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Essay writing is so important, so here's what you can do to help your child write great ones!
Essay writing is so important, so here’s what you can do to help your child write great ones!

Your teen needs to step up to the mark because school is getting harder.

High school education continues to move away from tests with one word answers and towards students having to come up with paragraph or even full essay answers. And there’s a good reason for this.

The internet has become so widespread and so accessible, that having a library of singular facts stored in your head is no longer helpful. The average cell phone can now access Google or Wikipedia anywhere. Type in your question and boom, there’s your answer.

Essays require more than just a memorization of facts. They require students to have an understanding of what they’re talking about. They also require students to know how to express themselves clearly and concisely in writing.

Being able to communicate well is an absolute must in the real world. It’s also necessary in all subject courses at university, and definitely in any professional capacity.

Essay writing is definitely a learnable skill, but not necessarily a straight forward one for a lot of students.

Because we want your teen to master essay writing as much as they can during their time at high school, here are 5 tips that will significantly increase your teen’s essay marks.

1. Every essay must have a proper structure

An essay must be broken into paragraphs to make it readable. It’s horrible reading a full page of solid text. Breaking down an essay into different sections is what allows it to flow in a logical manner.

At high school all essays should follow a simple formula. Your teen needs to learn this formula off by heart!

Essay Structure

Introduction: Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Introduce the topic and briefly outline the points you’re going to make in your essay in the order you’re going to write about them. If the essay is meant to argue a point, your teen should make it clear in the introduction what their argument/point of view is.

Body Paragraphs: Tell ‘em. At high school an essay will usually have 3-5 paragraphs. Each paragraph contains its own main point that contributes to the overall theme or argument of the essay. (These paragraphs follow their own structure – see tip # 2)

Conclusion: Tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Sum up what the essay was about.

2. Each body paragraph must have a proper structure

Not only does the essay as a whole need structure, each paragraph needs to meet certain requirements.

Remember SEXI

S = Statement: This is the main point of the paragraph. What part of the film is being discussed and what did it mean to the film? What was important about an historical event and how did it affect later events? Basically, what’s the point you’re about to discuss in this paragraph.

E = Explanation: Explain what you said in your statement. Tell the reader why your statement is true. Why did the setting reflect how the main character was feeling? In what way did the weather affect the outcome of the battle? This part should make up the bulk of the paragraph.

X = eXample Give an example! A quote, an example, a fact. Something concrete that gives evidence to your statement.

I = Importance Why is the point you’ve made in this paragraph important? What does it mean to the story, or the film, or the event? Tell the reader why it matters. This one might not always be applicable, but if you can then go for it.

3. Every essay needs an essay plan

You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map and essays are just the same.

Before your teen starts writing an essay they should make a quick plan of what they’re going to write about.

An essay plan does not have to be a big thing. Not at all. It only takes a few minutes but will save your teen SO much time overall.

Essay plans instantly give an essay structure, they prevent you from forgetting to include any important points, and they prevent you from losing your way as you write.

An essay plan can be quickly scribbled in a margin, or the first page of an exam book that isn’t marked.

Here is an example of the way I would do an essay plan before I started writing. (It’s for the film The Matrix…)

Essay Plan Example
Essay Plan Example

Each of the three ‘fingers’ coming off each paragraph make up ‘SEXI’. I haven’t done the ‘I’ part, but within each paragraph I would try and emphasize why this point was important to the setting of the film.

Every time your teen writes an essay, whether it’s just for practise or in an exam, they need to jot down the points that are going to fill their ‘SEXI’ for each paragraph. The detail that they list here means they don’t have to worry about forgetting anything important while they’re writing.

4. Revise and Edit

This depends on what situation the essay is being written in.

If it’s being written for homework and your teen doesn’t have the time pressure of an exam, it can be a good idea to go and do something else for a while once they’ve finished writing. You know when you come back to look at something you’ve written and you see all the little mistakes you didn’t notice before? This is why.

Your teen should check that the paragraphs are written in a logical order. Simply put – does the essay make sense? Does each paragraph follows SEXI? Get them to read their essay aloud (or in their head) so they can see how it flows (or doesn’t as it may be).

If the essay is being written in an exam your teen won’t have the luxury of time. So the number one rule here is: stay until the end! While it may seem like eternity to a high school student, exams aren’t actually that long. And a few minutes of proof reading can often make the difference between one grade and another. It’s worth staying right to the end.

5. Practise makes perfect

Writing essays can be practised! Many students go through a whole year at school and only do one or two practice essays (that they were forced to do). They may know the subject backwards, but if they don’t know how to write a good essay then they’re screwed.

Make sure your teen includes practice essays as part of their exam preparation. Getting a hold of past exams and using them to practise is a great idea. If you can then have a read of their work yourself that’s fantastic. They might need an adult eye to pick up something that’s not quite right.

Even better, get your teen to ask their teacher to mark it. Most teachers would love an interested student to ask them to mark a practice essay!
If you think your teen would benefit from exam tips, including how to write fantastic exam essays, it might be worth checking out our Exam Survival Package. You can read what other parents have said about it here.

Image Credit: Stuartpilbrow on Flickr

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Comments

  1. This is a great article! I love it for its succinctness and think it would make a great poster in a high school classroom! I forwarded it to all three of my kids!

    • i looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooved this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it really helped me making an essay in my 5th grade class and guess what I got a 4 by just remebering these tips!

      • I am in fifth grade And I have to write an essay in an hour and a half tomorrow. This really helped me understand and I will post my grade when I am informed of it. Thank you so much for the tips and I will be sure yo use them on my essay.

    • Dear Clare and Chris:

      I’m a Mexican teacher of English as a foreign language and I’m constantly searching for guidance to improve my teaching. I teach a preparation course for the FCE by Cambridge.

      I truly appreciate your generosity to share these great guidelines.. I live in Mérida, Yucatan. That is the Yucatan peninsula, just 3 hour drive from Cancun. I’d love to be of any help if you ever plan on travelling down here.

      Best wishes

      Cecilia

      • – who
        – what
        – where
        – when
        – why
        – how
        Answer those questions with your added details an you have your essay!

    • This article has helped me a lot because I’ve been trying to write a 1000 word essay due at school and hadn’t started but I did an essay plan and that has helped me a lot. Thanks.

  2. Thanks so much for your feedback Lisa!

    The whole idea of this article is to get students to realize there’s a formula to essay writing they can apply every time.

    In a classroom is a great idea! We’ll definitely be getting in touch with teachers we know about that one.

  3. I have to agree with Lisa – this is a great summary of how to write an essay. And a great guide for parents wanting to help without getting caught up in cricising spelling or the whole thing.

    In an exam, I also jotted down the relevant points I could think of, added a relevant example/quote/fact then sorted into order for the essay. It really was effective in clarifying what to write when you can’t cut and paste your work! And saved a lot of time as I had lots of time for writing rather than getting the ideas tumbling over each other.

  4. I am a 13yr old in yr8 and were doing essays in English at the moment on the book ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’.
    this helped a lot with my essay writing 🙂
    I am going to recommend this website to people I know who are having trouble with writing essays
    THANK YOU 🙂

    • Thank you KC that’s fantastic you’re finding our tips useful, but you’re the one who is putting them to use so well done you!! I loved the Tomorrow When the War Began series, I hope you’re enjoying the books too! Keep up the good work – awesome stuff! 🙂

  5. I loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooved this it really helped me realize what an essay is all about and i got a 4 on writing my essay so thanks!

  6. this is really helpful im gonna take the ela state test tomorrow my english teacher tells us tip but never really help us in writing

  7. Hi there!

    You have saved me with this info! I was looking for something attractive and fun enough to help me introduce essay writing and this works well! Thank you!

  8. This is fantastic. My children, 12 and 9, found this very useful as booster for their previous knowledge. Thanks for this good work. Please continue.

  9. But you do not get enough time to make a structure plan in the exam….
    Is there any alternative for that…❓❓
    I would be waiting for an example

  10. Being an eassay writer is a difficult task as it involves lots of research work. Today i accidentally came to read your blog post. It helped me to gain new ideas and tips and tricks.

  11. This is a great resource – very informative and accessible! A small grammar gripe – you misuse practice (noun)/practise (verb) throughout and the title doesn’t need an apostrophe. Writing essays should be practised!

  12. Hi Erin, thanks for your comments! Yes thank you for pointing out the practice/practise error. This article is a few years old now and I’ve since been schooled on the difference between the two, but I don’t believe they distinguish between the two in the US, so someone is always going to think that I am wrong 🙂

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