Tips for Teachers: How to Explain Essay Writing to Your Students

As an educator, you have a responsibility to motivate your students to acquire skills that are necessary for their progress. In college, they will have to write a great number of challenging papers, assignments, reports, and other types of academic content. You have a mission to teach them how to express their thoughts clearly in the form of an essay.

How to Explain Essay Writing to Your Students

Unfortunately, that’s not an easy goal to achieve. Teachers need to implement a strategy that will bring the principles of essay writing closer to the student’s understanding. When explaining the process of academic writing, you need teach your students how to cover each step.

Basic Principles of Academic Writing

Defining a topic

Some teachers like to assign topics, but it’s recommended to allow your students to express their creativity right from the start.

In order to think of a clear topic that will enable them to write an elaborate discussion, your students will first need to conduct a research. Allow your students to use online sources, but instruct them to rely on facts, not opinions. Explain the methods your students can use to find reliable resources. Offer practical research tactics and show how they can use the information wisely in their own content.

Learning from examples

It is impossible to teach your students how to write papers through theory. You need to show them how a brilliant essay looks like. Do you have your own piece of academic writing you’re particularly proud of? Use it as an example! You can also show an essay written by one of your former students who understood what academic writing was all about.

Writing with a purpose

Explain to your students that an essay is not about writing repetitive sentences with general information. Once the student chooses a topic, he should define the purpose of the discussion and lead all sentences towards a clear point.

Constructing an outline

One of the most important parts of the academic writing process is the outline. You should give a practical lesson of creating an outline. Make a list of points you would elaborate on that topic, and show what arguments you would use. That will help your students understand that it’s easier to write the paper if they first prepare its basic construction.

The writing process

This is the most challenging part of your job. Your students should understand what the introduction, body, and conclusion of the essay are supposed to contain. Creativity is very important, so make sure you allow some space for them to express that side. Listen to their suggestions and discuss different opinions.

Useful Resources for Essay Writing

In order to make the entire process of writing easier for your students, you should suggest some tools that will help them stay focused and get the inspiration they need. Here is a selection of tools that have been proven to work well for students:

Essay Map by ReadWriteThink is a free tool that enables your students to create an outline within minutes. Instead of writing a confusing outline in their notebooks, they will be able to add more appeal to this stage through the structured map available at the website.

NinjaEssays is an online paper writing service that enables you to order any type of academic content or get your own papers edited. If you cannot find an example of a perfect essay on the given topic, the professional writers at this website can complete it for you. That’s the best way to show a great piece of content that will motivate your students to write better.

Strict Workflow is a Chrome extension that forces your students to get back to writing by disabling them to access YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other distracting websites when they need to focus on writing.

501 Writing Prompts is an eBook that offers great writing prompts for persuasive, expository, narrative, and literary response essays. When your students are stuck with their papers, they can get the inspiration they need from these creative prompts.

The Writing Center of UNC College of Arts & Sciences is a useful resource not only for your students, but for you as well. The free online resources offer free advice on how to write different types of academic content.


ShowMe and Google Forms

Last week, I wrote on this blog about the advantages of using Google Forms with your ShowMe videos. Well, I must say that Google Forms is a powerful intuitive tool for the classroom. Even if you are not in a 1:1 school (with iPads or computers), Google Forms presents an opportunity to get real time information from students not delayed through exit slips or problem sets. The common question that I think that lingers is how are the students responding if you are not using iPads or computers; the answer is smartphones (and it doesn’t matter the operating system or carrier of the phone.) If you have a class website, links can be set up so that students can respond to questions or you can send students emails with the link of the form so that students can respond at the end of the class period or complete questions for homework while watching their ShowMe or simply completing their reading of various materials.

The reason that I mentioned these applications two weeks in a row, even though most people may already be using Google Forms, is that it is important that teachers receive data (which is an important part of the Common Core) and use it to meet the learning needs of their students. On a recent episode of 60 minutes, Kahn Academy was highlighted for the use of formative data to help teachers create a customized learning experience for each student, but what was at the heart of Kahn Academy was a program that allowed teachers to see precisely where the students were in their learning and the teacher could then direct the classroom based on the needs of students instead of creating a one size fits all curriculum approach. Why wait for Kahn, when the program already exists with Google Forms, especially since cash-strapped districts are not going to purchase expensive software, teachers need to plan what they want their students to know, understand and be able to do with the content of their ShowMe or their classroom and develop a form to help collect the data so that every student learns. Then with the data tailor lessons that meet the needs of every student in the classroom and the best part is the fact that it does not add any more planning time. By creating ShowMe lessons and assessing students knowledge with Google Forms, you are creating a truly enriching experience that benefits every student in the classroom.


The Meaning of Poker Chips

1997-98 was my first year as a teacher. I worked at a private school in Cincinnati as the middle school intern. I still consider that year to be the most important year of my professional life because it left no doubt in me that choosing education for my career was the absolutely right choice. I haven’t regretted that decision since, even on the difficult days. That year was also my introduction to Richard Lavoie and his philosophy on the importance of self esteem on learners called, “When the Chips are Down.” Mr. Lavoie compares self esteem of a student (his focus is on students with learning difficulties) to having poker chips. He believes the more “chips” one has, the more readily that student will take risks and grow.

I remember watching this video during my first year and then again in my second year teaching. My buddies and I quoted Lavoie often mocking the idea and telling each other things like, “you must not have many poker chips” or “that took a lot of poker chips to do that.” However, the idea resonated with me as one where I wanted to be a teacher who looked for ways to help kids gain or at least maintain their “poker chips” (self-esteem).

Conceptually, the analogy worked for me, even if it was a little sloppy. While comparing life to a poker game was not ideal, I did find that the idea a poker player with several chips would take risks that another player with only a few chips would not take seemed logical to what I had experienced in life. Confident students take risks that kids without confidence do not take. More importantly, kids with high self esteem can often take criticism more effectively then those with low esteem. The student with high esteem may look at a lower then expected score as a challenge for future work and strive to do better next time where the kid with low esteem may view it as a flaw in their character. Consequently, the kid with the inflated self esteem seems to struggle the most with constructive feedback as they are so used to being told their perfect that the feedback can be confusing and forces them to wonder if those telling them they’re perfect are right or wrong. It causes real tension in relationships between students, parents and teachers (and schools) when this is the case.

As teachers and parents, we have a lot of sway with our kids. We can give esteem, over-inflate it, or take it away in the way we talk (or not talk) to kids, in how we maintain patience with them, or when we allow them to take ownership in their learning and understanding. We have to be honest in our interactions or as this video shows, someone else will be brutally honest. Kids who are struggling need to know that they are struggling and need to be given tools to help them work through those struggles. Overcoming their difficulties will give them the kinds of self esteem that we want our kids to have. They’ll know that they can rely on themselves to solve problems, but they will also know that they can rely on your support to help them through those problems. In the end, it is that lesson that has ultimately guided my path as a teacher and now a parent. Plus, I’ve learned to be pretty good at beating my neighbors in poker.


My humble experience

I still remember my first lesson introducing ShowMe to my students. I had concerns; would students be able to connect to the website and watch the videos, would they like the videos, would they enjoy working on the subject via their laptops, etc. I was really excited;  this was my first time that I integrated this much of technology in my math lessons. Apart from the interactive whiteboard and the projector, which I displayed students’ progress, I had my Mac and my IPad to prepare not only worksheets, quizzes, etc, but videos! Also, I would not teach the whole time in my lessons anymore. Rather, I would have mini teaching sessions of 10-15 minutes for introduction and/or recalling purposes only, and then walk around students to check their progress and answer their questions; that was my dream.

laptops on, heads down, my students are working on the subject

If dreams match 100% with reality, we would not call them dreams. Generally speaking, what I planned just worked, I should admit. Students visited my website on their Macs, clicked on the links and watched the videos, and after understanding the subject, solved the questions / problems in the videos, and then showed their answers to me, and I marked them after checking. But there were about twenty of them, each calling me to ask a particular question about the subject, or to say that they did not understand the video, or they even could not connect the Internet, or they had no pencil / notebook, etc. Moreover, when I was answering questions or doing a mini teaching session to a student or a group of students, -not all but some- others tend to connect to Facebook or YouTube, or to play games. In the beginning, there was chaos.

Abdulla Mohamed is working hard

Gradually, everything started settling up. Each of us figured out what was going on, and adjusted ourselves to the ‘new order’. My dream almost came true; students were watching the videos, solving the questions and showed me the results, and I marked them. I was wandering around helping the students understand the subject better. And guess what; almost all of them were doing the classwork! They liked the videos such that they all learned the phrase I used at the end of my videos; solve and ShowMe!

There should be something wrong in that. No offence, ShowMe Crew, but my videos can not be that “magical”. And this time, my nightmare came true; the results of the first campus wide quiz were horrible, comparing to the classwork marks. For example, a student of mine, who failed in Term 1, completed about 80% of his classwork (wow!), yet his CWQ mark was 4 out of 20! And I had several more examples like that! About one fourth of my students showed no significant difference after I introduced ShowMe.

I started to observe what they were doing, and found out their strategy. Some of the students pretended to watch the video, until the sharp students show their answers. Then they copied those students’ work and came to me to get their marks.

How could I miss this? Probably because of my optimistic character; I believed they all would like the videos and study more than ever!!  Anyway, I should have planned an assessment system ASAP. After searching for several online quiz maker websites, I decided that I would go with the traditional paper-pencil method, because (a) those websites were lacking mathematical symbols to type, and they tend to support multiple-choice questions, rather than essay types, and (b) there was no exact way to know if a student answered an online quiz on his own. So, I added a 10-minute quiz session at the end of each period and stopped marking their classwork. I write questions for each video -generally 1 question/video- and ask the students to answer questions referring to the video/s they worked on. Then I mark the quizzes ASAP and record the progress in my table. Ones who answered correct can go on with the next videos. Ones who answered wrong work on additional materials; I give them extra worksheets. Then they try to answer a similar question referring to the same video. This is how they earn their marks.

I thought ‘the new order’ would encourage them, but it did not. What happened is, my classwork marks and my quiz results now match!

I have some success stories, though. I have some students who increased their marks significantly. One of them has never been able to get a two-digit mark out of 100 before, but he improved his marks gradually and the recent mark he has got is 90%. He is in top three of the class now. My successful students also increased their marks; because they like to work on the subject on their own, in silence. One of them, really smart but a problem child, is no more a problem to me. He turns on his music after watching the video, and then starts solving the questions.

I believe I made a good start, yet I have issues to solve. Next year, my school will move to a new campus, where teachers are said to have their own rooms. And another rumor is, students -and hopefully, teachers- will be given IPads instead of hard-copy books. I think I will be able to solve most of my issues and find new opportunities to improve what I do with ShowMe. On the other hand, I don’t want to re-discover America; so if you have similar experience or information, please share with me; charb74 (at) gmail (dot) c o m.


Caine’s Inspirational Arcade

Have you seen the video about Caine’s Arcade? It’s about a nine year old boy in Los Angeles who creates an arcade for customers at his father’s used auto parts store. The documentary is ten minutes long and talks about Caine’s creation and how he started the arcade as some of the games he’s developed. The story is engaging and interesting.

Two things stood out to me. Since this is a blog to promote technology in education, let me begin with that piece. The filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick is also Caine’s first customer. He is so inspired by Caine that he decides to make a short film about the arcade as a way to get the word out that it exists. What struck me was the way Mr. Mullick went about spreading the word, navigating social media to promote his idea. Watch the film to see what tools he uses and how effective they were.

The second thing that struck me was Caine’s resilience. Starting at 3:50 in the film, Caine’s father begins to talk about the clientele at the store. He shares that most of his sales come from online and very few people walk in the store, but Caine, despite getting no sales, prepares everyday for success. He sweeps the floors, organizes the prizes, dusts the games, promotes his business, and despite limited customers he continues to be upbeat and hopeful. At one point his father suggests that they could go home early since there seemed to be so few customers, but Caine simply refuses to leave early, he refuses to cut corners.

Some would call Caine’s attempt at making an arcade a failure, but he never stops preparing for success, which is a wonderful lesson that we could all use reminding. Caine is unwilling to accept failure, he doesn’t define success by the money he is making, but by the creation of the arcade and the solving of problems (see the part where he wants to buy a claw game to pick up prizes, but on his dad’s insistence he comes up with his own version of the game). The ingenuity and determination of Caine is inspirational and should be a lesson for all those who would give up on goals and dreams too soon, before it has the chance to grow. The lesson? Prepare for success, even when it’s off in the distance, because with perseverance, it’s coming.


A 100°F (38°C)-warm Hello from Abu Dhabi

One morning, Cynthia popped in my cubicle and said “Hey, look what I’ve found”. Since she had all her kids grown up, unlike me, with a 5-year-old-daughter sticking to me until bedtime, she had more time than me finding interesting gadgets in the Internet. With this in mind, I turned to my American colleague with envy, “What is it this time?”. That was the moment I met ShowMe.

That night, I did not sleep until I finished my first four videos. I was so excited that I could not go to bed before uploading the links to my course “web”site, which literally had webs all over. And after a couple of hours of sleep, I rushed to school and introduced ShowMe to my students. My course website came alive as I shot more videos and uploaded links, announcements and other materials. And in one-and-a-half month time, I had a total of 17 thousand hits for my 30+ videos.

This is not a success story, or I am not trying to show off, as I still could not be able to show a significant increase in the students’ marks. Yet, I think, this is not the only way I can tell the change in my students. Some of my students, who hadn’t scored more than 10% in the past exams, got significantly higher marks from the last exam. The level of noise in my classes dropped, and mostly replaced with the “academic noise”; my students started discussing the videos, or asking solutions to the problems, etc. Students were also able to adjust their pace in working on the course material, which they liked so far.

I certainly had problems and failures, too. Some of my students completed most of the videos, but they could not succeed in the last final. Some of them could not complete the core videos, hence they were not ready to take the final, and they failed. As a teacher of 93 students in 4 sections with 28-hours-a-week load, I could not be able to follow all my students’ progress promptly and take action accordingly.

But I accept this as a warm-up session. Now that I am familiar with ShowMe and I have explored the do’s and dont’s of ShowMe in the class, I am ready to use it more efficiently. Starting today, I will share my humble experience with you, and search for answers to questions that arise while using this awesome application. I hope I may initiate exchange of ideas, or even a brainstorming, which may improve us in our profession. It may be interesting for you to follow posts of a Turkish math teacher in Abu Dhabi, who tries to teach Algebra to the grand-grandsons of the inventors of Algebra. Or… er… maybe not. Anyway, I will post here for some time, thanks to Kika.

NEXT: How I use ShowMe in my teaching?


Would Socrates like Socrative?

During my school’s adoption of a 1:1 iPad program this year, I have discovered several apps that have played significant roles in student learning and achievement. At the top of that list has been Socrative, a self proclaimed student/audience response system. It’s accessible through an app on the iPad as well as through the web. This tool allows you to create tests, quizzes, or polls for your students to respond to questions as a free response or multiple choice scenario. Once you’ve collected the information, you can email yourself a detailed report of the responses for each question by your students. I have used it to conduct tests and quizzes as well as to get feedback about classroom activies. The reports have allowed me to use exact student quotes as part of the grade reports and not just paraphrase their thoughts.

Socrative allows you to set the pace or let students work at their own pace, differentiating for ability and processing speeds. I have found that students like using the site, the interface is good and I found that students quickly adapt to the site. Socrative is a good way to get feedback that can be used to improve your teaching and help students become better learners. Play around with it and see what you think about it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


How to use ShowMe to record app tutorials?

Just the other day I was thinking about how I could use the ShowMe app to walk students through an app demonstration so that I could show them to my students or other teachers that may want to use an iOS app. What I came up with is a very simple process that I think will work if you are trying to add images to your lesson video.

  1. Tap the power button and the home button at the same time on your iOS device to take a screen shot. The Camera Roll has powerful tools to crop and resize the image. You may want to crop the unwanted parts of the images.
  2. Import the image from your camera roll into the ShowMe application and begin layering the images as you go through the lesson video.
  3. Set the Accessibility feature in the Settings app on the iPad so that you can zoom in on the features that you want to highlight, just remember that you may have to take several screenshots for this to be effective, which will require more layering.
  4. Using the pen settings in the ShowMe application highlight the important features of the application.
  5. Upload your video or send out an email so that everyone can see it or use it.

Works in progress

When talking about students in the moment we too often hold them to who they are at that time. If they are serious and studious, we assume that that is who they will be for life, same with the students who are argumentative, disrespectful, or underachieving. In the middle of a school year it’s difficult to foresee that the student who shows little personality as a sixth grade, is still transforming into the person they are going to be.

When we talk about students becoming lifelong learners, we cannot complain that they don’t “show the desire to learn” now because they don’t like arithmetic or conjugating verbs in Spanish. The truth is, schools are artificial places of learning. Teachers are here to introduce what’s out there to be learned, but we have decided what they are going to learn, and we don’t often match it to what they “want” to learn, but what WE feel they NEED to learn. For the most part, they learn just enough of it to get an acceptable grade and move on. However in teaching third grade, fifth grade, or eleventh grade, we only get a glimpse of who they are. We get to be a small part of that journey, and I have often lamented the fact, that I don’t get to see how the product progresses.

Recently, however, (Thanks to Facebook to help with the organizing) I had the opportunity to get together with former students, now in their careers, and in their mid to late twenties. I got to catch up with them and see where their lives have gone since they were in my classroom as 7th, 9th, or 12th grade students. The first time I had lunch with twelve students and a former colleague and while we talked about the school, we mainly just caught up. We found out where life had led us. We talked about marriages, jobs, career starts and changes. We talked about advanced degrees pursued, and next steps to be taken. We laughed about stories from the classroom as well as remarked how much we had grown.

One week later a couple of my former students emailed me to invite me to have dinner with them. This time there were four of us and the dinner had the feel of four friends, not a teacher and three students. I was amazed at how interesting each of their lives were, and how much they had continued to grow as learners since I had taught them all those years ago. Each of them had unique stories and ambitions about what they wanted to do with their lives, and had plans for how to reach their goals. They weren’t the kids I remembered, even though each of them still had the same spark of life in their eyes. They had a joy of learning that continued to permeate their beings, and had found what it was they wanted to learn about most. They didn’t thank me for instilling this in them, because truth be known, it wasn’t me, it was their parents, other family members, and the collection of teachers who had taught them from pre school through college, but I appreciate being in that list. I was part of their stories, and that was plenty for me. Now they have grown up, and they continue to be learners, and I can think to myself, “Wow, my insticts were right, kids love learning.” Because even though some of them didn’t turn in every assignment on time, or didn’t always show interest in knowing the accomplishments of Augustus Caesar, they all kept learning and continue to learn.

Teachers, continue to teach the works while they’re in progress, and if you get the chance, take the time to get to chat with some of them when they are further along in their progress so that you can take heart for being part of the process. It’s truly one of the best things I have ever done.