Writing essays can be straightforward when you have a clear essay plan.
Students are introduced to composing more complex and extended texts as they progress through their schooling.
- In Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4), students write longer texts with multiple paragraphs.
- From Stage 3 (Years 5 and 6), students are writing complex, longer texts.
- In high school, students write extended responses or essays in most subjects.
The following general advice will be helpful to read through with your child – Year 5 and above.
Teachers of individual subjects and year levels will have more specific information related to individual tasks.
An essay is an extended answer to a set question. Most extended responses follow the same structure of 3 main parts: introduction, body and conclusion. All essays should be thoroughly planned before starting writing.
The first paragraph answers the question and outlines the ideas to be presented in the essay. It makes a first impression on the reader – the reader now knows what to expect. Do not just rewrite the question; it is important to give a point of view.
The body of an essay should be at least 4 to 6 paragraphs in length. Each paragraph introduces one major idea. Each idea should be fully explained and supported by evidence such as statistics, examples, quotes from a text or authority, or an explanation of events. If an idea is particularly complicated it may require more than one paragraph.
Never cram lots of different ideas into one paragraph. On the other hand, if all paragraphs are very short, the extended response will be a series of disjointed points rather than a coherent, logical argument.
The basic structure of each paragraph is:
- topic sentence (a generalisation to introduce the paragraph’s purpose) – this will normally be the first sentence
- explanation and elaboration of your point
- examples, quotations or evidence
- final concluding sentence which links with the paragraph that follows.
A good way to remember the structure is TEEL – Topic sentence, Explanation, Examples and Link.
A conclusion shouldn’t only restate the question or repeat the introduction. Don’t start with ‘In conclusion, to sum up etc.’ A conclusion should be a summary of the various points of your argument. Don’t throw in new information – that shows a lack of planning.
Writing an essay
The most important thing to do when writing an essay is to answer the question asked. Questions never require students to ‘tell us everything you know about the topic’ so it is important to carefully read the question asked. The best students circle or highlight the main words in the question so they stay focused on what they are writing about.
Extended responses usually have a key word which directs the structure such as, ‘explain’, ‘describe’, ‘analyse’ and so on. This helps students understand the structure their essay should take.
Writing essays at home, in class, or during an exam requires the same steps – the time taken will be different.
- The most important step is planning – work out what the question is asking. Circle or highlight the important words – including the key words that tell you how to approach your answer.
- Brainstorm facts, examples, evidence and so on relevant to the question – remember your focus is to answer the question asked – no question is going to ask you to write everything you know about a topic.
- Sort your brainstorm into a logical order – link ideas that go together – an essay needs to flow logically.
- Once there is a clear and logical plan to follow, start writing. It is important to stay on message – use topic sentences which focus on answering the question asked. Remember, one idea equals one paragraph.
- Provide elaboration, evidence, explanation, examples, evaluation or analysis as required by the question.
- Ensure the essay flows logically. Linking sentences can be used to connect ideas in paragraphs.
- Read over the response carefully to make sure the answer to the question is clear, that there is evidence and/or examples to support the answer. Read as a reader, not as a writer. If the task is done at home, having a fresh set of eyes such as a parent or sibling read the essay will highlight possible issues as it’s easy to miss mistakes in your own writing, as you know what you meant.
- Regardless of the subject, using formal English is important when writing a formal essay. Use clear, logical paragraphs, full sentences, correct spelling and punctuation and an effective vocabulary – no slang or writing like you speak.
Use the following checklist when reading through an essay.
- answers the question asked
- uses paragraphs to logically structure ideas – each focuses on the question asked
- has an introduction which outlines reasons for the answer to the question
- has a body made up of several paragraphs – each paragraph elaborates on a point
- uses topic sentences in paragraphs
- uses effective language so your point of view is clear
- has a conclusion which reiterates the main points but does not include any new information
- does not re-tell the story
- contains no colloquial language or slang
- has correct spelling and punctuation
- adheres to the word limit.
Under exam conditions, there is limited time for students to write their essays – generally about 40 minutes. Impress upon them the importance of planning and checking, even when writing a response under exam conditions.