Teaching Middle School Students To Plan An Essay


The essay planning phase is a very important part of the writing process.  Make sure your middle school students know how to overcome the 3 essay planning hurdles!

My middle school students always say "I don't need to plan."  To which I respond " If you fail to plan, you plan to fail".  Confused looks.  Blank stares.  Eyerolls.  

But seriously, I say, without a plan, how can one be sure to have everything that's needed?

Then I start to ask questions to get over Planning Hurdle #1:

"Ok - so if you don't need to plan, where is the evidence you found for your first reason?"

"What transitions are you using?"

"What is the second piece of evidence you found for your third reason?"

Suddenly the need to plan becomes more clear!  That's the first hurdle...

Planning Hurdle #2

The second hurdle is finding a good planning sheet.  I personally prefer a flow map type of planning sheet but I know some people prefer an outline kind of plan.  I teach using the flow map but offer the outline as well.

A key to good essay planning in middle school is having a good planning sheet!  Get a free one here!

Planning Hurdle #3

The third hurdle is ensuring that students do not write out complete sentences for their plan so they do not feel as though they need to write the essay twice.  In fact I tell them that if they write out complete sentences in those body paragraphs, that I won't accept it.  (I really will but I want them to try not to write out complete sentences.)

I teach my students to write out their thesis and maybe even the other 2 sentences of the introduction paragraph.  Then for the body paragraphs, I have them write out their transitions, and the location of the evidence.  So for example, if their evidence comes from the first article, second paragraph, I ask the students to write 1.2 on the evidence blanks with the first 3 words from the quote.  That's it.  Then just a few words for the commentary.  I tell them we're abbreviating sentences and that it's like leaving breadcrumbs for themselves.  Then they look at me funny again and I have to explain the story of Hansel and Gretel.  Middle schoolers love these detours.  :)

When we plan our first informative essay, I usually model the introduction, 1 body and the conclusion.  Then I ask them to plan their other two body paragraphs as a formative assessment.  We sketch out each paragraph just writing the bare minimum (again, bread crumbs) so that the bulk of our writing time is actually spent on writing the essay.

Take a look at this video to see how I teach it:

Did you like what you saw in the video?  You can get 2 weeks of video instruction along with digital notes, organizers, texts and more with my essay writing units.

Now the next thing that needs to be accomplished is taking the plan and turning it into an essay.  But that's another post.  :)

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Help your middle school students get over these three essay planning hurdles!


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