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Teaching Middle School Students to Write Essay Body Paragraphs

 

Your middle school students will ACE IT when they write essay body paragraphs using this structure!


When I teach my middle school students how to write essays, I first go through the entire process with them.


First we read and flip the prompt.  Then we read and mark the text.  Instead of going head long into planning, I pause the writing process and teach them what goes into an introduction (one type of essay at a time) and then what goes into a body paragraph.


I always start with informative essays.  So after I have taught the student an informative introduction (argumentative introductions have a critical difference), I teach the body paragraph.  I teach that this paragraph has at least 8 sentences.  Could students write more?  Sure, but no less.  This is what those 8 sentences are:


Answer

Answer is a transition with the restatement of the prompt with one of your reasons.

For example, in my digital informative essay unit, students will create a thesis that tells that Mount Rushmore and Pipestone National Monument are such significant places that they should be protected because of their natural, historical and cultural importance.

So the answer would be:  "Initially, natural benefits are one reason why Mount Rushmore and Pipestone National Monument are significant".

Cite Evidence

Given the reason from the answer, students will now be directed to look at the texts and choose a piece of evidence for "natural benefits".  Then we discuss how to "prepare" the quote.  By "preparing", I mean to set it up with the name and author of the article and where it can be found.

For example: In "Pipestone National Monument" by E.C. Spangler, the text asserts "...nature has been protected and can be enjoyed by all people for generations to come". (1,3)  

The (1, 3) refers to the first article, third paragraph.  

My students have tended to need more practice with this concept and so I developed some notes that help walk them through this concept with an activity. (There is a printable and digital version.)


Give your middle school students a 4 step process to follow every time they need to cite evidence!  Combine that with some practice activities and your students will be citing evidence like champs!



Explain with commentary

This is the hardest part for most of my students.  I have them answer two questions when they write commentary:

1.  Why is this evidence important?
2.  How does this evidence show that the reason supports the answer?

An example of commentary based on the thesis and information above would be:  "This is vital because if the natural elements were not protected, then they might not exist in the future.  This proves that by protecting Pipestone, many plants, birds, and mammals are also protected."

This doesn't always prevent the redundancy that occurs in this section of the paragraph, but it helps.  The clincher to ensure less redundancy is to tell the students that they cannot repeat the same words (other than the proper nouns) from their topic sentence at all in this section.  They groan and moan but it really helps them think about what the evidence really proves.

I also give each of my students a "toolkit" with loads of sentence starters for evidence and commentary as well as tons of transition words to give them ideas of ways to say things differently.


Reduce redundancy in your middle school students' essays with these sentences starters for evidence, commentary and more!


Ingeminate

This is a fancy word for "repeat" as in repeat the cycle of cite and explain.

I tell my students they start this with a transition, followed by a new piece of evidence for the same reason with 2 sentences of commentary that answer the 2 questions from above.


Top it off

This is the last sentence of the body paragraph and is the conclusion.  I teach my students to reverse the first sentence of this paragraph to write the conclusion.  So if the first sentence starts with the reason, the last sentences ends with the reason.

So for example, taking the sentence from above, I would show my students how to write the conclusion this way:  Mount Rushmore and Pipestone National Monument are significant because of their natural benefits.

Now the paragraph has come full circle.


Did you notice?

The first letter of each of these sentences spells ACE IT - and students will surely ace their essays when they use this structure!  I might get some eyerolls on this one but it sticks!

This is the mnemonic that you will find in all of my essay writing resources in both my printable and digital units.  These units include detailed notes of the steps above as well as the writing process plus the prompt, texts, organizers and more.  The first time I teach essay writing in the school year, it is in this way so that the students have a model for the rest of the year.



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Use this mnemonic to help your middle school students remember how to structure an informative essay body paragraph!




Teaching Argumentative Essay Introduction Paragraphs

 

Teach the Argumentative Essay Introduction Paragraph to your middle school students with ease!


While the first step of reading the prompt is the same for argumentative essays as it is for informative essays, there is one seemingly obvious difference - students must choose a side.  But my 8th graders always want to see both sides and give me "the look" when I tell them they must pick ONE side, and that this side, or claim,  must be found in their thesis.


So when I teach my students to flip the prompt into the thesis, I model the concept of choosing a side.  Then I explain that they must be sure to highlight or underline evidence for that side as they are reading and marking the text.  I also tell them we have to keep a look out for the opposing claim and mark that differently.  (Generally, in my class, we choose to circle opposing claims and write opposing in the margin.)


After reading and marking the text, then we're ready to write our introduction.  While the same basic structure is the same as the informative - at least 3 sentences with a hook, arch/bridge, and thesis - the critical differences are in what the bridge and thesis contain:  the position.  


Hook

This is the first sentence and contains background information about the topic from the texts.  A nice way to start this sentence is "Throughout history" or "In recent years". Of course the minimum number of sentences for a hook is one, and I always tell students that more than one is sometimes necessary and preferable to really set the stage for the reader.

Arch/Bridge

This is the second sentence and should state both sides of the argument.  A good way to write this is Some scholars argue____ while others assert_______.

Thesis

The last and arguably most important sentence is the answer to the prompt with the reasons.

So, for example, if the prompt reads "Write an essay in which you take a position on whether the lost city of Atlantis was a real place", then the thesis might say "Atlantis was a real place because it is based on myths and there is no scientific evidence to prove its existence."

I teach my students to take the same words from the prompt and include them in the thesis to help them make sure that they are writing an essay that actually answers the prompt.  


Did you see the pattern?

H - Hook
A - Arch/Bridge
T - Thesis

It spells HAT and I tell my students "Just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of your essay!"  It's corny, yes - but corny enough that they remember it!  

I use the same mnemonic for informative essay introduction paragraphs.  This way the introduction is always a "hat" with the big difference being in the arch and the fact that the writer must take a position.

How do I teach this?

First, I give my students notes with examples for all 3 sentences so they have something to refer to as we practice this part of the essay and also for much later when they write a full essay.

Then we practice writing argumentative introduction paragraphs based on small texts.  I give the students one small text a day for 3 days. The students write an introduction on their own, then we go over it and discuss it. 

On the 5th day, we have an assessment.  

Most students seem to feel fairly confident about this paragraph in an argumentative essay when we finish this week of activities.  Not only have they had the definitions explained with an example, but they have done the work and climbed the hill.  And now I can know if they have grasped the concept and are ready to move on the next paragraph - the body!  But that's a post for another time.  :)


Want to try this lesson, practice and assessment with your own students?  It's available here in printable and digital form:

Teaching middle school students how to write an argumentative essay introduction paragraph has never been easier! Use this printable and digital lesson with notes, 3 days of practice and an assessment to get the job done!


I hope these ideas help your students get a great start on their argumentative essay introduction paragraphs!

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Teaching Middle School Students how to write an Argumentative Essay Paragraph is easy to do with these tips!


Teaching Informative Essay Introduction Paragraphs

 

Find out how I use a hat to teach my middle school students how to write an informative essay introduction paragraph!


After I teach my students how to read and flip an essay prompt and how to read and mark an essay text, I pause before planning and teach them the paragraph structure of each kind of paragraph in the essay.  First up, the introduction!


When teaching the introduction, I tell my students there introductions have at least 3 sentences.  I make a big deal about this saying that this is the smallest number of sentences and that as they (the student) mature, their writing will mature and their introductions will get longer and more developed.  


So what are those 3 sentences?  They are the hook, the arch, and the thesis.  We first focus on the informative essay type.


Hook

This is where I have the most work in breaking bad habits.  Students like to use rhetorical questions and/or onomatopoeia as hooks.  So it is a bit of a transition for them to learn that a hook will now be background information about the articles they read for the summary.

To teach them how to write background information, I ask them to use this sentence starter:
[article name] by [author] and [article name] by [author] are about _______.

Then we practice our summary skills!


Arch

The arch, or bridge, is the sentence that connects the hook to the thesis.  The only way to do this effectively is to know what you thesis will be.  That's why I teach my students to create a thesis skeleton when they flip the prompt and then fill in the skeleton after they read the texts.  In this way, they already have their thesis written and can write an arch more easily.  

I tell my students that the arch can be a "fun fact" about the topic that relates to the thesis.  For example, in my digital informative essay unit, students will create a thesis that tells that Mount Rushmore and Pipestone National Monument are such significant places that they should be protected because of their natural, historical and cultural importance.

The arch is a fact that connects the topic of nationally protected places --> 
to the idea that these are important places to all Americans --> 
which connects to the ideas of natural, historical and cultural importance.  

I think of it as a chain and explain that the student's job to to connect all the links in the chain together.  


Thesis

This is the last sentence in the introduction and should already be ready to go from the time when the student finished reading and marking the text.  


I teach my students to use the same words from the prompt in their thesis and then add in the reasons.  I also teach them that the thesis is a road map for their reader.  The thesis tells the reader what your overall point is and what each body paragraph will be about.


Did you see the pattern?

H - Hook
A - Arch
T - Thesis

Put those 3 together and they spell HAT.  I tell my students just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of your essay.  I tell them I know it's corny but it's just corny enough for them to remember it!  We all have a laugh, I tell them I'm a nerd and then start wearing a hat in class.  And you know what?  They remember it!

How do I teach it?

I start by providing my students with notes for each of these sentences so they have something to refer back to when we are practicing in class.  

Then we have 3 days of practice.  They read a small text that includes a prompt and then they write an introduction to match.  We go over one each day and discuss it.  Then on the 5th day, we have a quiz.  

Want to try this lesson, practice and assessment with your own students?  It's ready to go in print and digital form:

Make the tricky concept of writing informative introduction paragraphs easier for your middle school students with these notes, 3 practice activities and an assessment!  It's the perfect recipe for success!


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Using this mnemonic may make your middle school students roll their eyes at the corniness of it, but it's just so corny that they will remember it!






Teaching Students How To Read and Mark the Essay Text

 

Find out how I teach my middle school students to read and mark the essay text.


In my middle school class I have many students who are very good readers.  They have good comprehension and good recall.  But their ability to read and mark a text for essay writing leaves something to be desired.  I have literally watched my brightest students read, re-read, and read the essay texts some more until the point where they have spent all their essay writing time on just that step.


So, I knew that it was time for some explicit instruction.  In order to read and mark a text efficiently and effectively there are a few things that must be done.


1.  There must be a thesis skeleton.  (Read more on that in this post.)


2.  Students need to cross out paragraphs that have irrelevant information related to the thesis skeleton.  This helps to prevent the temptation to start that re-reading cycle.


3.  Students need to highlight or underline any information relevant to the thesis skeleton.


How does this work?  Well, in my classroom I literally take a day and go through this with the students.  I put my text under the doc cam, read our thesis skeleton and then begin reading the text out loud to my students.  After I read a paragraph to them, I ask "Does this have any information in it for us to say [thesis]?"  Then I wait for responses.  We discuss the sentences to determine if they are relevant or irrelevant.  Then we all cross out the irrelevant and highlight the relevant.


This is a sample of what that might look like (taken from my digital informative essay unit):



While I recognize that this takes some class time (at least a day - maybe 2), I argue that it is time well spent.  I know that my class that was just for students learning English, did not understand how to critically read a text until we did this together in class. They told me so.  Sure, we had learned a process for analyzing text and they could determine whether information was relevant and reliable or not, but this was different because now they had to take it the "next level" (their words).


So, I sincerely recommend teaching this explicitly to your middle school class.  And if you'd like to use my video lessons, then please check out my digital informative and argumentative essay writing units that do just that:


If you are teaching middle school students how to write informative and argumentative essays and are short on time, try these easy-to-use, NO PREP, DIGITAL lessons with FOUR weeks of step-by-step VIDEO lessons, guided notes, texts, organizers and more!



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This is how to break down the essay writing process for struggling learners and increase success!





Teaching Students How To Read And Flip An Essay Prompt

 

Use these ideas to help your struggling middle school students learn how to read and flip an essay prompt.


There are many students who are able to take ideas and run with them in their writing.  They seem to intuitively know how to connect the prompt, the text and their writing together. However, there are just as many (if not more) students who struggle with these things and end up either writing nothing or writing something that is far from what they were meant to write.


So what can be done?  I believe that the students that struggle need structure.  To help them, I like to break down reading and flipping the prompt like this:


Read the Prompt

First, I teach them to read the entire prompt to get the gist. Then we go back and look for the word “write”. Following that word, we determine what the topic of the essay is to be, the kind of essay that we are writing, and what we are going to need to write about that topic. I ask students to write these three things down on the writing prompt page in their essay packet.


So for example, if the prompt says: 


"The Lost City of Atlantis has piqued people’s curiosity for hundreds of years.  During this time, scholars have debated whether this city was a real place or whether it is just a great story. Read the texts and write an essay in which you take a position on whether the lost city of Atlantis was indeed a real place.   Use the information shared in the texts to support your reasons.   Make sure to include information from both texts in your essay" -  we go back to the word write (which I have underlined).  Then I ask students the questions:  


"What kind of essay are we supposed to write?"  Then we write down argumentative.  


Then I ask "What is it we are supposed to write about?  And what exactly about this topic do we need to focus on?  Then we write down "Atlantis" and "Is it a real place or not?"


Now we're ready for the next step:



Flip the Prompt


Now we are ready to flip the prompt. By flip the prompt I mean we take words from the prompt and flip them into our thesis skeleton. I call it a thesis skeleton because I leave blanks or “bare-bones“ for the reasons that we will fill in after we read and mark the texts.


So for example, taking the prompt from above I would ask students what words from the prompt we should use for our thesis.  We discuss and then we write "The Lost City of Atlantis is (not) a real places because of _______ and _______."  



You can get a preview of how I teach this by watching the video below.



This gives the students a clear cut plan for this first part of the pre-writing process for writing their essays.  I recognize that this is formulaic, but struggling students need a firm foundation from which to build.  This is that foundation.


But it's not enough just to talk about this process and model it, students need notes to refer back to when it's time to try it on their own.  Students that struggle will likely need cues to help them recall the lesson.  Of course, if you are teaching face to face, a great anchor chart could definitely be that cue.  I'd actually recommend both the notes AND the anchor chart but I really like reference tools.  :)


Interested in trying this out for yourself? I have an entire unit complete with video lessons, notes, organizers, texts and more available here in printable AND digital format:


Your middle school students will learn how to write an argumentative essay with these step-by-step video lessons with texts, organizers, notes, and more!


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Use these steps to help the struggling middle school student write better essays!


The Writing Process for Essays Simplified

 

Get a simple plan for your middle school students to use when writing an essay!


At the beginning of every year, we have our middle school students complete an essay diagnostic.  We give them some texts and a prompt and just let them go.  We're looking to see if they have any method to their writing process and then of course we check their writing for focus, organization, support and conventions.  


You will probably not be surprised to learn that our students seem to always forget that writing is a process.  So every year, I make it a point to teach these 5 simple steps:


Step #1:  Read the Prompt.

This may sound silly, but many students mis-read the prompt.  They turn an informative essay into an argumentative one and visa versa.  So I always go over the prompt with the students and have them write down what kind of essay it is going to be and what the topic is.  Then we look for the words "write an essay" to determine what we are going to write about that topic.

Step #2:  Flip the Prompt.

Now that we have read and dissected the prompt a bit, we take the same words from the prompt and flip it into a "thesis skeleton".  By this I mean that if the prompt says "Write an essay in which you take a position on the origin of crop circles", then I am going to write:

After reading multiple texts, it is clear to see that the origin of crop circles is alien because of _____,  ______,  and ______.

You can see there are some "bare bones" there and after we complete step #3 (Read and Mark the Text), we will come back and fill in those blanks with reasons that the crop circles are of alien origin.  Now we have set a purpose for reading and are ready for step #3.

Step #3:  Read and Mark the Text

The first time I teach reading and marking the text, we complete this as a class.  I will read an entire paragraph or a few sentences and then stop to re-read the thesis skeleton.  Then I will ask my students "Is there anything that we just read that tells us that crop circles are of alien origin?"  If so, we highlight it.  If not, we cross out what we have already read. Why do we cross it out?  So we won't go back and waste time re-reading text that does not apply.  (In my state, writing tests are timed.)

After we read and mark the entire text set, then we are ready for step 4.

Step #4:  Planning


Planning is the third step in this simple writing process for essays.



Students generally balk at the idea of planning.  They think it is a waste of time and that they should just write based on what they have highlighted.  But once I show them that they don't have to write down everything - in fact I tell them they are not allowed to write down everything - then they humor me.  

I use a flow map that shows the structure and progression of the paragraphs.  Each paragraph has a specific mnemonic that helps the students remember what goes where.  

We spend time choosing the best evidence from what we highlighted as we work on the planning sheet.



Step#5:  Write the Essay

Finally, using that planning sheet like a map, students use that to write their final essay.  The first time we work through this process, I actually show them under the document camera how I take what I have on my planning sheet and "convert" that to sentences and paragraphs in the rough draft.


Honestly, this process can take up to a week to complete as a class, but once you have gone though it once, you can refer back to it all year long.

This is exactly the process I use in my Informative and Argumentative Digital Essay Units.  They even come with 2 weeks of videos instruction!  Perfect for hybrid or virtual classes!




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Use these 5 easy steps to teach your middle school students how to write text-based essays!



Essay Writing Organization Hack for Middle School

 

Use this essay organization hack with your middle school students to help them remember what goes where when they write an essay!


Teaching students how to structure an essay can be a bit like listening to someone speak to you in a foreign language.  You might pick up bits and pieces, it sounds nice, but it doesn't really make sense.  


Or at least that's what it was like when I first began teaching essay writing.  My students were struggling to remember the structure of an essay.  To them, it just didn't make sense.  So I started to think how I could help them remember what goes where.  That's when I had a Eureka moment - mnemonics!


I had started with a picture of a boy and called him "Essay Boy".  (The students thought I was crazy.) This boy had a hat on the top of his head. I told the students that just like this boy puts a hat on the top of his head, that they will put a hat on the top of their essay.  The hat stands for 

H - Hook

A - Arch (bridge)

T - Thesis


Of course, now we had some work to do to learn these parts of our introduction but they were hooked!


So later on, we focused on the body paragraphs and came up with this:  Ace it!

A - Answer to the prompt with a reason

C - Cite evidence

E - Explain with commentary

I - Ingeminate (fancy word for repeat) the cycle of cite and explain with NEW evidence

T - Top it off with a conclusion


Essay boy held an ace in his hand and we decided as a class what he was an ace or expert in doing - they chose football.  But then we talked about what the students were aces or experts in and we had a great discussion.  


Finally we worked our way to the conclusion.  Essay boy had a cell phone in his other hand - his AT&T - ok, not everyone has AT&T but they got the idea because what's the last thing everyone grabs before they leave?  Their cell phone - their AT&T!  So the conclusion is the last thing a student needs to write before they "leave" their essay too!

A - Affirm the thesis

T - Trim the Point

T - The Call to Action 


This is the pattern I use to teach my middle school students how to organize a text-based informative essay!



This was what I taught for informative.  Then when we moved to argumentative, I told them that these mnemonics still applied - we just needed to do 2 things:  choose a side and add in a counterclaim paragraph in place of on the body paragraphs.


I explained to my students that the counterclaim is where they really want to turn up the emphasis on the essay's position in the essay.  To go along with this idea, our mnemonic was "faucet" - to turn it up or pour it on!

F - Feature the other side (opposing claim)

A - Affirm that side (with evidence)

U - Underscore the essay's position

C - Cite evidence for the essay's position

E - Explain with commentary

T - Top it off with a conclusion


Essay boy wore a T-shirt with "Turn it up" as the slogan - I had an artist student's help.


This pattern for writing an argumentative essay helps to reach all middle school learners!


I taught them to write out these mnemonics on their lined planning sheet that the state provides so they could structure their essay on the big state testing day.  And you know what?  On that day, that's exactly what they did.  And more than 80% of my students passed that test.  Some did better than passing, but to be honest, just passing was a small miracle as most of my students were those with special needs.  


So you know what that means?  If it can help students with challenges learn to structure an essay, it will undoubtedly work for those without learning challenges!  That's why I've been using this for about 10 years now and consistently have the highest scores. 


Ready to try it with your own students?  These mnemonics are the basis for my units that are ready to go in print and digital form.




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