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How to Teach the Essay Conclusion

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Few teachers feel comfortable teaching students how to write a conclusion paragraph for an essay. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing the main points of an essay make a rather weak conclusion. In a related article on How to Teach the Essay Introduction, I compare the essay introduction to a prosecuting attorney’s opening statements. Using the same courtroom scene, the essay conclusion can be compared to the attorney’s closing arguments.

If the prosecuting attorney followed his high school English teacher’s advice to “give a finished feel to the essay” by adding a conclusion paragraph that re-states the thesis and summarizes the main points, the closing arguments would be as follows:

“As I said in my opening statement, the defendant is guilty of grand theft auto. The fingerprints on the stolen car, the DNA evidence on the driver’s seat, and the two eyewitnesses conclusively prove the defendant to be guilty.”

Most defense attorneys would relish following such a weak closing argument with their own more effective closing arguments.

It’s not that re-stating the thesis and providing a summary of main points are poor conclusion strategies… The point is that by themselves, they do not accomplish the purpose of an essay conclusion paragraph: to analytically comment, synthesize, and make judgments about the evidence presented in the body paragraphs.

Plus, the conclusion strategies which work for some essays will not work for all essays. Teachers need to teach a variety of conclusion strategies, so that student writers can match the appropriate strategies to the essay topic and evidence presented. Formulaic conclusions often wind up trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

The following conclusion strategies will help you learn how to teach the essay conclusion strategies which are appropriate to the writing task.

Conclusion Strategies GQ SALE SC

Generalization-Broadens a specific point of the essay into a more general focus.

Example: The issue of state lawmakers refusing to vote on controversial issues by encouraging statewide votes brings up the question as to whether our system of representative democracy still serves a purpose.

Question for Further Study-Asks about a related topic or question that is relevant, but beyond the focus of the essay.

Example: If concussions present such a danger to professional football players, why do schools and communities continue to support youth football?

Statement of Significance-States why the proven thesis statement is important or relevant.

Example: With the extinction of one species, the web of nature may be disrupted in unexpected ways.

Application-Applies the proven thesis statement to another idea or issue.

Example: If celebrities and politicians are excused from the consequences of lying to authorities, students may assume that lying to their parents or teacher should be excused as well.

Argument Limitations-Explains how or why your conclusions are limited.

Example: Although the evidence clearly suggests that the student cheated on this test, it does not prove that the student  cheated on previous tests.

Emphasis of Key Point-Repeats specific evidence and explains why it is the most convincing or important evidence.

Example: Most importantly, slavery caused the Civil War because it was the one division between the North and the South which could no longer be compromised.

Summary Statement-Lists the main points of the essay.

Example: Her natural talent, work ethic, and luck contributed to her surprising success.

Call to Action- Challenges the reader to take a stand, make a difference, or get involved.

Example: The evidence suggests that public protest may stop this abuse of the mayor’s power. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Conclusions

Do…

  • Re-state the thesis as the first sentence in your conclusion paragraph. Although redundant and unnecessary in a short argumentative or informational-explanatory essay, the audience (the reader) expects to be reminded of the thesis and the re-statement signals the concluding paragraph.
  • Use the GQ SALE SC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph informational-explanatory essay on trending ice cream flavors would not include a Statement of Significance or Call to Action; however, an argumentative essay on changing the electoral college system of electing the President certainly could use these strategies.
  • Comment on and evaluate evidence. For example, not all evidence is equally convincing. Commenting on the quality of evidence and prioritizing evidence is a mark of good scholarship and writing.
  • Synthesize and apply evidence. For example, “The combination of unseasonably warm storms and lack of levee maintenance contributed to the flooding.” The sum of the evidence parts can be greater than the whole.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer. Instead, use qualified modifiers such as maymightprobably, most likely, generally, etc.
  • Simply repeat. A cleverly worded thesis re-statement will transition to the analysis, insights, and judgments of an effective conclusion paragraph. Even the Summary Statement should be selective, not repetitive.
  • Add new evidence. For example, the conclusion paragraph is not the place to add on “forgot to mention” or “Additionally” or “one more” statements.
  • Begin the conclusion paragraph with unnecessary transitions. Avoid phrases like “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These phrases can be useful–even welcome–in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You’ll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious (Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University).

The Big Picture

Think of an essay conclusion as a vital part of demonstrating how you have proven your point of view in an argumentative essay or achieved the purpose of your essay in an informational-essay.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Conclusion Strategies in your classroom?

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Get this resource plus 8 complete writing process essays (4 argumentative and 4 informational-explanatory) with accompanying readings, 42 sequenced writing strategy worksheets, 64 sentence revision lessons, additional remedial worksheets, writing fluency and skill lessons, posters, and editing resources in Teaching Essay Strategies. Also get the e-comments download of 438 writing comments to improve written response and student revisions (works great with Microsoft Word and Google Docs).

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