Don't rush into essay writing

Gail stares at the blank screen with the blinking cursor and wishes she were anywhere else at this moment. She’s been tasked with writing an essay on her favorite family trip, but instead of deciding between the destinations of Virginia Beach and the Grand Canyon, she’s pondering something more pressing: how to write an essay.

This unprepared feeling she has could have been avoided. If students get a strong foundation in three essential skills, they will be set up for essay writing success. Before we discover what those are, though, it’s important to understand exactly what an essay is, and why they are important for young writers to master.

What is an Essay?

An essay is a structured piece of writing that allows a writer to introduce and summarize a given subject as well as come to a general conclusion about it. Essay writing is an incredibly common assignment for students in upper elementary grades through high school and even into college.  This is because it not only gives young writers a chance to research and organize information, but to practice communicating that information clearly and concisely.

There are multiple types of essays with slightly different purposes. Narrative essays, for instance, tell a story. Descriptive essays paint a picture with words. Expository essays focus on sharing facts. Persuasive essays try to convince the reader to adopt an opinion about something. All essay types, though, have specific things in common. Essays always:

  • have a specific structure, such as beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.
  • include a thesis statement and support for the thesis.
  • are organized into individual paragraphs.

If a student isn’t trained in these three skills, he or she likely won’t even know how to start an essay, much less how to complete one. So, let’s look at these three skills more closely and explore ideas for how your student can improve in each one.

The Skill of Organization in Writing

When a student isn’t even sure how to start an essay, that usually means they haven’t learned the parts of an essay or the basics of how essays are organized. The goal of most middle and high school essay writing courses is to teach students to be able to organize their ideas into a five-paragraph essay structure. The first paragraph introduces the topic and includes the thesis for the report. The middle paragraphs provide supporting evidence for the thesis, and the final paragraph ties everything up with a summary of the main idea. If a student understands the components of an essay, he or she will be well on their way to tackling almost any essay writing assignment.

The Skill of Prewriting

Interestingly, with essay writing, the preparation a student does before drafting the actual essay is every bit as important as the words themselves. If you’ve ever been suddenly called to speak to a crowd without the chance to compose your thoughts, then you understand why preparation is key to clear communication. Before your young writer types the first word of any essay, make sure that they know the basics of:

  • choosing a topic (or narrowing down an assigned topic)
  • brainstorming all they currently know about that topic
  • researching resources to discover new things about the topic
  • making an outline of the main points the essay will cover (introduction, supporting evidence, conclusion)

The other crucial part of the prewriting stage is formulating a thesis statement. The thesis controls the direction of the whole essay and helps the reader understand the information that leads to the conclusion.

The Skill of Paragraph Writing

Even if a student is a master at preparing their thoughts and organizing them into a structure, he or she can still struggle with drafting an essay if there are gaps in the student’s paragraph writing skills. A clear, well-written paragraph is more than just two or three sentences grouped together. It actually has four essential elements that need to be included:

  1. unity
  2. order
  3. coherence
  4. completeness

The secrets to good paragraph writing aren’t something that students can guess at. They need comprehensive instruction and a lot of practice. Once they’ve mastered this fundamental skill, however, young writers can use paragraphs to take their readers on a clear path to where they want them to go.

After getting organization, prewriting, and paragraph writing under her belt, Gail will be ready for the next time she’s asked to decide what her favorite family trip is. In fact, she’ll be equipped for any other essay topic she is assigned. Because essays, reports, and compositions are such an integral part of high school and college writing, preparing your student for them provides a huge step up toward future writing success.