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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