Essay Writing Hack for Struggling Students

eaching Essay Writing?  Try this hack for helping struggling Middle School Students!

This year I am teaching 7th grade English Language Arts and I have two full classes of all ELL students.

As a result, I had the very difficult task of teaching 48 students who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic and French as their first language how to write a text-based essay.

This was pretty new to all of them as no one would admit that they ever had to write a text-based essay in their country.

So I had to get creative.

At the outset, I taught them the parts of an essay with self-made videos and picture notes.  We used those notes as a reference with a fill-in-the-blank essay.  That seemed to work well enough but they still didn't seem to truly get it.
So then recently, I had an idea -  Essay Task Cards.  I took the prompt that we were working on and wrote out an essay.  Then I made a task card for each of the sentences.  

There's more than one way to learn the structure of an essay!  #teaching #middleschool

I had the students work in groups of 4 with 4 task cards at a time.  They decided on the answers together and if they couldn't agree, I would settle the disagreement.  ;)

The students put their answers on specially made answer sheets where they were required to write out the entire answer.   Each task card represented one sentence in the essay.  Students matched up the number on the task card with the number on their answer sheet.  Once a student had filled in every box on the answer sheet, he/she had an essay!  

Then we used the checklists to decide where the paragraphs would be in the essays.  Finally, students wrote out the essays on notebook paper.

There were so many "A-ha!" moments during this activity.  Students really got into the idea of identifying the right answer and understanding why it was right.  Then to see it all put together, it was like magic!  They were genuinely working to write and felt like they accomplished something big when they were finished!

It's like training wheels for an essay! #teaching #middleschool

I know that next year, I will definitely try this earlier and more often because it really helped the students make sense of essays.

Want to try this with your own students?  I have a prompt, texts, an organizer/checklist and task cards with answers all ready to go here or on Teachers Pay Teachers:

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Motivation for Middle School Essay Writers

Use this challenge to get your middle school students WANTING to write Argumentative essays! #ideas #tips

Our Big State Writing Test is nearly upon us, so I knew I needed to get creative to get my students motivated!

First of all, I talked about the Super Bowl.

Me:  "So when the two teams that are going to be in the Super Bowl are getting ready, do they say 'Man!  This stinks!  I don't want to play in the stupid 'ol Super Bowl!' ?"  (I walk around and kick at the floor with an exaggerated tone.)

Students:  "No!" with sincerely incredulous looks on their faces. (They probably thought I'd lost my mind.)

Me:  Right!  Of course not!  Instead, they run around screaming "We're gonna win because we're the best and we're awesome and the other team doesn't stand a chance and when we win, we're gonna go to Disney World!"  (And I literally screamed this like I was a football player.  So then they were sure I'd lost my mind!)

But then I said "Our big state test is like our Super Bowl - a Super Bowl for writing.  You should be excited to go in there and show what you know - to show that you are the best and that you are a winner!"

Get Middle School students pumped about your state writing test! #motivation #teaching #languagearts

Then I went on - "We've been training for months - with running 'writing laps' by writing in our journals, and doing 'writing push-ups' when we correct our writing, and even doing some 'writing sit-ups' when we write double-entry journals.  Now we're ready for some regular season games.  This is the Mud Pie league."

Motivate your Middle School Essay Writers with this Activity!   #teaching #languagearts

Then I explained that there would be several "games" - tasks really - and for each "win" (successful completion of a task), they would earn one piece of a puzzle.  On the appointed day, whatever the completed puzzle showed was awarded.  The full puzzle showed a pudding cup surrounded by various add-ins like sprinkles and chocolate chips to make a "mudpie".

The Mud Pie League motivated my Middle School students to be better essay writers!

Each day I would go around and check students' papers.  If they had completed a task correctly, I awarded a puzzle piece and signed their checklist.  If they had a mistake, they had to find the "fix" in their writing folder, notes, flashcards or on the videos I made for them.  

Then on the next go around, I would re-check anything they'd like and repeat the process for signing the checklist and giving out puzzle pieces.

I did this for one solid week from Monday through Thursday.  On Friday, I gave them all "overtime" but at the bell, time was up!  The following Monday students would receive their awards for jobs well done.

Overall, I count this as a success as students had to struggle a bit to find answers and write essays that would score well on the state rubric but students were definitely engaged and learning!  They worked for their reward by putting in the effort to write and be essay champs!

Want to try the "Mudpie League" with your students?  You can change the puzzle to whatever reward work for your students.  Check out the ready-to-use activity by clicking here.

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