Producing a successful essay can be one of the most arduous parts of the schooling process, and yet, the need to write an essay is everywhere: from English literature, to economics, to physics, geography, classical studies, music, and history. To succeed, at high school and in tertiary study you must master essay writing.
Getting students over this barrier was one of the reasons I put pen to paper four years ago and produced a book called Write That Essay! At that stage, I was a senior academic at Auckland University and a university examiner. For nearly 20 years, in both course work and examinations, I had counselled everyone from 17-year-old 'newbies' to 40-year-old career changers with their essay writing. Often, the difference between a student who might achieve a B-Grade and the A-Grade student was just some well-placed advice and direction.
I then visited over 50 New Zealand High Schools and spoke with over 8000 kiwi kids about essay writing. These students reported exactly the same challenges as I had previously encountered, and more. The result has been two books and a DVD that have helped kids achieve some of the potential that sits inside all of us.
In this article I am going to deal with some things you can do as a parent to help your child succeed at essay writing. Because writing great essays is well within every child's grasp.
Tips for essay writing success:
1. It's an argument
Remember that an essay is an argument: the task in an essay is not to write a story or to recount a plot. The teacher knows all of this information. In an essay your child's job is to present a compelling argument-using specific evidence-for the point they are trying to make.
2. Write a plan: you'll be pleased that you did
Get your child to write a brief list-plan of the topics that their essay needs to cover. Even a short plan is better than no plan at all, and will start to give the writer a feeling that completing an essay on that topic is well within their grasp.
If your child is a visual learner, move away from the desk and go to a neutral space. Grab a large sheet of blank A3 paper and some coloured pens, and brainstorm a mind map or sketch plan of what the essay should contain. Using pictures, lines, circles, and arrows will all help the visual learner grasp the task at hand and help them see what they have to do.
3. Getting Started
A challenge many kids (and adults) face writing essays is getting started. The person sits there waiting for inspiration to hit them like a lightening bolt and it never happens. What can you as a parent do to help?
Encourage them with the thought that great essays are never written the first time over. Get them to view essay writing as a three-part process. The first draft is only to get out the ideas and words in rough form. In the second and third effort, they will add to their essay where there are blanks, clarify ideas, and give it a final polish. Realising that an essay isn't supposed to be perfect the first time you write it, really helps some people.
4. Having enough to say
If your child is still stuck, find out if they have read up enough on the topic. Some inertia with writing can be due to lack of knowledge. They will find writing so much easier if they spend another day or two reading more on the topic and gleaning some additional ideas.
5. Try using a neutral sentence
Suggest starting the essay with a neutral sentence: a sentence that merely states an interesting fact on the topic being written about. Here's one: 'Mozart was one of the most important Austrian composers of the eighteenth century.' First sentences in essays don't need to be stellar - you just need to start!
Now, go write that essay!
Titles available in this series:
Write That Essay! (for tertiary students)
Write That Essay! High School Edition
Write That Essay! High School Edition Box Set (includes book, DVD and worksheets)
Have you ever used creative writing prompts?
Many writers have concerns about using creative writing prompts because they feel in some way it's cheating, or taking a short cut.
This is a common misconception, and it's understandable where it comes from. We want to be original with our writing, find our own unique voice and way of expressing ourselves through our words.
If we use someone else's words, how can we say we're being original?
You're not using the prompt then adding nothing else. You're making your own major contribution to the finished piece of writing.
Imagine it being like a fire.
You creative talent is the logs in the fireplace, all stacked up and waiting to be lit. If they don't get lit, there not going to burn. It's as simple as that.
What you need is that initial spark to get your creative fires crackling away.
And this is where creative writing prompts come in, and can be so effective.
They are the tiny match that provides the initial flame that sets your creative talents ablaze.
Once you've got going, it's far easier to keep the fire alive, by adding fuel in the form of your new ideas and creative talents.
If you tried to build a whole writing project from just creative prompts it wouldn't work. This would be like trying to make a bonfire out of individual matches. It would burn fiercely for a few seconds then die.
There's no real fuel of any substance there to keep the flame alive. That's what you provide and where your stack of creative talent comes in.
Creative writing prompts can help you become a better creative writer.
You've just got to be willing to try them out and see for yourself what a fantastic stimulus they can be.
If you have been trying to learn how to write 5 paragraph essays, you will find that this article gives you a quick and easy breakdown of what is needed for each paragraph. If you follow this approach your essay will be well structured and satisfy the requirements of how to write 5 paragraph essays. The article also gives you access to further essay writing tools that will refine your skills in how to write 5 paragraph essays.
1. How to Write 5 Paragraph Essays - The Introduction
In learning how to write 5 paragraph essays, bear in mind that the first paragraph should clearly explain what the subject of the essay is. The introduction also needs to introduce what your main points will be.
There should have at least three of these main points - one for each of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs, which together will form the central 'core' of your essay.
The introduction also needs to generate sufficient interest to entice the reader into the main body of the essay.
When learning how to write 5 paragraph essays, remember to avoid long drawn-out paragraphs. This makes for tedious reading, and quickly loses the reader's attention.
2. The 2nd Paragraph - Developing Your Main Idea
When working out how to write a 5 paragraph essay, remember that the second paragraph has to include information and a discussion about the most important aspect of the essay. If the essay is a commentary on a piece of written work, then you should explain how you have interpreted the main idea in that written work.
The reader's interest in the subject must be further enhanced by discussing several interesting aspects related to the main idea. For example, if your essay topic is about the history of your city, your main idea could be that the first settlement of that area was due to a nearby goldmine. Related ideas could be that the city thrived because the gold resources were extensive and easily mined
Once you have dealt with the main idea of your 5 paragraph essay, it is time to write about the next most important aspect of your essay topic.
3. The 3rd Paragraph - Developing Your Second Idea
This paragraph should draw the reader through from paragraph 2 into the second most important aspect of the subject.
In the example given above, the second most important idea could be that the city's location was also due to the transport opportunities that the nearby river offered. You can discuss how this relates to the main idea, perhaps because of the ease through which the gold could be transported away from that area.
The general aim of the 3rd paragraph is to enrich and expand upon the main point discussed in paragraph 2.
4. The 4th Paragraph - Developing Your Third Idea
This paragraph will cover the relatively minor aspects of the essay topic, including why they are less important than what you have written about in paragraphs 2 and 3.
However, these points of your 5 paragraph essay should still be interesting and of value to the reader and should also support the ideas presented in the preceding paraqraphs.
5. How to Write a 5 Paragraph Essay - The Conclusion
An essential part of learning how to write 5 paragraph essays is to understand the vital importance of the final paragraph. This is where you must briefly reiterate and summarise the main points raised in the preceding paragraphs.
Make sure that your final paragraph leaves the reader in no doubt as to what your research conclusions are. For example, say you are comparing the opinions of several different authors and you have concluded that one author's opinion is more valid than the others. Your final paragraph should clearly state who that author is and why their opinion is 'best' in your eyes. By bringing together in a succinct way the information contained in the body of the essay, you will ensure that the interest of the reader is maintained until the last paragraph.
In this article you have seen the five steps necessary to creating a great 5 paragraph essay. Take the process of learning how to write 5 paragraph essays one step at a time and you will be guaranteed of success!
However experienced a writer you are, you need certain techniques and methods you can use to write at your best.
And however spontaneously and freely you write, you're able to do this because of certain "rules" and systems you have in place. Even if you don't realise it.
Theses rules can be as simple and general as: "A sentence is made up of a collection of words in a logical sequence, a paragraph is a number of sentences and a chapter of a novel is a number of paragraphs following on from one another."
Or, your rules can be as precise as: "My haikus must be 3 lines long, made up of 5, 7 then 5 syllables and must contain one simple image."
Each set of rules you have enable you to write within a certain template, without having to go back to relearning language from the basics of your alphabet upwards.
Despite any preconceptions you might have about these kind of guidelines being limiting, they actually help you be more creative with your writing. And you simply wouldn't be able to write without them.
Think of them as tools in your writer's toolbox. If you have no tools, you can't make anything, but with a simple toolkit you can craft wonderful works of writing that would be impossible otherwise.
Among the best tools you can use for your writing are creative writing prompts or exercises.
A writing prompt is just a few words or an idea that gives you that initial spark of inspiration for your creative writing to set off from. Writing exercises can be wide and varied, but essentially they all give you taste of writing in new ways and trying different techniques you may not have come across before.
For any writer looking to continue to develop their writing, and unleash their full writing potential, writing prompts and exercises are both valuable tools to have in your writer's toolkit.
The bonus with prompts and exercises is that the more you use them, and the wider the variety you use, the more easy it becomes to write creatively and freely.
You also start to develop your own versions of exercises and prompts you've found effective, tweaking them to make them even more useful and powerful for you.
You also become more natural and instinctive in your writing. You might think that having too many tools, you'd be overwhelmed with which to use each time you want to write. But this doesn't happen, as the more you practice, the more you instinctively just use the technique that works for that piece of writing.
If you haven't tried creative writing prompts or exercises before, you're missing out on a great way to enhance your creative writing.