the mechanics, encourage students to be original and creative in their work. High school students may still look outside of themselves for content when they already have a wealth of information within from which to draw. Show them how to tap into their own experiences to create unique content. Explain the use of anecdotes and metaphors. Give examples of good openers and summaries. This promotes more ownership of the words than if they are left to rewrite other content they have found.

Teaching essay styles and techniques to high school students helps reduce their fear of writing exercises. It gives students tools they will use in college and throughout their adult lives. It teaches them good writing habits and why writing is so important.

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