The Multi-Step Approach
to Teaching The Essay
Most of my website-book-blog-persona is devoted to teaching creativity. Now, I want to explain my philosophy of teaching the essay. It could be for the SAT. It could be for a state exam. It could be for the AP test. No matter the writing assignment, a composition written in academia can benefit from these elemental techniques.
Creating my own handouts is crucial to every lesson I teach. Click on any photo to download the handout. You can use my handouts -- although that's not how I would do it. I would use these as models to ultimately create my own material. You can give me credit by showing your students this blog!
Here in chronological order is how I teach the essay:
3) Teach through revision. The bottom of the "Goals & Deadlines" handout explains the revision policy. I want students to revise these essays to practice our writing lessons, so I give them a bonus incentive.
We must design revision systems in our classrooms. Revision is the key practice needed to teach our students how to improve their writing. Whether it's poetry or prose, a song or an essay, a children's book or a research paper -- writing must go through a process in order to maximize the assignment's educational value and create powerful and effective pieces.
My rubrics begin with models from the New York State Regents Exam. I keep their categories and utilize some of their language, but I write up category descriptions to match our writing lessons.
At my first AP Workshop I learned to use this translator as an effective way to communicate with students through rubrics.
"9 or 10" = outstanding in the category
"8" = adequate. (First question: Is it adequate or not?)
<8 = inadequate. To what degree?
This translator gives teachers and students a common language to discuss the intricacies of writing. It translates into a grade, highlights important lessons, and motivates students to become outstanding writers.
This rubric has five 10-point categories, so I double the score for a test grade out of 100. Be sure to teach them the rubric months before the essay!!
Make sure everything connects! The mini-lessons = the rubrics = outstanding writing = outstanding grades.
I use this handout to get all these lessons out front, in our ears, and off our tongues. We study these terms and practice their concepts all year-long.
I keep 50-100 examples of everything I teach and work them into every lesson. Almost every handout I create includes a variety of student-samples. I also keep folders of all sorts of student-samples: research papers, regents essays, poems, memoirs, cartoons, pie charts, abstract art, etc. Student-samples are so important, you should start collecting them today!
I sometimes distribute the question a day or two in advance and encourage the students to prepare their answers. But, no notes can be used on test day! This helps isolate and assess the students' writing skills.
Sometimes, I even make the test open-notes, a la the blog entry below.