This is the third part of the series.
Part One: What You Can Do With Writing Prompts Part One: Idea Generating
Part Two: What You Can Do With Writing Prompts Part Two: The Writing Process
How to Proceed
Parts of an Essay
For language learners as well as many native speakers, the idea of writing a two- page essay can be overwhelming. Who has not stared at a blank screen or an empty piece of paper and agonized about what to write? Breaking a larger assignment, like an essay, into smaller, more achievable pieces can be just what your students need to get the words flowing. These activities focus on using writing prompts to formulate specific pieces of an essay rather than using them to write an entire response. You can either use these activities independently or put the pieces together to make a complete essay. Either way, your students will see the final piece of writing as a set of building blocks and will be able to put together future compositions with greater ease.
The Thesis Statement
One of the most important pieces of an essay, if not the most important piece, is the thesis statement. The thesis statement focuses the essay, communicates the intention of the author and determines what type of support a writer will use in his or her piece. You can use writing prompts to practice writing a thesis statement that your student might use as the basis of an essay.
Start by explaining what a thesis statement is. It is a one-sentence explanation of the entire piece of writing which gives focus to the essay. The thesis statement should have two parts – the topic and the controlling idea. The topic is what the essay is about. The controlling idea is what the writer wants to say about the topic. A good thesis statement should be something that another person could disagree with. If there is no hint of controversy, opinion or preference in the controlling idea, then the writer needs to change it. For almost any academic writing prompt, your students will have to develop a thesis statement. (Story starters are an exception as they elicit a narrative rather than expository writing.) Because it is such an important piece of the essay, it must be flawless. Therefore, instead of writing the whole essay from a writing prompt, ask your students to focus on nothing but the thesis statements they would use in response to the prompt.
- Imagine that you could either have the ability to fly or breathe under water. Which would you choose and why?
- Why do you think spiders scare so many people? How do you think spiders feel about this?
Once a writer has the thesis, the next step is to determine the evidence he will use to support his point. That evidence will compose the body of the essay. If you provide your students with a thesis statement for a given writing prompt, they can then use that thesis to write supporting sentences which might be used in the body paragraphs of the essay. The supporting sentences serve two purposes. They relate the evidence to the thesis statement, and they provide focus for their respective body paragraph. Most essays will have three supporting paragraphs, so you will want to encourage your students to write three supporting sentences for each thesis that you provide. If you like, you can encourage them to write more than three and then select the three best from what they have written.
- What is your favorite day of the week and why? (Thesis: There are three reasons my favorite day of the week is Saturday.)
- Describe what you think a day in the life of a professional football player would be like. (Thesis: The day in the life of a professional football player would include many demanding activities.)
Transitions between paragraphs are essential for a smooth and coherent essay. Often, these transitions are a last thought for the writer, but they deserve more attention than that in the writing classroom. Giving your students an opportunity to focus on transitions outside the context of an entire essay stresses their value and importance in a strong piece of writing. You can use writing prompts to give your students an opportunity to focus on transitions. If you like, make this a lengthier activity by walking through each of the following steps with your students, or make it a shorter activity by providing everyone with the same thesis and supporting statements to use for the transitions. Starting with the prompt, have students write a thesis and list three to four points in support of that thesis. (If you like, have them write supporting sentences, but when focusing on transitions the ideas alone will be enough.) Then, have them write only the first sentence of each of the body paragraphs. These sentences should transition or link together the ideas that will be supporting their thesis. The easiest way to write transitions between paragraphs is to use words like first, next and finally. A more complicated way to link ideas together is to start with the idea in the previous paragraph and tie it to the idea in the following paragraph. For example, if your students were writing an essay on how to be a good student, a transition like this might be “In addition to studying hard, a good student must pay attention in class.”
- If you could have any job in the world, what would it be and why would you choose it?
- Would you ever skydive or bungee jump? Why or why not?
The conclusion is the finale of the essay, and a good conclusion will leave a reader with a good impression while a bad conclusion may tarnish the entire piece of writing. The most basic type of conclusion is a summary conclusion. This type of conclusion contains three pieces: a restatement of the thesis, a summary of the main points, and final thoughts. You can use a writing prompt to give your students practice writing conclusions. To do so, you will need to provide your students with the prompt, a thesis statement and the supporting ideas that would appear in the body of the essay. If you have already generated these ideas through other activities, you can use what your students have written. Otherwise, simply provide your students with the thesis and three supporting ideas to use as they write their conclusion. Point out that restating the thesis means to say the same thing again in a new way, so they should not quote the thesis word for word. They should mention the main points from the body of the essay and then finish with final thoughts. These final thoughts might be a recommendation, a personal thought or the next step in the thought process based on the rest of the essay. Once your students have written these three parts, have them reread their conclusions to make sure they flow nicely.
- Imagine you are being shipped off to the North Pole for an entire year. You can only bring three things with you to keep you entertained. What would those be?
- Have you ever wanted to be shorter or taller? How would that change your daily routine?
Two pages, five paragraphs, five hundred words…starting an assignment with any of these words may be enough to paralyze your students.
By taking the essay piece by piece, your students can see how smaller, more achievable elements combine to make a convincing whole. Take some writing prompts to your students and have them take the essay piece by piece. They will feel more secure when they can tackle the project one part at a time.