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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Help for Student Essay Writers

GRAPHIC ORGANIZER FOR A TYPICAL 5-PARAGRAPH ESSAY
(Check off the steps as you complete them. You may copy and print this if you wish, though not for publication, of course.)


First, write an Introductory Paragraph—but write it UPSIDE DOWN. “Flip it right-side-up” in your revision. This upside-down format forces you to write the THESIS first because it provides the controlling idea, the main “flavor,” of the entire essay, and should keep you from wandering “off topic.” Make sure with your teacher that the thesis is indeed arguable before you continue.


1) THESIS—One sentence that clearly presents the ARGUMENT you intend to prove. Begin with a strong thesis opener such as: “Thus,” “Therefore,” “We can conclude,” “Hence,” “Obviously,” “Although,” etc.
Check with your teacher that the thesis is specific enough and that it can be proved with supportive details and commentary. Then continue writing as shown below.

2) SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS that will build your argument (one or two sentences):
When writing a response-to-literature essay about a character’s development in an essay, to argue about how the character changes from start to finish, you could write your three main points in terms of the time elements. For example, you could write: “In the beginning of the story, the main character seems ____, but by the middle, he/she changes into ______, and finally, at the end, he/she has become ____.”

When writing a response-to-literature essay that deals with issues other than character development—such as an essay about the themes of the story, or the author’s writing style—list the main points you will illustrate, but save your direct quotations or references to the text for later, to illustrate those main points as “concrete details” (CDs) in the body paragraphs to follow.

In general, writers state three main points, within one (or two) sentences, and those three main points will turn into the Topic Sentences of the three body paragraphs that will follow the Introduction Paragraph. (Note: As essay writers’ skills grow, they may vary their approaches to this format and not need the same rigid approach as beginners use.)

Start with something like: "At the beginning of the story…" or "The three main themes of this story..."


3) ATTENTION-GETTER (THIS WILL END UP AS THE 1ST LINE OF YOUR ESSAY. USE A QUESTION, A SHORT MINI-STORY, A SURPRISING OR THOUGHT-PROVOKING STATEMENT, OR A QUOTATION FROM ANOTHER PIECE OF LITERATURE THAT TIES INTO YOUR MAIN POINTS.)

End of Introduction Paragraph. Now type or recopy the sentences with the Attention-Getter first, the Summary of the Body second, and the Thesis at the end of the paragraph.




BODY PARAGRAPH ONE(To prove main point #1)

1) Topic Sentence : REFERS BACK TO MAIN POINT 1 FROM INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH.

2) Concrete Detail : QUOTATION OR SPECIFIC EXAMPLE AS “EVIDENCE” TO SUPPORT YOUR THESIS, TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM THE LITERATURE. Don’t forget quotation marks, author's name or book title, and page number.

3) Commentary One: "This example shows/illustrates that..." BE SURE TO SET UP THE CONTEXT OF THE QUOTATION FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS NOT READ THE LITERATURE.

4) Commentary Two: "The purpose/meaning of this example is…." You may wish to use opinion-suggesting words to open your sentence, such as “Obviously,” or “Clearly,” “Apparently,” etc.

5) Concluding Sentence of the Body Paragraph: RELATE THIS TO YOUR TOPIC SENTENCE, IN A BROADER WAY. Possible opening words: “Readers thus see that…”

You have now completed the Introduction Paragraph and the First Body Paragraph. Only two more Body Paragraphs to go, and then the Concluding Paragraph. Keep up the good work!....


REPEAT THE ABOVE BODY PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE TWO MORE TIMES, WITH BODY PARAGRAPH TWO SUPPORTING YOUR SECOND MAIN POINT AS ADVERTISED IN YOUR INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH, AND BODY PARAGRAPH THREE SUPPORTING YOUR THIRD MAIN POINT. MAKE SURE THAT EACH OF YOUR TOPIC SENTENCES RESTATE THOSE MAIN POINTS IN A MORE SPECIFIC WAY.



CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH

1) RESTATEMENT OF THESIS (IN BROADER TERMS, RELATING TO LIFE IN GENERAL).

2) REVIEW OF MAIN PTS. (An overall, nonspecific summary of your 3 points, in new words; one sentence will do.)

3) ATTENTION-KEEPER (A broad statement that could refer back to your Attention-Getter, if you wish. This statement should make your reader say, “Aha! So THAT’S what I learned from this essay!” If you opened with a quotation or a question or intriguing statement, you could refer back to it here, to make the essay feel as if it has come “full circle.")


You’ve just written a first draft by filling in the blanks! Type up what you have so far. Your next draft stage will allow you to weave your words together, using transitions (bridging words), for a smoothly flowing essay.

HELPFUL TRICK FOR CREATING SMOOTH TRANSITIONS (between paragraphs, and even between sentences within a paragraph): Repeat a word or phrase (or a form of that word or phrase) in the very next sentence. For example: one paragraph might end with the words, “Thus, the narrator shows readers how life can change depending on the choices one makes;” and the TS of the following paragraph could say, “Smart choices involve planning ahead, and the narrator….” The subtle repetition of a word (“choices,” in this case) makes one thought flow into the next for the reader.

The goal of writing an essay should be communication of thoughts that will affect the reader either by educating, enlightening, convincing, or entertaining him or her. Effectiveness in meeting this goal depends upon an essay that builds point upon point, like a carefully constructed building, and weaves thoughts to other thoughts, like a tightly stitched quilt. May you meet this goal in every essay!

~Susan L. Lipson
Writing teacher

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Showing Versus Telling: Playing Director to Your Actor-Characters

To write compelling words, I always stress that writers must SHOW, not tell. I didn't invent that phrase; my own writing teachers used to say that. But sometimes, students have trouble understanding how to create "showing" words from "telling" sentences. Here's one of my latest lessons:

To show, rather than tell, with your words, the trick is to envision yourself as a film director who needs to SHOW each scene in pictures, with a little help, sometimes, from a narrator's voice-over lines. Mostly, though, the scene will consist of dialogue, actions, and descriptions.

One of my favorite ways to illustrate the difference between showing and telling is to have students examine the opening of the third Harry Potter book. As wonderful a storyteller as J.K. Rowling is, no author is immune to overwriting, and no editor should allow superfluous words to slow down a vivid story; however, the first two paragraphs of The Prisoner of Azkaban somehow got overlooked by both author and editor--but not by me. I have typed them below. Notice how the first paragraph merely tells what the following paragraph then SHOWS. If I had edited this volume, I would have deleted the first paragraph and started with the second (with a minor adjustment--see below).

Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.

It was nearly midnight, and he was lying on his stomach in bed, the blankets drawn right over his head like a tent, a flashlight in one hand and a large leather-bound book (A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot) propped open against the pillow. Harry moved the tip of his eagle-feather quill down the page, frowning as he looked for something that would help him write his essay, "Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless--discuss."



If Rowling had merely changed the first "he" in the second paragraph to "Harry Potter," we would already know that the boy is studying magic, as part of a school, and that something is odd (writing with a quill, not a pen, and doing his homework at midnight, in secret--from whom?). This second paragraph hooks us with a scene, not a summary, as the first paragraph does. In fact, the first paragraph illustrates something I coach my students to avoid: The Info Dump. The vivid second paragraph thus renders the original first paragraph useless. What do you think: is the first paragraph really necessary, or as compelling as the immediate pull into a scene, which is offered by paragraph two?

Gadget

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