6 Steps for Teaching Essay Writing


Need a plan for teaching middle school students how to write essays?  Use this one that has 28 years of experience behind it!

The beginning of our second semester is largely focused on Argumentative Text Analysis and Argumentative Essay Writing in my neck of the woods.  I have students from the most capable to the least capable all in one room at one time.  It can be tricky to make sure everyone gets what they need which is why I have put together this plan to do my best to get the job done well:

1.  Set Writing Goals

I use a special goal sheet that we keep in our toolkits to help students not only examine the state rubric, but also to create an action plan that will guide their progress.  You can read more about this and get a free copy of my goal sheet by clicking here.

2.  Teach Vocabulary

It's super important for everyone to begin with a common vocabulary.  You might think words like "cite" and "commentary" are firmly embedded in your students' minds, but some of them may have forgotten.  I use a special vocabulary sheet that differentiates for all levels so that those that do know the words can demonstrate that while others who do not know the word can (hopefully) learn it:

The perfect vocabulary worksheet for to reach all learners in your middle school classroom!

Get a free blank, editable copy in my resource library.

3.  Teach Structure (Organization) - "I Do"

I teach essay structure in a very step-by-step way using fill-in-the-blank notes and examples.   

We first start with the pre-writing process where we:

1. Read the prompt

2. Flip the prompt

3. Read and mark the texts

For each step above, there are notes and examples using a prompt and text set.  Then I do the same for the sentences that belong in an introduction in a new set of notes, the body in yet another set of notes, and the conclusion in a final set of notes.  (I also do a separate set of notes for argumentative essay counterclaim paragraphs when I teach argumentative essay structure.)

Then we move into the introduction where I teach students a special acronym for both Informative and Argumentative Essays:

H - Hook

A - Arch (Bridge)

T - Thesis

Just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of the essay!

Next are the body paragraphs.  I have a special acronym for these too!

A - Answer to the prompt with a reason from the thesis

C - Cite Evidence

E - Explain with commentary

I - Ingeminate (repeat) the cycle of cite and explain with new evidence.

T - Top it off with a conclusion

One special kind of body paragraph for Argumentative Essays is the counterclaim paragraph.  The idea of this paragraph is to pour on the convincer for the essay's position!

F - Feature the other side (the opposing claim)

A - Affirm the opposing claim with evidence 

U - Underscore the essay's position (refuting the opposing claim)

C - Cite evidence (for the essay's position)

E - Explain with commentary

T - Top it off with a conclusion

Lastly, is the conclusion:

A - Affirm the thesis

T - Trim the Point

T - The Call to Action

What's the last thing you grab before you leave your house?  Probably your cell phone - your AT & T which is why you need AT & T before you leave the essay!  :)

4.  Practice Structure (Organization) - "We Do"

After each section of notes, we practice what we have learned.  So for example, after the introduction notes, we practice writing introductions.  

After all the sections of notes and matching practice items have been completed, then I have students complete some practice activities for the entire structure like a Cloze Activity, Color By Fact Activity or a Digital Puzzle.

Need ways to practice essay writing knowledge without writing an essay?  Try one of these!

Once the students have learned all the parts of an essay and have practiced those parts, I teach them how to plan.  It doesn't make much sense to plan the parts of the essay until they know what all of those parts are!  

5.  Put it All Together  - "We Do"

Now it's time for the students to put this all together in an essay - but not just any essay - this is a collaborative essay!

It's easier than it sounds - basically, students work together to write an essay using task cards!

Collaborative Essay Writing is a great way to help your struggling middle school learners!

I made a prompt and text set.  Then I made a task card for every single sentence that belongs in the essay with a matching answer sheet.  

The task cards are taped to the students' desks and they work in groups of 4 to answer the cards.  The answers are the sentences that belong in the essay.  Each task card is numbered and students write the complete sentence answers on their answer sheet in the matching number space.

As groups finish their set of 4 task cards, they rotate to a new group of 4 more task cards.

By the time students have filled in all 28 spaces on the answer sheet, they have a skeleton essay!

Then using the organizer/checklist, students mark where paragraphs should be on the skeleton.  Now they can write out a final copy.  All essays should be the same which means easy grading for the teacher!

6.  Put it All Together - "You Do"

Now it's time for students to put all that they have learned together into one essay that they write independently.  But that doesn't mean it has to be boring!  I like to call this a "Challenge Essay".  

Use this challenge as a culmination activity for your middle school essay writing unit!

This challenge requires students to go through each step of the writing process and write an essay.  I allow students to use their toolkits and notes.  As they complete each step accurately, they get your initials and one puzzle piece.  

By the end of the designated time (it was 5 days in my class), students earn whatever their assembled puzzle shows.  Some students only earned a few items but others earned the entire puzzle worth of treats!  Our puzzle was of "mud pies" - pudding cups with all kinds of mix-ins - but you could choose any reward!   The students were motivated by the challenge of earning all their puzzle pieces and they were learning at the same time!

Ready to try these things with your students?  I have 5 weeks of these activities PLUS 5 weeks of editable lesson plans ready to go in these bundles:

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Use this well developed plan for teaching your middle school students how to write an essay!