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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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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.

Writing Feedback Research

Writing Feedback Research

10 Reasons to Use the e-Comments Extension

10 Reasons to Use the e-Comments Extension

Insertable Canned Comments

Insertable Canned Comments

What is the Essay Counterclaim?

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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?

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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

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

Counterclaim and Refutation Sentence Frames

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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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/the-difference-between-claims-and-facts/

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.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

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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

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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.

The Parts of an Essay

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/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.

Teaching Essay Strategies

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/teaching-essay-strategies-2/

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

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/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.

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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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Teaching Essay Style: 15 Tricks of the Trade

“Never start a sentence with But.” Countless middle school and high school English-language arts teachers cringe when their students faithfully repeat this elementary school dictum. “Never use I in your five-paragraph essay.” Now university professors similarly cringe and shake their heads at the straight-jacketed rules placed upon their students. However, maybe there is a method to our madness. Perhaps these writing absolutes serve a useful purpose for coaching developing writers. Perhaps the little white lies that we teach our students are actually our tricks of the trade.

Instead of bemoaning past “bad writing instruction,” we should celebrate the fact that our students did remember these rules. After all, writing teachers of all levels are always shocked at how little transfer students make from grade to grade or from course to course. Anything that students retain from previous writing instruction can be used by resourceful teachers as “teachable moments.” Perhaps it’s time that we trust our colleagues that they understand best what works for their students at their age levels.

Teaching all of the seemingly arbitrary rules and enforcing them in student writing practice makes sense. As writers mature, 7-12 English-language arts teachers and university professors can encourage “rule breaking” with sly nods and winks. Without knowing the rules, developing writers cannot make informed choices about which ones to break and when they should break them to serve their writing purposes. In fact, the best writers are rule-breakers. E.B. White revised and updated Strunk’s Bible of writing style, yet he consistently chose to break the rules in his own writing. He knew enough to consciously deviate from the norm.

Writing teachers should worry more when their students unconsciously deviate from the norm. Of course, other forms of prose and poetry have their own stylistic rules to learn and break. But this article will concentrate on those of the essay. So, following is a list of the Teaching Essay Style: 15 Tricks of the Trade.

  1. Require students to write in a formal voice. No figures of speech, slang, clichés, abbreviations, flowery language, or contractions. Teach them to dress in a tuxedo or bridesmaid dress when they are in a wedding, not baggy pants or skinny jeans with flip-flops.
  2. Teach students to write in third person. It’s not that the I is inappropriate in all essays. The problem is that the use of the I requires a sophisticated rationale and limited usage. For example, qualitative research requires the I; however, quantitative research does not. Let the post-graduate supervising professors teach their students to break this rule. Furthermore, the “no I rule” forces a certain degree of objectivity and requires students to focus on the subject, rather than on the writer. These are the real concerns of K-12 and university professors.
  3. Teach students not to use their to reference singular non-gender nouns. Approving such sentences as “The student likes their classes” transfers to other more egregious pronoun reference problems as in “Those desk in the back of our room belong to them guy.” Also, no one likes reading he/she, him or her, s/he or the like. It does make sense to teach students to pluralize when at all possible, but the use of he or she throughout (please don’t alternate!) is no crime.
  4. Teach students to vary their sentence structures. “Never more than two simple sentences back-to-back and never follow a complex sentence with another complex sentence” will increase readability. “Have no more than 50% of your sentences follow the subject-verb-complement pattern” helps students focus on sentence variety.”
  5. “No more than one to-be verb per paragraph” will force students to avoid passive voice and strengthen nouns and verbs.
  6. Require your students to write in complete sentences. “No declarative sentences beginning with but, and, or, so, like, because, how, when, where, or why, unless you finish them” reduces fragments.
  7. “No unparallel verb structures” helps eliminate verb tense errors and awkward writing. For example, “Going to the store, to get some gas, and maybe have a cup of coffee are appearing on my agenda for today” can be eliminated with this rule.
  8. Require transitions between paragraphs. Sophisticated writers may have no need, but your students do to write coherent essays.
  9. Teach your students to choose simple words, not their weekly vocabulary words. Precision is better than pomposity.
  10. Demand specificity and do not permit generalizations, except in conclusions.
  11. Don’t allow your students to make parenthetical remarks. Most misuse these.
  12. Never allow repetition for emphasis. Developing writers do not have the skills to use this rhetorical strategy properly.
  13. Never allow double negatives. Students will confuse their readers.
  14. Teach students not to over-state evidence and to limit their conclusions.
  15. Teach students to place pronoun references close to their subjects to avoid ambiguity and dangling modifiers.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision andrhetorical 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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