A huge trend we have noticed in high school is that students simply cannot structure an essay.
Students’ school assignments are coming back with poor or average grades, not because of their subject knowledge but simply because they cannot structure the information. Mostly, they are able to state the obvious, but lack skills in structuring and justifying their argument.
It’s common to see students who, when asked to talk about a book they have read or another area of study, can answer questions in detail verbally, but fail to demonstrate their knowledge on paper. Clearly this will affect their grades in assignments and exams where they are asked to write anything from a one-paragraph answer to multiple essays.
This is not just affecting their English marks but also marks in subjects such as History, as well as less obvious areas such as Chemistry, when they have to provide long answers to open questions. Universities are also finding this the case when it comes to students handing in assignments, which further affects students’ abilities to gain the best professional opportunities later in life.
Not only is essay writing an important skill in school subject areas, but learning to formulate a clear and convincing argument is an important part of brain development. As a student organises his or her thoughts and develops an argument through structuring topic sentences and paragraphs, he or she is creating new connections in the brain. Learning to organize thoughts for writing assists in all areas of life, such as problem-solving, negotiating and organising.
Some of the basic essay-writing skills that a child should be grasping by the end of their primary school years include:
- breaking down the question
- generating ideas
- research and fact-checking
- organising information
- writing a clear introduction
- linking back to the question
- accurate use of evidence to strengthen arguments
- quoting correctly and writing a list of references
- writing an effective conclusion
- editing and improving work
These are not new concepts to a child in Year 6 or 7. Yet so many high school students still struggle with the basics! Although teachers do work hard to support students in these skills, a fast-paced curriculum and a focus on subject-knowledge mean many students quickly fall behind.
It’s worth planning out some extended time (for example, 1-3 hours a week) to really break down and practise essay-writing skills with the guidance of an experienced teacher. While some of our students may find an intensive workshop or a term to focus on essay-writing adequate, others revisit this skill again and again through on-going tuition through their high school years, as subject requirements change.