Best of the Best Essay Writing Instruction

Best practices for teaching high school and middle school students all about essay writing

Teaching students to write essays well can be a tricky task. It is so simple to assume that our incoming students are equipped with all of the tools necessary for writing various types of essays, but that thinking is not only flawed, it is detrimental for our students.

I remember way back in the day when I was in high school. My teachers simply assigned an essay, gave us a prompt, and set us on our merry way. Perhaps this wasn’t the norm for most people back then, and I surely hope that it wasn’t, but it always left me utterly confused. Our students need direction. Our students need guidance. Our students need step-by-step instruction.

When we assign our students essays, especially in the first semester of the school year, we need to make sure that we provide our students with all of the tools and information they could possibly need to write the best essay they can. And for essay writing, this means over teaching. So many of my students lack the skills needed to write a thorough topic sentence, and this isn’t a skill that secondary teachers can just assume all of their students know.

My newest essay writing lesson series, Essay Writing Unit: Teaching Students to Master the Essay, was designed to help teachers break down the essay writing process into a step-by-step, multi-day instructional unit that empowers teachers to improve their essay writing instruction and enables students to feel more confident in their own writing capabilities.

After implementing this lesson series into my own classroom, I truly feel that this essay writing unit is the best of the best when it comes to essay writing instruction in the secondary classroom.

This series breaks down the essay writing process into manageable chunks: mastering the essay outline, the introduction and thesis statement, topic sentences and body paragraphs, the conclusion, and a final essay checklist. Each portion of this lesson series includes a PowerPoint presentation that is semi-editable provide teachers the opportunity to tailor the content to meet the needs of their individual classrooms and supplementary teaching materials and handouts for the students.

This lesson also includes step-by-step instructions and examples for students to use as mentor texts. For example, in the introduction and thesis writing lesson, I’ve included examples of what good thesis statements should look like. I’ve also included examples of poorly written thesis statements with explanations as to why each statement isn’t so great.

When I teach essay writing to my students, I teach it as a process. We start with breaking down the essay prompt, brainstorming ideas (click here to read about how I facilitate group brainstorming), outlining the essay, drafting the essay, completing peer and self editing (click here to read about five foolproof ways to conduct peer editing in your classroom), and finally publishing and finalizing the essay.

To preview my essay writing teaching style, you can download my Comprehensive Essay Writing Checklist for FREE! I use this checklist in my classroom as a self editing tool for students to complete before they turn in their final drafts.

This blog post is included in a Secondary ELA blog hop hosted by Secondary Sara. In this blog hop other amazing secondary ELA teachers discuss their best of the best lessons. Be sure to check out all of these posts to find engaging ideas, classroom-tested activities, and free resources that you can use in your own classroom!

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  • I couldn't agree more! I think it's so important that we give our students manageable chunks and that we model the process of writing the essay. You've provided lots of great tips for students. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for these amazing tips! I don't like teaching writing (gasp!), so it's great to have these useful resources to help me get it right. 😉

  • I love how your products emphasize the writing PROCESS, not just the product! You are absolutely right in that we need to guide the kids through the process step by step.

    • Thank you. I grade the entire process because it is the process that is so important!

  • Great idea! I remember being tossed into essay writing with insufficient instruction and I agree that step-by-step guidance is really helpful. Love the use of printables– sometimes it's really helpful to just write on it.

  • What an awesome idea and resource! I feel like too often the importance of not only teaching the writing process, but also giving students the TIME to complete the process is sacrificed to stay on pace with a curriculum guide. This is a great reminder on why the process is sometimes more important than the actual product. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and classroom experiences! 🙂

  • I absolutely agree that writing instruction has changed since I went to school! Now teachers have wonderful resources like the ones that you provide to help students make the writing process manageable.

  • I totally agree that students need step-by-step instructions! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so too! 🙂


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