December 15, 2023

A Less Painful Essay Writing Process: Part 2 Drafting

Writing an essay isn’t easy. Neither is teaching students how to write one. Here's what I do in the drafting stage to make the essay process smoother.

As I wrote in part 1 of this blog series on a less painful essay process, after five years of teaching students to write a literary analysis essay, also known as text dependent analysis writing in my neck of the woods, I’ve gotten the hang of how to make the best of it for me and my students.

Writing an essay isn’t easy and neither is teaching students how to write one. Over time I have fine-tuned the supports, structures, and examples I provide my students during the essay writing process.

While the first blog post in this series outlined steps I take during the pre-writing process for a less painful essay process, this blog post focuses on what I do during the drafting stage to make the essay process smoother for myself and my students.

1. Provide Sentence Frames 

Most of my sixth graders haven’t heard of a thesis statement, let alone written one. To avoid the cringey “I will be writing about…” kind of sentences, I provide a fill in the blank template, or what I call a sentence frame to help students craft a thesis statement that responds to the essay prompt. Having a thesis statement that is clear, strong, and succinct is key as students go on to write topic sentences in their body paragraphs that will connect back to their thesis.

Similarly, I provide a sentence frame to help students restate their thesis statement in their concluding paragraph. Providing a sentence frame for this part of the essay helps students to see how their restatement is similar, yet different from their original thesis. Without a sentence frame students usually just restate the same exact sentence or reword their thesis into a completely new or different idea. 

2. Use Templates And Samples

I supply students with step by step templates for their introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. These templates break each type of paragraph down into concrete steps for students who might otherwise think that a paragraph has to have five sentences and write too few sentences to really develop their ideas or write too many sentences and become repetitive.

Before students begin writing using these templates, I show them sample paragraphs broken down into the same parts that students will be asked to write. The sample paragraphs are also put together into a sample essay that students have a copy of and refer back to at any time to see how the parts become a whole.

3. Maximize Small Groups

I teach any key writing move that I want students to understand in a small group (small group could range from 8-9 students in my larger classes, and 4-6 students in my smaller class, with a total of three groups in each class). In a small group, there’s a much greater likelihood that I actually have students’ attention and it is much easier for me to give each student immediate feedback as they are writing. 

I use small group lessons as I am teaching students how to structure a body paragraph. Students write at least the first half of their first body in a small group with me. Then I release them to finish that first body paragraph, and after a check in from me to make sure they understand the structure, I release them to write the rest of their body paragraphs.

I also use small group lessons to help students revise their topic sentences and the explanations of their evidence so that they better connect back to their thesis statements. Together as a small group, students identify key ideas from the thesis statement (again, this is where it is helpful for all students to have the same general thesis statement) and then students practice working those key ideas into their topic sentences at the start of each body paragraph. Later they do the same to their explanations of text evidence. 

4. Draft By Hand

I use a combination of direct instruction and gradual release when teaching students how to structure their introduction and conclusion paragraphs. These two paragraphs have a three part structure that students can view examples of and then practice writing on their own. Because these paragraphs are shorter, students work at relatively the same pace while I walk around and give feedback. Having students draft these paragraphs by hand rather than typing them on the computer makes it easier for me to see as I am circulating and there isn’t the temptation for students of opening up another tab and distracting themselves with technology.

I teach students how to structure their body paragraphs in small groups because that is a lengthier seven step process. The first body paragraph is written by hand for similar reasons to those described above. I want students to be fully focused on the instruction I am giving them without being worried that they are playing games or watching videos anytime I’m not directly looking at their computer screen. The small group table also gets pretty crowded when everyone brings their devices with them.

I have students type up everything they have drafted by hand while I am working with small groups. It is a task they can do completely independently without interrupting my small group instruction. The satisfaction of seeing something you have written get typed up is usually enough to keep students focused so I worry less about them getting distracted while typing than I do about them getting distracted when drafting.

You can find the resources I use during the essay writing process with my students here.

Missed part one of this series? Go back and read it here. Then read on for part 3 in this series of blog posts here.

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