Skills: Extended written responses in high school

The high school syllabus requires your child to complete written responses for many subjects. This is how you can help them develop good writing skills.

Your child will have already started writing longer, more complex answers to questions in years 5 and 6. They'll continue developing these skills in high school.

Their teachers won't give your child ‘essays’ to write. Rather, your child will be asked complete 'written responses' in a variety of subjects, including English.

What is an extended response?

Longer pieces of writing are referred to as ‘extended responses’, and the approach your child will take to researching and composing these pieces is similar to the process of essay writing.

The type of written responses and how they are structured might vary between subjects, but your child’s teachers will be able to give them specific, up-to-date information about what they are expecting.

You can help your child by:

  • being familiar with the different kinds of written responses that their teachers will assign to them (see an explanation of the different types of written responses in the drop-down menu below)
  • understanding how extended responses are structured, so you can answer any questions they might have about it
  • guiding them through the writing process.

Your child might encounter different types of extended responses, such as:

  • Discussion - In a discussion, your child puts forward both sides of an argument. They use words to contrast these arguments such as however, nevertheless, or in contrast.
  • Critical analysis - In a critical analysis, your child demonstrates that they understood a text’s ideas. They might need more than one paragraph for each point, and they should use full quotations from the text to support what they are saying.
  • Exposition or persuasive - In an exposition, your child aims to persuade an audience by arguing one side of an issue.
  • Compare and contrast - This refers to when your child is comparing and contrasting two texts and exploring what is similar and what is different between them. They will demonstrate how they are different, or similar, and not just directly recount what happens in them.

What is a written response asking your child to do?

The most important thing for your child to do is answer the question. The idea is not just to write down everything they know about the topic, but to answer a specific query.

Extended responses will typically have a key ‘action’ word in the question - for example, explain, describe or analyse - which tells your child what form their answer should take. You can encourage them to circle or highlight any important words contained in the question to keep them on track

You can refer to NESA’s HSC Glossary for the meanings of key words that appear in HSC-level assignments and examination questions.

HSC English

Changes made to the HSC will impact what is taught in younger years, and it is important for you and your child to stay up-to-date on what skills they will need to work on for the future. You can find more information on high school English at English: what your child will learn in high school and English: what your child will learn in the HSC.


In years 7 and 9, your child will sit the NAPLAN writing test, which will give them a topic and ask them to write a persuasive or narrative response. You can find more information on these two types of writing at the NAPLAN website.

How to approach a writing task

Whether they’re writing at home or at school, your child will follow the same basic steps.

They will start with planning:

  • What is the question asking? They can circle the key words in the question to help work out the best way to approach answering it.
  • Make a list of facts or ideas that are relevant to the question.
  • Find examples from your text that address the question.
  • Arrange their list of points into a logical order, linking ideas that go together.

With their plan worked out, they can begin to write. They should:

  • Stay on topic and answer the question.
  • Write in formal English, with full sentences, correct punctuation and no slang.
  • Provide analysis, explanation, and evidence as asked.
  • Make sure their writing flows logically from point to point.
  • Keep an eye on the word count if working at home.

When checking over their work, your child should:

  • Re-read what they have written, making sure their answer is clear and they have provided support for their argument.
  • Look for spelling and grammatical errors or get someone to look over their work.

Response structure

Most extended responses to questions follow the same basic structure - they have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

Your child should plan their extended response before they begin to write it, applying this structure.

The introduction gives your child’s answer to the question and lays out what arguments they will be making in the body section.

The body of your child’s response should be at least three paragraphs long, with each paragraph covering one idea or argument. Your child may find that particularly complex ideas need more than one paragraph to be fully explored, which is fine. However, they shouldn’t try to make several different points in the same paragraph.

Your child should write a conclusion that summarises the points they made throughout the essay, while not including any new information.

Checklist for use when writing an extended response:

You can help your child by getting them to refer to this handy checklist when they are writing.


  • Read the question carefully, and underline or circle any keywords that indicate how you should answer it.
  • Brainstorm ideas, words, and relevant parts of the text.
  • Decide on the key argument or idea for your extended response.
  • Use relevant resources, if this is an assignment you are completing at home.
  • Write notes in your own words.
  • Organise your notes into a plan.


  • Make sure each of the points you are making are relevant to the question.
  • Write your introduction. It should engage your reader, and start your discussion.
  • Write the main body of your extended response, making sure each point gets a new paragraph and has evidence supporting it.
  • Write the conclusion to the extended response. Summarise your main ideas and demonstrate how you have proved your point.
  • Correctly reference quotes and other sources.


  • Edit your draft, checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • Make sure the final copy is clean, including footnotes and bibliography if being completed at home.


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