I have taught AP Comp classes for over 10 years. In that time, I have picked up some handy tips to teaching students how to write a solid, well constructed and well written essay. Here are the steps:
1. Stick to the Prompt - The prompt may be on an essay test or it may be something a professor distributes to the class or it may be an idea you have that needs to be discussed. Prompts usually come in the form of a question, so either ask the question or read the provided one carefully and then answer the prompt honestly, making sure to restate the prompt in your answer. This sentence you construct has now become your thesis statement, the lifeblood of your essay.
2. Structure is Key - After you have written your rudimentary thesis statement (it may change as you come up with ideas or do research) write a brief outline of what you are going to write about. This should be no longer than 1/2 page at the most. The following three steps should be included in the outline in brief.
3. Introduction - Write a short anecdote or short personal story that introduces the idea discussed in your idea. The introduction is just that: it introduces the idea to the reader before you launch them into it. This should make up the first paragraph or so of your essay, and the thesis statement should be the final sentence in this section.
4. Body Paragraphs - You should create at least 3 of these, each starting with a supporting sentence that is evidence that your thesis statement is true. Never use the words "I think" or "This is true because". Make the statement of support as if your thesis statement is as true as gravity or that nobody talks about Carrot Top anymore. Follow each body paragraph with a solid transitional sentence that leads the reader into your next supporting detail. Remember that the three forms of argument are Logos (Logic), Pathos (Emotion) and Ethos (Morals). Some students who are good writers will use all three of these forms to tackle every side of their issue or thesis.
5. Conclusion Paragraph - A good conclusion summarizes all of your main points, restates your thesis in different words, and generally leaves your reader thinking about the truth of your argument. It is usually good to end with a quotation or some type of anecdote that illustrates the truth of your argument.
6. Address the Other Side - Often my students will run off with an argument without really discussing the opposite opinion. Look carefully at the opposing argument and attack it carefully. You might do some research to find the top three points of their argument and find logical, emotional or ethical reasons why your thesis is the best choice.
7. Revision, Revision, Revision - I used to assign an essay on Mondays, due on Fridays, and the students would wait until Thursday night and write absolute garbage. Now I have them write an essay in class, I take it up, pass it out the next week and they peer edit, and the process continues like that for a few weeks. They have to revise the essay again and again until they have gone through about three revisions. The finished product is almost always the best they can produce.
1. Read Aloud - If you were educated in English speaking schools, you have been ingrained since birth with grammar rules. However, when we read sentences silently, we often miss the grammar problems that plague us. I have found that if I read the sentences aloud to myself, I find all of the horrible errors that damage my essay's effectiveness. The reason is that somehow we recognize bad grammar through hearing better than seeing it.
2. Read The Last Sentence First - Start at the last sentence of your essay and read it by itself, not connecting it to the rest of the essay. Does it sound correct? Is it a run-on? Is it a fragment? Are there any slang terms? Correct the sentence if needed and then move to the sentence before that. Work backwards through your essay in this manner and you will ensure that each sentence in your essay is well constructed and stands on its own merit.
3. Peer Edit - Give it to friends who are willing to read your essay and be very critical of it. If you know someone who disagrees with you on the issue you are writing about, give it to them and listen very carefully to their side. They will point out all of the faults in logic you have stepped in. Revise these problems so that your essay is iron clad.
Alright Master Teachers who read this, please post your tips for students and let us make this post a handy resource for our struggling students.