Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Classroom Activity: Turn Written Essays Into Proper Expository Papers
Writing is one of the most important – and underrated – skills that a teacher can instill in a student. Having the ability to write can help a pupil adequately express his ideas through his primary and secondary schooling years. It can help him write cover letters for jobs and applications for pharmacy technician training programs. It can facilitate the means and manners in which he communicates throughout his future career.
Unfortunately, making good writers out of students can be a difficult process. One of the main ways that instructors try to teach writing is by focusing on the expository essay, especially when dealing with students at a middle school or high school level. The expository essay consists of an introduction with a thesis, 2-4 body paragraphs that each contain a topic sentence and a distinctive argument, and a concluding paragraph that ties everything back together.
Some critics believe that the expository approach is too regimented and constricted. While it is certainly not perfect, especially with more creative students, this approach is nonetheless an effective way to teach pupils how to sift out their argument and engage in their writing. It forces them to truly think about what they have to say, and then convey that argument in a clear and comprehensive way.
But students often have a difficult time translating their written argument into proper expository form. In many cases this difficulty stems from a focus on content rather than structure; students are so preoccupied with the making of their argument that the actual fact of writing and structuring it becomes an afterthought.
To correct this problem, here’s an easy class activity that targets the expository form:
1. First, insure that each student has a piece of written text that is not composed in expository form. Ideally, this text will just be one rambling paragraph – a paragraph with a clear argument, but a muddled presentation. The text could be taken from books, articles, or magazines, but most teachers find it best to simply use text from an in-class essay test that the students recently took. Such essays normally have a solid argument but little in the way of structure, thereby making them ideal for this exercise.
2. Instruct the students to turn the essay into an expository one. The argument needs to be the same and no outside facts can be brought in, but the refurbished essay should contain an introduction, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Make sure to stress the importance of thesis statements, transitions, and topic sentences.
3. Take some time to reflect after the activity has been completed. Ask students which iteration of their essay seems clearer and stronger. Ask them how the nature of the argument has changed, if at all. Have them think about the various writing styles and comment on the differences between the two.
Hopefully this activity will leave your students with a greater confidence with the expository essay. Although they won’t be writing expository essays all their lives, they likely will be writing in general – and the expository approach is a great way to teach structure, style, and form.
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