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.

 

Three Strategies for Teaching Grammar in ESL

Grammar can often be frustrating for ESL students, partly because many grammar texts contain exercises that use the “drill” method with sample sentences out of context. While the drilling method can be very helpful for students who are in beginning stages of learning English, it may become difficult for more advanced students to apply the structures in their own writing. To help students incorporate their newly learned grammar skills into their writing, teachers can ask students to practice specific skills in a paragraph. As students re-write drafts, the teacher can ask students to focus on another skill. This way, students will not feel overwhelmed or frustrated.

Showme has helped me to cut down on the time I spend lecturing on grammar structures in class. With the Showme tutorials, students can watch at home what they do not understand. In class, I can focus more on using the structures in context by asking students to write their own pieces. It is not completely “flipping” the class, but it has made a huge improvement in the way I structure my class sessions; they are no longer just grammar lectures with a bit of time to practice at the end.  I would like to share three strategies that I find successful in the ESL classroom.

First, it is important to collect errors unique to the cultural group(s) a teacher works with. For example, Chinese students tend to have trouble with articles because their language may not have a need for them, while Saudi and some Middle Eastern students tend to have difficulty with Subject-Verb-Object order. As teachers collect work samples, it is wise to also make a list of all the common errors. By using lists of these common errors, teachers can point them out to students so that they become aware that they are incorrect. I normally explain a grammar structure, and after the students have practiced it independently, I often make a list of errors made by previous students and ask them to correct them. Error-correction helps some students understand certain structures better. Creating Showme tutorials for common errors helps students to review them independently.

Second, use a lot of self-talks. This means that as I correct an error on the board, I talk out the steps: “First, I check that my subject and verb are correct; then, I see that the pronoun is “she” which is third person singular, and I see that this needs a third-person-singular‘s’”. I often ask students to do this at the board along with self-talks. Because they are ESL students, they have to internalize these steps. By speaking them out loud while they analyze, their brain has another chance to remember the steps. Of course, the structure of self-talks will depend on the students’ level. I have successfully done this with beginning, intermediate, and advanced English level students, both children and adults. I model self-talks in my Showme tutorials and have noticed that the students who watched them at home often use self-talks on their own in class.

Third, guided note-taking can help students who don’t have the best note-taking habits or lack note-taking experience. How does one take notes for grammar? In addition to what I post on the board and students’ individual notes, I ask students to circle, underline, and draw arrows just as I draw them on the board in their independent homework assignment. I have, over the years, noticed that students who practice this will also do it on an exam, and those students tend to score higher because they caught an error they made and erased it (this also takes years of collecting samples). A teacher will also be able to easily see which students are struggling with a concept because they will often circle or underline incorrectly. Note-taking helps to reinforce students’ memories. The Showme tutorials often show my own underlining and circling which helps encourage students to try out sample exercises the same way.

 After all these strategies have been practiced by the students, I often show a video clip and ask students to write a summary using specific structures from a unit (i.e. parallel structure, adverbs of time, etc.). I like to use Mr. Bean clips or Wallace and Gromit. They are short, funny, and usually have no complicated dialogue, so they’re ideal for any level (writing activities should be tailored accordingly for beginning levels). Finally, this is what Showme has enabled me to do more! I used to never find the time to show a video clip, but now that students get to review common errors in my Showme tutorials, students look forward to writing those summaries! Who would’ve thought? Many of my students used to groan whenever I mentioned a summary. With a video clip, they have something concrete to write about and although the class writes about the same clip, I end up with very original samples that students are proud of!

 

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.