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!

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Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope to hear from you and will reply via e-mail. :)