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The Teaching Essay Strategies Program

Teaching Essay Strategies

In my first year of teaching, I assigned a group of eighth grade students what I thought was a rather straight-forward assignment: a five paragraph essay on the causes of the Civil War. I had brilliantly lectured on the three chief causes of the war and so had high expectations that my students would be able to both regurgitate my content and then analyze with a modicum of creative thought. I even was kind enough to jot down this brief organizational structure on the board: Paragraphs: #1 Introduction #2 First Cause #3 Second Cause #4 Third Cause #5 Conclusion. Stop laughing.

The results were not as I expected. Most students came up with five paragraphs. Well, at least they were indented. The introductory paragraph largely consisted of either “In this essay I’m going to talk about the chief causes of the Civil War” or “Once upon a time there was a great Civil War.” The body paragraphs briefly summarized their notes on what I had said. The concluding paragraph largely consisted of “In this essay I talked about the chief causes of the Civil War.” The structure was relatively easy to master, but there was no analysis. The students had no clue about what to put into an introduction and a conclusion. I confess I had no clue either. I could “do them” (at least my college professors seemed to think so), but I certainly could not “teach them.”

Many intermediate, middle, and high school teachers fall into the same trap. Our content papers, on-demand writing fluencies, and standardized tests push us to teach the various domains (genres) of essays as end-products. We wind up teaching these structures, but fail to scaffold the essay strategies that enable students to write coherently with originality and authentic voices. Let’s spend more time on the process, rather than on the product, with respect to essay instruction and practice. It’s hard and sometimes tedious work for students and teacher, but the pay-off is worth the effort.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How to Teach Essay Strategies

Coaching writing, especially essay strategies, is a lot like coaching football. Ask any football coach what wins football games and you are likely to get practice as the answer. Football coaches live for the conditioning, the blocking sled, the tackle practice, and the omnipresent videotape. Perhaps we ELA teachers should take a page from our coaches’ playbooks and be a bit more process-centered. Now, I’m not talking about the writing process; I’m talking about teaching the essay strategies that will prepare students for the big game.

What is the Essay Counterclaim?

As is often the case, instructional writing terminology can be confusing and there is no consensus as to a common language of instruction. Regarding the essay counterclaim, which words mean exactly what? Whichever words are used, most writing teachers would agree that the opposing point of view should be somehow acknowledged and responded to in an argumentative essay. 

Why Use an Essay Counterclaim?

Why use an essay counterclaim? Aren’t we always taught never to argue against our own thesis? Why give the enemy (the opposite point of view) ammunition (acknowledgement and evidence)? The counterclaim can be defined as the opposing point of view to one’s thesis. It is also commonly known as the counterargument. A counterclaim is always followed by a refutation, which is often referred to as a rebuttal. The Common Core State Standards  for grades 7-12 include the counterclaim in the argumentative essay (W. 1.0).

Where to Put the Essay Counterclaim

Where is the best place to put the essay counterclaim? Five placements serve different purposes within the argumentative essay.

Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames

Transitions within the counterclaim paragraph are extremely important to master in order to create clear connections between the counterclaim and refutation. Check out these sentence frames to teach your students the counterargument and rebuttal.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

This article discusses the important differences between a fact and a claim. Plus, learn how knowing the differences should affect your teaching the argumentative essay.

Why Using Essay e-Comments Makes Sense

Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Check out a common sense approach to save you grading time and do a better job of writer response.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

Many teachers take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Work smarter, not harder, while focusing on efficiency and outcomes.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while doing a better job providing essay response.

438 Essay e-Comments

The Pennington Manual of Style, sold as a separate product and also as part of the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program, enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

The Parts of an Essay

We confuse students about the parts of an essay by the labels we use. The problem is compounded by the fact that students are exposed to many different teachers, each with a different knowledge base, a different set of teaching experiences, and a different language of instruction. One solution is to eliminate the labels and substitute a simple numerical code.

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

So, to summarize how many essay comments and what kind, writing research would suggest the following: Comment on rough drafts, not final drafts. Limit the amount of comments and individualize those to the needs of the student writer. Balance the types of comments between writing errors and issues of style, argument, structure, and evidence. Hold students accountable for each mark or comment. Comments are better than diacritical marks alone. Comments should explain what is wrong or explain the writing issue.

How to Write an Introduction

Few teachers know how to teach essay introductions. Simply stating a “hook” or a “lead” and then stating the thesis make a rather weak introductory paragraph. The article shares the best strategies to include in an essay introduction in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write a Conclusion

Few teachers know how to teach essay conclusions. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing make a rather weak conclusion. The article shares the best strategies to include in a conclusion in a memorable and easy-to-understand format.

How to Write Body Paragraphs

Writing good body paragraphs is more than using proper paragraph structure. That structure should also provide the evidence to develop the points of the essay. A variety of evidence is necessary to convince the reader of your thesis. This article teaches how to write effective body paragraphs with eight different types of evidence. Check out the memorable FE SCALE CC strategies.

How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

Many developing writers get lost in the jargon of writing instruction. Simplify the terms and anyone can write a well-structured multi-paragraph essay. Using an intuitive numerical system, this easy-to-understand and teach system of essay development will quickly take writers from complete sentences to the five-paragraph essay and beyond. It just makes sense.

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

How to Write a Summary

Learning how to write a summary is a valuable skill. California even includes the summary as a writing application on its CST writing exam. Learning how to teach what is andwhat is not a summary may be even more valuable. A summary is the one writing application that focuses equally on what should be included and what should not be included.

How to Teach Transitions

Transition words are essential ingredients of coherent writing. Using transition words is somewhat of a writing science. Teachers can “teach” the nuts and bolts of this science. However,  using transition words is also somewhat of a refined art.  Matters of writing style don’t “come naturally” to most writers. With targeted practice, students can learn to incorporate transitions as important features of their own writing styles.

How to Teach Thesis Statements

The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. Learn how to teach the thesis statement and get three thesis statement worksheets to help your students practice.

How to Teach Proofreading Strategies

Writers make errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of quotes, paragraphs, usage, and word choice for a variety of reasons. Effective proofreading strategies can help writers find and make corrections to improve their writing.

How to Teach Students to Write in Complete Sentences

Developing writers often have problems writing in complete sentences. Three teaching techniques will help your students write coherent and complete sentences.

How to Write Complex Sentences

Writers can increase the maturity of their writing by learning how to convert simple sentences into complex sentences. The article uses easy-to-understand language and clear examples to help developing writers.

Writer’s Handbook | The Pennington Manual of Style

I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. Pennington Publishing’s The Pennington Manual of Style enables teachers to download a comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

Teaching Essay Strategies

Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to teach both the writing process essays and the accompanying writing strategies.

How to Teach Writing Skills

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.


Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” have preoccupied educational researchers and teacher-practitioners for nearly five decades. Much like the soldiers along the Western Front in World War I, we have settled down into our fixed positions and rarely leave our trenches to skirmish anymore. An occasional Krashen or Adams volley may occasionally wake us up, but no one really wants to go back into “No Man’s Land” for extending fighting. In fact, much of where we are today reminds me of the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the opposing German and British soldiers join in the singing of Christmas carols and crawl out of their trenches to exchange gifts and greetings.

Now I may be over-extending my metaphor a bit, but teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness/phonics or reading to learn; no one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process with Writers Workshop. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced reading program makes sense. In this article, I will attempt to make the case that a balanced writing program also makes sense. First, I will list 21 Curricular Assumptions that most of us would accept about writing instruction to build a consensus. Then, I will detail six steps to take to ensure a balanced and effective writing program in any classroom.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions about a Balanced Writing Program

1. Teaching and practicing the stages of the writing process through writing process papers in various genre is important. The writing process is not rigid, however. Writers compose differently. Word processing has certainly reinforced these differences. For example, some revise and edit after drafting; some do so during drafting.

2. Teaching and practicing specific writing strategies/skills in short writing pieces, such as “Quick Writes,” is also valuable.

3. Students vary in their writing abilities and have different writing skill-sets. Simply teaching grade-level standards in writing strategies and applications (process pieces) is not enough. Certainly, we teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” with grade-level expectations and new instruction and also “catch them up” with additional targeted practice in their writing deficiencies. Teachers see the value in diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in which writing skills. Yes, we need to differentiate our writing instruction.

4. The reading-writing connection much be taught explicitly. We learn reading from writing, but we also learn writing from reading. For example, teaching expository text structure is both reading comprehension and an essay strategy. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive.

5. Good writing instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need to review, but also do new. As teachers review, writing foundations are solidified and depth of understanding increases. For example, first graders work on sentence construction, but so should high school seniors.

6. Teaching content is an essential ingredient to teaching writing. Writing is a constructive thinking process, built on prior knowledge. Time spent teaching critical thinking skills, such as errors in reasoning, is time spent teaching writing.

7. Vocabulary development is an important component of writing instruction. Knowing the meanings of words and how to properly use them cannot be confined to a revision task such as substituting boring or over-used words with “cool words” found in a thesaurus. Teaching Greek and Latinates, semantic shades of meaning, idiomatic expressions, etc. are all components of solid writing instruction.

8. Explicit grammatical instruction (sentence components, word choice, usage, word order) should be more than just error analysis or correction. Daily Oral Language is certainly not the answer. Teaching grammar and mechanics rules/proper usage in the context of targeted lessons that integrate this instruction with student writing is appropriate. For example, teaching a prepositional phrase and then following instruction with writing practice in which students use prepositional phrases as grammatical sentence openers makes sense. Grammar and mechanics cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills.

9. Spelling matters and requires direct instruction, even throughout high school. The spelling-vocabulary connection is well-established and needs to be taught in the context of word study (including derivatives and etymological influences), syllabication, and conventional spelling rules. Spell check did not suddenly make orthographical study passé.

10. Revision is the key to writing improvement. Revision requires direct instruction to teach sentence manipulation, sentence combining, sentence variety, and precision of word choice. Revision requires focused tasks in the writing process to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange ideas to afford writers alternative means of expression. Hemingway completely re-wrote the last chapter in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 39 different ways. There must be something to this revision stuff.

11. Authentic writing tasks that are relevant and meaningful to students motivate quality writing, especially when the writing will be published in a venue that students care about.

12. Teaching rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form produces significant writing pay-offs. Writing style can be modeled, mimicked, and developed over time.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in vocabulary and grammar impacts writing ability. ESL students need differentiated instruction to bridge language barriers.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be matched with the “guide on the side.”

15. Teaching structured writing makes sense to focus on writing organization and unity. However, form and purpose dictate structure, so structural straight-jackets can be counter-productive, if pressed into service for every writing task.

16.  There are certain writing rules that are worth teaching.  Of course, rules are specific to each writing form. Indenting paragraphs, writing in complete sentences, and the like add to writing coherency.

17.  Writing coherency should be the ultimate goal of any writing task.

18. Teaching grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing strategies are more than just test prep. These skills require teaching and practice, not testing. Fortunately, quality instruction and practice in these writing components will result in higher test scores.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Good writing instruction helps students learn to distrust their oral language as a grammatical filter. Authentic writing voice is not the same as playground banter.

20. Writing fluency is a worthy goal; however, contrived on-demand writing for the purpose of writing lots of words in a given time does not achieve that end.

21. Teaching writing shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. We have other fish to fry as well.

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program in Six Steps

1. Develop a Writing Plan

Establish a comprehensive writing scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general grade-level state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, mechanics, spelling instruction, specific writing strategies, writing genre, and writing process pieces into a multi-year plan. An specific writing scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach.

2. Direct Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the grammar, mechanics, and spelling skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Find resources that will teach both sentence modeling and error analysis. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

3. Differentiated Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Also, assess students on their spelling skills. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Direct Writing Instruction

Allocate 10 minutes, 3 days per week, to direct instruction, sentence models, and guided writing practice in vocabulary development and sentence revision (sentence manipulation, sentence combining, and sentence variety) say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

5. Do Differentiated Writing Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the writing strategies/skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Design paragraph assignments to keep writing and review time manageable. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 3 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

6. Teach Process Papers

Teach and require students to compose at least one process paper per quarter, as dictated by your scope and sequence and grade-level standards. Not every process paper must include all steps of the Writing Process.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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