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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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staar expository essay writing template
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Teaching STAAR Writing
Before Teaching STAAR Writing
#2 - Have students write for different purposes, genres, and topics. You might get writing going strong by using Linda Rief 's 2-minute Quickwrite Strategy . Also refer to the following resource, developed to build Writing Workshop in a Secondary Classroom .
#3 - Establish procedures and expectations for writing time/conferences - These expectations need to explicitly taught and modeled with students to address the following: What does writing time look like? Sound like? What should student behavior be when the teacher is having workshop with a group of students to work on the same skill? What should behavior look like when the teacher is working one-on-one in a writing conference with a student? What should you do when you're "done?" (Hint: Writers are never really done.)
#4 - Build a Writing Culture - call students "writers," give time to publish often (even if it is just select writers sharing one line from their writing at the end of the daily writing block), read each anchor text twice: Once as a reader and once as a writer, looking specifically at author's craft.
Teaching STAAR Writing - A Timeline
1. Understanding the Rubric
Activity: Have students review the TEA essay rubric. Copy the TEA rubric (below) on one side and the blank rubric (below) on the other side. Work with students to read, annotate, and rewrite one row/category in student friendly language on the blank side. Students can also add visuals as needed. Do not try to do the entire rubric at one time - work with one row/category each day, based on what students are working on for that day's lesson (see step 3 below for chunking the days). This activity should take 10-15 minutes total, each day that you review one row, for approximately 8 days.
Teaching Instructions, using Gradual Release:
I DO - Start by modeling with one cell from a row, like "Thesis Statement & Focus/Coherence." Model how to annotate and re-word the rubric so that earning a score "4" is very clear. (5 min)
WE DO - Then, allow students to work with a partner to annotate and re-word a score "3," followed by a quick share out whole class to check understanding. (5 min)
YOU DO - Then give students a few minutes to annotate and re-word Score "2" and "1" on their own. If you want to do a share out again, you can. (5 min)
Suggestions to make the lesson stick: Students should add this re-worded rubric (with the original) in their interactive notebook to reference as they write. You might also want to add this re-worded row from the rubric and the original row from the TEA rubric on your anchor chart about Thesis Statements for easy reference.
- Expository One Page Rubric (This is worded exactly from TEA's rubric, but it has been organized into a table so that it fits on one page. Each row has also been given headers to help chunk the teaching of it.
- Persuasive One Pager (Also modified to fit on one page, with row headers)
- Blank Rubric
2. Use Mentor Texts
Activity: Like any other genre of writing, students need to see good examples of expository and/or persuasive writing through real published pieces, as well as exemplary STAAR essays. Be strategic about the exemplary essays or published pieces you choose - have students read it first as a reader, for understanding and the gist of the text, and second - as a writer. Focus on specific skills, author's craft, word choice, and sentence structures to support each student's unique writing needs or struggles.
I DO - Based on the text you chose, you should pre-read to select examples of specific writing traits or elements of author's craft you want to point out to students from the piece. Read the text aloud & allow students time to talk for a few minutes. If students need "prompts" to encourage conversation, consider using Kylene Beers' open-ended questions:
- "What surprised you?"
- "What challenged/changed/confirmed what you know?"
- "What did the author think you already knew?" (This question is really a re-worded "What did you not know/understand?" which sometimes stifles students from sharing.)
After they have had a chance to talk to digest and get the gist of the text, point to the specific words, sentences, or elements of author's craft that you would like them to notice and try using in their own writing.
WE DO - Give students an opportunity to write a sentence using that writing strategy or element of author's craft. You may choose to give them the same sentence stem (especially if the skill was around crafting compound complex sentences, for example) or you may choose to allow them to write from scratch. You might give them a topic or allow them to choose the topic. After students write for a few minutes, have them turn to a partner to check their use of author's craft. Have students share a few examples whole class.
YOU DO - Have students practice using this strategy or technique in their real writing piece, which at this point does not have to be a structured essay - it can simply be in the genre of informative writing, whether that is expository, persuasive, literary nonfiction, or memoir. You may want to have them highlight it a certain color so that when you are doing a writing conference with them, you can easily spot their use of the technique and give feedback.
- STAAR Essays that scored 7 or 8 on STAAR - Expository or Persuasive
- Digital Writing Binder of STAAR Essays, sorted by Writing Strategy/Skill - mentor essays
- Real Expository Writing Pieces for a variety of purposes/topics. (Example here : "Essays every HS student should read" or here : "Short English Essays for Students")
3. Chunking the Essay
Activity: For the FIRST STAAR essay, chunk the teaching of the writing on a daily basis, where it is easier for you to grade sections at a time, during writing conference. This will also give you more of an idea for where students (and the class, in general) are struggling before waiting until the essay is complete. In this way, you can address misunderstandings much sooner. Example for teaching the first expository STAAR essay, which also align to rows/categories from the TEA rubric, as pictured below:
As you teach each of these lessons, construct a 4-square (white image at left below) so that students can use the pieces later as they organize their thinking. The benefit of a 4-square is that you can slowly take pieces away as the STAAR date approaches. For example, try the following timeline:
Week 1: When you first introduce it, have students draw the 4-square and copy all of the provided notes in each square.
Week 2: Instruct students to draw the 4-square and give them the headers and acronyms. See if they can fill in the rest without help.
Week 3: Instruct students to draw the 4-square and only give them the headers. See if they can fill in the acronyms and all the notes.
Week 4: Instruct students to draw the 4-square and see if they can fill in the headers, acronyms, and all notes.
Week 5: Give them a blank paper right before you have them write an essay. (Since we can provide blank papers on STAAR day, if students have practiced writing the steps over a few weeks, they will know what to do with that blank paper.)
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO USE THE EXACT COMPONENTS of the 4-square. Use the idea!
Making these lessons stick: What supports do students need for each step of this writing process? What models or visuals could you design/use? Can you create folders in a crate or on your wall? What could you include in an anchor chart - including the bulleted notes and examples - to support each section of the writing process? Are students including notes in their own words, as well as visuals and examples, after your mini-lesson on each step of the writing process in their interactive notebook? See this smore for ideas to build writing anchor charts.
4. Calibrating/Scoring Essays
Activity: Have students practice scoring model essays, then other students, and eventually their own writing. They should be in the habit of scoring their essay EVERY time they write one. You can also use an OER format to have them justify the score they gave it, using "text evidence" directly from their own essay.
I DO - Display an essay with the rubric. Have students refer back to their annotated rubric as you read over the essay aloud. Pre-read and plan what you will point out in the essay to show alignment to the rubric and to justify its overall score.
WE DO - In groups of 4-5, give students a packet of 4-5 essays that are labeled by letters. Working together, have them score the essays, using the rubric to inform the score they give. Encourage students to disagree and use the rubric to justify the scores they give. When the groups come to consensus, have them write the score on the score card. Give a specific timeframe to work on this (10-15 minutes) and give time reminders throughout so that students know to move on to the next essay, if they haven't already. When the time is up, have groups hold up fingers (1-4, based on what the group scored that essay) as you say the letter of each essay. Then, reveal the results of each essay, pointing out why that was the correct score.
YOU DO - As students write their essays, have them practice this scoring activity periodically with other essay sets so that they are very clear about understanding what it takes to earn a "3." When students complete their own essays, they should have peer conferences where they score a partner's essay. During individual writing conferences, you can see what their peer scored them. This will give you a better understanding of not only which students are writing essays earning a "3" or "4" but also which students (who scored their peers incorrectly) still need your help to understand the rubric.
- Essay sets to practice scoring
Using Conference Data: Based on individual conferences, keep track of students' understanding of writing techniques and elements of author's craft in a physical log or digitally in an excel. Group students to go to writing centers, based on their needs, and schedule group workshops where you are able to work with them during the daily scheduled writing time on a certain skill. In addition, s tart making a bullet list of needs and mini-lessons you need to develop and teach as a mini-lesson before the daily scheduled writing time/block. (Here is a blank one you may want to use; my example )
Click HERE to access Gretchen Bernabei's "Greatest Hits"
Activity: Have students write at least one 11 min (or less!) essay as once/week or even once/day, especially in the 5th six weeks.
Have students start with an 11 min essay (using CHELPS for example ideas ) , which is provided in the resource Gretchen Bernabei's Greatest Hits. After students have practiced the 11 min essay a few times over the course of a few weeks, you can reduce the number of examples so that it becomes a 9 min essay. This is important because most essays that are scored a "3" or "4" have only one well-detailed example or two examples total. It is not recommended to teach students to try to include more than two examples. After teaching Ba-Da-Bing, Pitchforking, and/or Icons (also from Bernabei's Greatest Hits), you can try to have students write a 5 min essay (reducing it to only one example type that they choose based on any of the CHELPS). More information can be found in the PPT linked above.
HOW DO I KNOW WHO TO CONFER WITH???
Use a Status of the Class (SotC) activity to decide what students need to be placed in a collaborative writing group or need a teacher conference. Confer or offer workshops EVERY DAY during the scheduled writing block.
WHAT DOES A WRITING CONFERENCE LOOK LIKE???
As you confer with students (2-5 minutes, depending on the student), even if you notice more than one issue, give them only 1-2 skills to work on at a time so that you don't overwhelm them. Make sure you structure the writing conference as a Constructive Feedback Sandwich: Find something positive ("a hidden gem," according to Katherine Bomer), then something for them to work on, then end with either another positive/gem OR with the student giving their plans for what they are going to do next in their writing. Rather than telling them what is wrong, try to get them to read a section aloud that you're concerned about and see if they can spot the "error" themselves. Lead students to the AHA moment instead of telling them what to fix. Give them time to think through how they can fix it before you offer a suggestion. You may suggest a mentor text (or even sentence) that has an example of what you're wanting them to see/fix.
WHAT IF I CAN'T FIND A "GEM" OR SOMETHING POSITIVE TO SAY???
Read a few sentences aloud slowly, like it is a poem. You also might offer praise on the content and what they're trying to say - their idea, rather than how they've said it.
What do I do with students who score a "3" or "4?" What do they do during writing time???
For students who have finished their essay (and scored a 3 or 4), they still have to write. Allow them to write within a genre, from one topic, or "freewrite." The expectation for daily writing time is to build their writing fluency.
Activity: You may choose to spend a few days working on revising the essay. Encourage students to add depth and specificity to their examples using strategies like Ba-Da-Bings, Icons, or Pitchforking.
I DO - Give students a short review over a specific skill (Refer to the Power Standards and your students' writing to inform what to teach/reinforce.)
WE DO - Use a shuffle activity to have students look for one specific thing at a time. You can do this multiple days in a row to look for different things, but no more than 3 things in one day.
YOU DO - Have students make corrections and/or add writing strategies, based on the writing mini-lesson you gave. Instruct students to highlight, circle, or underline the changes they made so that you can easily see them during writing conferences.
Activity: Follow the exact instructions above for a shuffle activity, but replace it with a grammar skill. (Refer to the Power Standards and your students' writing to inform what to teach/reinforce.) One day is sufficient to work on editing. Other editing issues can be handled in writing workshops, where you have grouped students by need, or individually in one-on-one conferences.
Activity: Students should be in the practice of peer scoring, as well as scoring their own, with justification from the TEA rubric to support the score they gave. You can use students' completed persuasive essays to "debate" different sides of the prompt for a fun publishing opportunity.
Writing Celebrations - Every day after writing block, you can celebrate notable writers (who completed their writing or wrote a large portion) and/or end with an activity called Golden Lines .
*** What does the writing block look like, as part of an IDEAL Day?***
Going through a whole essay from start to finish -
After students have gone through a process essay with you (chunking each day), have them do one essay in a day with an intensive full day of writing instruction/review:
- 5 MINUTES: Start your students writing in general with a strategy like Quickwrites, where you can also model a few golden lines to model writing craft. Quickwrites is great because it helps students think quickly based on a prompt, which is exactly the kind of quick thinking they'll need to do when they see the STAAR prompt.
- 3 MINUTES: Have students create the four square from memory.
- 5 to 9 MINUTES: Do a 5 or 9 minute essay, modified from Bernabei's 11 min essay.
- 5 MINUTES: Add at least one ba-da-bing, one pitchfork, and end with a truism (or other conclusion idea from the 4-square). *Adding a ba-da-bing and pitchfork will ensure that students have sentence variety and show they can craft a complex sentence, both of which are on the TEA rubric.
- 5 MINUTES: Go through the steps of COPPS with them (on the 4-square; it is an Editing Checklist).
- 12 MINUTES: Do three rounds of Revise Shuffle and Edit Shuffle, choosing three of the most missed writing skills/strategies.
- 5 MINUTES: Peer Score
- 25-30 MINUTES: Have writing conferences and workshops based on their needs, which may be determined by the shuffle and/or SOTC, while students revise their writing and/or move on to StIR. This allows you to easily see which students are finished writing. Once they have picked up their book, it is time to have their writing conference and score them.
- Masters from Concordia in Educational Leadership
- 8 years ELA & Reading Teacher
- 3 years Instructional Lead Teacher & Dept Chair
- 2 years Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, AISD
The outlines above are adapted from Gretchen Bernabei.
Connect with Erika San Miguel
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STAAR Writing Guide for Expository & Persuasive
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STAAR WRITING GUIDE FOR EXPOSITORY & PERSUASIVE ESSAYS
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Table of Contents:
Page 2: What will get you zeroes on expository & persuasive
Page 3: How to get two fours on expository using the word EXPOSITORY
Page 4: How to get two fours on persuasive using the word PERSUASIVE
Page 5: Using Your Hands, Fingers, & TOES TO get two fours on PERSUASIVE
Page 6: Let Your Voice Be Heard How to use Mr. Potato Head and six colors of poker chips to add and check for the quantity and quality of voice & development
Page 7 & 8: Practicing Thesis & Position Statements Eleven prompts with and without thesis & position statements
Page 9: English 1 Expository prompt in STAAR format: Write an essay explaining the importance of honesty
Page 10: English 2 Persuasive Prompt in STAAR format: Write an essay stating your opinion on which is more important: being there for family or friends.
Page 11 & 12 Twenty four "four quality" thesis statements responding to the prompt "the importance of honesty"
Page 13: Four Quality Essay Importance of Honesty using ONE Personal Example: keeping the promise to love honor & cherish until death do you part in marriage
Page 14: Four Quality Essay Importance of Honest using ONE Hypothetical Example: Keeping or Sharing Secrets that Someone Gives You When you Promise not to tell anyone
Page 15: Four Quality Essay Importance of Honesty using TWO current event examples: Promises Made By Presidents and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"
Page 16: Four Quality Essay Importance of Honesty/Historical Event- Martin Luther King Being Honest in His "I Have a Dream" Speech and his life
Page 17 & 18: Blank Lined paper for brainstorming to practice pencil & paper as well as online essays
Pages 19-50 Words of Wisdom/Quotes/Truisms Based on the Persuasive Prompt "Write an essay stating your opinion on which is more important: being there for friends or family These will be used to model attention getters, hooks, and relevant, related position statements
Page 51-56 Quick Check and Analytic Scoring Guides for Expository & Persuasive
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STAAR Expository and Persuasive Essay Planning Sheet-modified
However, with limited room on STAAR 26-line paper, use only 1 or 2 supporting paragraphs.
Week 5: Give them a blank paper right before you have them write an essay. (Since we can provide blank papers on STAAR day, if students have practiced writing
Form Popularity written lined template form ... Comments and Help with staar writing paper printable.
Page 17 & 18: Blank Lined paper for brainstorming to practice pencil
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