5 Quick and Easy Essay Review Ideas


If you have just a few days left before your state test in essay writing and need some quick and easy activities to make an impact, check out these 5 ideas!

It was 4 days before the state writing test and we needed some quick and focused practice.  What can I do in just 4 days and make an impact?  That was my quandary and these are the 5 ways that I found to help get my students ready for the state essay writing test!

1. Structure Task Cards

Quick and easy way to review before the state test in essay writing!
These task cards go over the structure (organization) of both informative and argumentative essays. 

To use these task cards, I play Scoot.  To play this game, I tape one task card to each desk.  When the students are seated, I give them an answer sheet and explain that they will have 30 seconds to answer the card on their desk.  I then explain where they will move to next.  I set a timer and when 30 seconds are up, I say “Scoot” and the students will move to the next desk. 

Once all the task cards have been answered, we trade and check to go over all the answers.  It’s a great way to combine thinking and movement all in one. 

2. Cloze Activities

Cloze is a fancy word for fill-in-the-blank.  I wrote these explanations of what belongs in an informative and argumentative essay with blanks for keywords like “evidence” and “thesis”.  I allow students to use any and all notes that they have to complete this exercise.  It also doubles as a nice study tool for the night before the state exam. 

3. Evidence and Elaboration Task Cards

Next to organization, the things students struggle with the most is finding relevant evidence and writing non-repetitive elaboration. So I made a set of task cards for informative and argumentative that go over these very things.  Since I am working with 6th grade this year, we used the informative task cards and I added in a statement about the differences for us. 

4. Essay Game Show

If there’s time and all of the critical information has been covered, I
will play this PowerPoint Game Show that reviews all of the skills from the task cards.  Students love forming teams and competing against one another.  It’s even more exciting if there’s a prize!  I like to give out tardy passes or a small treat to the winning team.

5. Flashcards

This may seem a bit old school, but this really works!  Every day, we reviewed a part of the essay and put it into flashcard books. Then the next day I asked the students questions about what was in our flashcard books. I wrote an entire post about this strategy that you can read by clicking here.

You can make those last days count with any of these quick and easy essay review ideas! Your students will love being better prepared and you will love knowing you made an impact!

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Three Counterclaim Paragraph Practice Ideas


Three Counterclaim Paragraph Practice Ideas for Middle School that work!

Once the counterclaim paragraph has been taught, it's important to practice, right?  But how can one practice without writing an entire essay?  Let me give you three ideas:

1.  Task Cards

I made some task cards with two small (about 1/2 a page) texts.  Then I wrote questions about claims, opposing claims (counterclaims) and evidence and put them on task cards.  Then I put all of these task cards around the room.  After students read the texts, they wandered the room to visit all the questions and practice! 

They loved being up and moving about.  I loved hearing the natural conversations about opposing claims as well as claims and evidence!

2.  Quick and Easy Activity

Give your students a worksheet with 4 claims (and evidence on the back) that can be used over the course of a week as a bell-ringer.  Have students write one paragraph for one claim per day!

Or - take the sentences that one would use to respond to one of the 4 claims in a counterclaim paragraph and write them on sentence strips.  Have the students put the sentences in order and then write their paragraphs.  

Or  - give each group a different claim, have them organize the sentence strips, and then present their finished paragraphs to the class.

A quick, easy and interactive way for middle school students to practice writing counterclaims.

You can make this practice yourself or click here to get my Argumentative Essay Counterclaim Paragraph Practice that is ready to go!  (Answer key included!)

3. Online Game

This is a middle school student favorite!  Students love online games like Kahoot, Quizizz and Gimkit. So I put together a quick Quizizz game and you can have it by clicking here!  

I hope one (or all) of these three practice ideas for the counterclaim paragraph works for you and your middle school students!

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Read more about argumentative essays:

Teaching Argumentative Essay Writing

Teaching the Argumentative Essay Introduction Paragraph
Hacks for the Argumentative Essay Counterclaim

Argumentative Essay Practice Ideas

What is a Counterclaim Paragraph?


Teaching middle school students to write a counterclaim paragraph can be easy with a formula to follow!

Teaching the counterclaim paragraph (or counterargument paragraph) is a critical part of teaching argumentative essay writing.  Where I teach (Florida), it can make or break an essay.  Without the counterclaim paragraph, a student is likely not to score above 60% on the standardized test.

But what is a counterclaim?

Simply put, a counterclaim is the position opposite to the one that the essay is about.  So if the essay asserts that the United States should keep producing the penny, then the counterclaim is that the United States should NOT continue to produce the penny.  

In an essay, this could be written as:
 "On the other hand, some scholars have argued that the penny should no longer be in production."

Then the writer needs to think about what the other side might use as evidence against the essay's position and be ready for it.   This is where the writer inserts evidence from the text about the costs of the penny.  

In an essay, this could be written as:
"In the article "9 Reasons Why America Should Get Rid of the Penny" by Kimberly Amadeo, the author states that the penny costs 2.1 cents to produce which seems like a losing proposition."

This is a good start, but it's not enough just to know what the other side is, but also how to refute it.

How does one refute a counterclaim?

It's important to recognize both the counterclaim and the evidence that they use to defend it.  Once that information has been gathered, then to refute it is to provide information that shows that the counterclaim is not a strong argument.  To write a refutation (or rebuttal), it is a matter of acknowledgment and then citing the best evidence for the claim.

So keeping with the penny example, the writer might state:

"While some debate that this is true, it is simply not a strong argument because the penny actually lowers costs according to 'Should We Get Rid Of The Penny?' by Amy Livingston.  This is because without the penny, "...all cash transactions will have to be rounded off to the nearest nickel"."

After the initial part of the refutation, it's necessary to provide elaboration:

"Savvy businesses will make sure these transactions always round up.  The penny is an important part of keeping necessities affordable."

To wrap this up, end with a conclusion (summary) sentence:

"That's why the penny is a necessary part of the United States' economy."

Putting it all together

As you can see, the counterclaim is really a way to "turn it up" or "pour it on" in terms of making a case for the position of the essay.  So with that in mind, I created this FAUCET mnemonic:

Feature the other side:  On the other hand, some scholars have argued that the penny should no longer be in production.

Affirm with evidenceIn the article "9 Reasons Why America Should Get Rid of the Penny" by Kimberly Amadeo, the author states that the penny costs 2.1 cents to produce which seems like a losing proposition.

Underscore the essay's positionWhile some debate that this is true, it is simply not a strong argument because the penny actually lowers costs according to "Should We Get Rid Of The Penny?" by Amy Livingston.

Cite EvidenceThis is because without the penny, "...all cash transactions will have to be rounded to the nearest nickel".  

Explain with commentary (elaboration): Savvy businesses will make sure these transactions always round up. The penny is an important part of keeping necessities affordable.

Top it off with a conclusionThat's why the penny is a necessary part of the United States' economy.

The counterclaim paragraph with refutation (or rebuttal) is easy when one has a pattern to follow!  Get a copy of this formula as well as sentence starters and other organizers with my Argumentative Essay Graphic Organizer Set.

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Essay Helper Ideas for Middle School


Learn the winning essay helper ideas that allowed this middle school teacher to have top writing scores!

My middle school students range in ability level from very proficient to no experience with essays at all (because they are new to the United States).  You can imagine that I have had to get creative with essay helper ideas to get my students to learn essay writing.

I have done many things, from creating essay graphic organizers with sentence starters to creating differentiated lessons for citing evidence.

Those all are very useful but what I find my students needed was step-by-step plans for the writing process and each part of the essay.  Think of it as training wheels.  To do this I made step-by-step notes with anchor charts to match.

Anchor Charts are super essay helpers for struggling middle school writers remember how to write an essay!

Get a FREE copy of the digital writing anchor charts in my resource library for subscribers!  These are super essay helpers for students to refer to when they are writing or reviewing.  They give each step of each part of the writing process and each part of the essay itself.  Those steps are:

The Writing Process:

1. Read the Prompt

2. Flip the Prompt

3.  Read and Mark the Texts

4.  Plan

5.  Write

6.  Revise and Edit


1.  Hook

2.  Bridge

3.  Thesis


1.  Topic sentence with transition and reason from the thesis
2.  Evidence #1
3. Commentary
4.  Evidence #3
5.  Commentary
6.  Conclusion


1.  Affirm the thesis
2.  Trim the point
3.  The Call to Action

The notes I made were printable guided notes that match the structure from above.  

Guided Notes for Essay Writing Were the Essay Helpers That Made My Middle School Students Understand the Structure of Essays!

You can see that these notes are broken into sections and resemble Cornell notes.  The difference between these notes and Cornell notes is that these notes are fill-in-the-blank and have spaces for images to represent the information instead of questions.  

Each step has its own space and going back to review information was much easier.   I like the printable version best because when students write something by hand, it imprints on the brain and students remember it better.  But - there have been students needing digital versions for online learning so I made those too.

But the game-changer was that I recorded lessons that matched the notes.  If students were absent or if they wanted to review, they could re-watch the videos.  This essay helper made it easy for them to be able to fast forward and pause wherever they needed.   It worked really well because there was a plan for each phase of the process.  And if someone was struggling with a certain part, I had an easy reference point in the videos to which they could refer.  

Here's a sample of my video for informative planning:

I made them using a program called screencast-o-matic.  I placed links to these videos on our learning management system, Canvas. I really, really loved them as it came closer to state testing time and parents would ask me how they could review with their child for the exam. I would send them to the videos and explain there were notes to match.  

I received a lot of compliments, not just for the videos themselves but also for providing differentiation.  The videos provided another way for students to access the content and achieve the standards.  

Want to have these video lessons and notes too?  You can!  Click here to view the Informative and Argumentative Essay Units with printable notes and video lessons!

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Essay Writing Help for Struggling Learners


Learn how to support the struggling essay writers in your middle school ELA classroom with this quick tip!

Struggling learners come in all shapes and sizes.  Some have diagnosed learning needs and others do not.  What they all need is something to use to help them remember what they are supposed to do.  I recognized this early on and created writing "toolkits" with my students.

I gave each student a manila folder that was to be kept in the room.  They decorated the outside however they wanted, but their name had to be in the name space.

Then, as we learned about citing evidence, for example, I would have them add a list of citing evidence starters into the toolkit.  We also added commentary starters, lists of transitions, and synonyms for overused words.  You can get a free sample of the evidence starters in my free resource library!

But we didn't stop there!  Once we learned how to plan an essay, we put different planning sheets in the toolkits too!  One planning sheet had a great deal of scaffolding and others had less.  Some were vertical with sentence starters and some were horizontal like a kind of flow map.  These really helped my students organize their writing.

Then we added our essay outline, or skeleton, as I called it.  This wrote out what each sentence should be in an essay.  This was perfect for my students who insisted that had never written an essay before. Now they had a roadmap to follow! 

We also kept our writing samples and grading rubrics in this folder.  This was great for parent conferences and any other meetings when I needed to show progress and what I did to support that progress.

So now when we work on writing in the classroom, students have something to which they can refer.  It gives them ideas and confidence that they can write an essay.

I think of the toolkits as a great way to show that I am providing accommodations and support for those struggling learners.  They are terrific reference sheets that allow students to gradually imprint the ideas into their brains rather than having to memorize them all at once.  

Ready to try this in your classroom?  Save TONS of time with my toolkits for both informative and argumentative essays that are ready to go in print and digital formats!  Click here to get them!

Support your struggling middle school writers with reference sheets that included sentence starters, organizers and more!

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Find out how to create a toolkit to support your middle school struggling learners!

Citing Evidence Help for Struggling Learners


Support your struggling middle school learners by breaking down the concept of citing evidence into these 4 steps!

Maybe it's just me, but I always have students who like to cite evidence by just picking anything from the text.  Of course, I teach what relevant evidence is, but always struggled with getting kids to use their knowledge until I started breaking it down and taking students through the entire process:

1.  Read the prompt and determine what the claim or statement is that is being made.

After reading the prompt, it is critical that students know what information they are looking for.  

So for example, if the prompt is "Write an argumentative essay in which you take a position on whether DDT should be banned or not.", then students need to be looking for information on both sides of this issue as they read the text.  

Why both sides?  Because the side with the most evidence is the one to write about in the essay (even if the student doesn't personally agree).

2.  Locate evidence that can be used to support the claim or statement.

This sounds easy enough, but students need to be reminded to ask themselves "Does this sentence answer the prompt?"  Using the same example, just because the sentence mentions DDT doesn't mean it's about it being banned or not.  Students need to be reminded to continually check.

3.  Determine if the evidence is relevant and sufficient.

When I teach this, I talk about relevance in terms of answering the question in #2, but for sufficiency, we need 2 pieces of evidence for each body paragraph.  So in order for there to be enough evidence, there need to be 3 sets of 2 sentences that support the claim.

4.  Cite evidence by preparing and quoting.

Now that students have collected the evidence, they need to know how to insert that into their writing. I came up with this silly idea of "Minding your Ps and Qs".  This is an old idiom that refers to "minding one's manners" which to me is about doing things right.  So in order to do things right when citing evidence, one needs to mind their Ps and Qs by Preparing and Quoting the evidence correctly.

These steps are in my FREE citing evidence digital lesson.  Click here to get a copy in my resource library!

Need more detailed lessons with editable lesson plans?  You will love my entire printable citing evidence bundle that provides a vocabulary worksheet, vocabulary game, interactive guided notes, a processing (practice) menu, a quiz, and remediation and enrichment.  It's differentiated and ready to go!

A perfectly differentiated unit bundle that will help you teach, assess, reteach and enrich your middle school students for citing evidence!

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Don’t spend hours searching for that great idea you found.  Just pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can quickly and easily come back when you are ready.  You’ll be glad you did!

Use these 4 steps to break down the concept of citing evidence for your struggling middle school learners!

3 Ways To Differentiate Middle School Essay Writing


Differentiate Your Middle School Essay Writing Lessons with Ease Using One (Or More) of These Strategies!

This year there is more of a focus on differentiation than ever.  The idea is that not all of the students need to be doing the same thing at the same time. But how does one make that work in the regular classroom?  I have a few ideas:

1.  Have students work in centers (stations)

In Middle School, I create centers by placing all the items that students need into containers/baskets.  The students don't move, just the containers.  

I made centers for each area of essay writing:

Focus - There are 4 activities that I can assign to students - one for purpose, one for audience, one for task, and one for all 3 areas.  This way students who need more practice in a particular area can get it and those that have a pretty good grasp on this can work with all 3 areas at once!

Organization - There are 4 activities for the structure of an essay:  

1.  Critical vocabulary like "cite" and "commentary" foldable

2. Hands-on organization of sentence strips into an essay

3.  "Grading" an essay

4.  Task cards for introduction practice 

They're all different activities for different needs.  Maybe all of my students need to complete all of these centers or maybe some students only need some of these centers. What do I do with those those don't need them all?  I have them create something new that would help others learn these skills.  For example, I have them make an essay organization poster with key vocabulary.  

Support - These stations focus on evidence, elaboration (commentary) and opposing claims.  I set this up as a friendly competition.  Students work in groups and are looking for the best evidence and creating the best commentary for their claims to win!

Conventions - Complete sentences, capitalization, and punctuation are the 3 centers I made for this area as they are the most common areas of need.  In Florida, these areas only count as 20% of the grade whereas the Focus and Organization count as 40%, and the Support (evidence and elaboration) count as 40%.

Wouldn't it be a massive time saver to have all these centers ready to go?  They are!  Click here to check them out!

Practicing essay writing doesn't have to be writing another essay!  Try these enters instead!

2.  Scaffolded Planning Sheets

Some students need a lot of visual cues, while some need very little.  I teach all my students the same basic structure, but some students use a planning sheet with more scaffolding and others with less.

Differentiated Planning Sheets for Middle School so all learners can get what they need!

I include all types in my Writers' Toolkits and you can get a free copy of the most scaffolded version for informative essays in my resource library!

3.  Interactive Guided Notes

I made 4 versions of notes for the structure of essays and for the definitions of key terms.  

These middle school essay notes have 3 levels of scaffolding but all with the same content so every learner can get what they need to be successful!

Most scaffolded: Pre-printed pictures and pre-printed content.  Students highlight key words.

Less scaffolding:  Pre-printed pictures and fill-in-the-blanks for content  OR Positionable picture flaps and pre-printed content

Least scaffolding:  Positionable picture flaps and fill-in-the-blanks for content.

Now every learner can get what they need to be successful while all still learning the same content!  

These are my top 3 ideas to differentiate essay writing lessons.  Your students will love the variety and different kinds of interaction and I think you will love the results!

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Don’t spend hours searching for that great idea you found.  Just pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can quickly and easily come back when you are ready.  You’ll be glad you did!

You can make sure every Middle School Learner gets what they need to better essay writers with these strategies!