Essay-writing can often feel like an elusive art for adults and children alike. Although most kids are expected to start crafting long essays once they hit middle school, most students feel a little nervous when challenged with writing an essay, regardless of how much experience they have.
In many ways, this reluctance to write is understandable. Essays take a considerable amount of time and effort, requiring the writer to conduct extensive research, come up with an intelligent thesis, and somehow manage to craft their ideas into cohesively structured prose. On top of this, of course, writers need to ensure that their spelling and grammar is in order and that their writing is interesting enough to keep readers engaged.
As anyone who has written an essay or any other piece of extended writing will know, crafting an initial sentence or paragraph is often the most difficult part of an assignment. Some teachers suggest that students start their essays with a so-called “hook”, a creative and original sentence that will grab the attention of readers and instantly alert them to the writer’s central argument.
In some ways, this urge to add a hook makes sense as it encourages students to write with a reader in mind. However, hooks do not necessarily teach kids the key skills needed for writing smart and incisive essays. They can actually be a little distracting.
If your students are too focused on conforming to certain structures, they will forget about the importance of coming up with creative ideas and demonstrating that they have understood specific concepts. Indeed, this problem is not limited to students in the US or, indeed, school-age children. A few years ago, a professor at the UK’s prestigious Cambridge University complained that the institution’s undergraduates were not adequately prepared to write essays of a decent quality thanks to a modern-day obsession with essay structure.
So, how should you teach essay-writing to students?
1. Don’t teach students about hooks (or other structures) until students are confident with writing
It is only natural to want to give students a clear template for their essays. Unfortunately, however, different essays require different structures and giving concrete rules will only damage your students’ writing abilities.
Whilst teaching very general rules about structuring can be beneficial, try not to give any concrete rules from the outset. If you immediately stress the importance of a hook, for example, you are likely to see students reproduce the same hook for all of their essays!
Instead, remind students that:
- Ideas should be broken down into easily digestible paragraphs.
- They should include an introduction that introduces what they will be discussing.
- They should include a conclusion that sums up their main thesis.
- The essay should have some kind of logical trajectory.
- They should attempt to link ideas together to form a cohesive argument.
2. Practice makes perfect
One of the best ways to develop essay-writing skills is simply to practice. Writing is a craft that takes a good deal of time and effort. Remind students that the more time they spend writing and redrafting their essays, the higher their grades are likely to be.
3. Hooks can be taught separately
Once your students start becoming more confident with writing essays, you can introduce the idea of a hook. Rather than describing hooks as something integral to an essay, introduce them as fun or creative ways to add flavor to a piece of writing. If a student manages to come up with a particularly innovative or eye-catching hook, do not be afraid to give them a few extra marks.
4. Point them towards useful resources
There are plenty of resources online that students can use to improve their essay-writing skills. This guide from Harvard, for example, may prove useful for bright high school students hoping to impress admissions officers with their work.