Teaching essay writing (Help!)

Can anybody please offer any advice or point me in the right direction for essay writing (books, websites, activities…)?
I have to come up with a syllabus/ schedule for a group of students.

I have a class of 8, 13 year old students who have an intermediate level of English- reasonably wide vocab and a strong grasp over basic grammar (future, past, present/ past perfect …).

Ideally I would like to be able to show them what an introduction, a main body and a conclusion are- and not send them to sleep at the same time.

  If you have experience of teaching writing classes any advice would be phenomenally welcome.  :notworthy: 
                     Many, many  thanks- Tom.

You have to be realistic about this; would teach essay writing to 8-year-old children in the States? I can imagine that that’s what you were told to teach, but I wouldn’t even try. I have no suggestion about how to deal with the syllabus, but I wouldn’t go much beyong paragraph construction, if I were you.

I know an American fellow from Connecticut who is very good at teaching children. I believe he lives in the Mu Cha area of Taipei. Perhaps you can contact him by email – “S. Barret Dolph” wheds8@ms66.hinet.net

You might mention my name.

And also . . . . . since there is a lot of spam nowadays, I suggest you write something meaningful in the subject line of your email . . . . . such as –
Advice needed on teaching English essay writing to Chinese elementary school students or something similar.

if they can handle this, as it seems from your description, and if you want to emphasize the intro, body, conclusion format, you could try a number of things like:

give them titles/topic sentences and have them write intros, or conclusions by themselves.

or give them a body and have them write a conclusion. swap parts.

show them the theory (which is crap ultimately, but works for beginners) of General to Specific (draw that silly pyramid as a visual aid). ie you start off with a topic sentence, you write general to specific. emphasize the importance of topic sentences for each paragraph.
emphasize the function of intro v. body v. conclusion. e.g.
intro and conclusion are similar summaries of points, you flesh out those arguments point by point in the body.

you show them phrases like:
This Paper discusses, I will first write about W, then about X , then Y, First, Second, In conclusion and have them finish the sentences to get an idea of their usage.

show them good and bad examples of short essays. model essays. deconstruct the organization, style, etc.

My advice with this age group is not to start them on essay writing, but on creative writing.

The students will be enthusiastic about writing creatively. This will give you something to work with in terms of improving their grammar, paragraph structure etc.

Production, I would guess is the issue for you at this stage.

Here’s an example of a creative writing lesson plan.

A Mars Settlement

Yesterday, President Bush said that he wants to increase space travel. He wants to send another man to the moon and even to Mars. He thinks one day men will live on Mars.

You are one of the first settlers on Mars. You have lived there for one year. Write about your first year. What problems did you have? How did you solve them? What was the best thing that happened? What was the worst thing that happened?

Things to consider:

Make a list of 5 things that you will need:






How do you provide these things?

  1. We provide the water by __________________________________





Settlement on Mars Worksheet

What kind of things could go wrong?

Write down 3 things that could go wrong?

For example: Our air supply might breakdown.

Use: might in each sentence

Draw a picture of your settlement.

Use the worksheet as a means of stimulating conversation about what could go wrong. It could be anything from an alien attack to a dust storm.

By asking the kids the five things they need you open them up to the question of what could go wrong.

Let them think of a cool name for their settlement. Ask them why it was necessary to go to Mars. For example did something go wrong on earth or do we need more resources etc.

I always include one or two set grammar patterns as listed above in the worksheet and then require them to fit those patterns into their writing.

Then give them some basic structure:

I typically give them an example story by old students.

Paragraph 1.
Orientation to Topic
Why are you colonizing Mars?
Who requested you?
Who is in your team?

Paragraph 2.
What was Mars like when you arrived?
How did you feel?
How did you establish your settlement?

Paragrap 3.
What went wrong?
What caused the problem?
How did you solve the problem?

Paragraph 4.
How did you feel about your experience?
Would you like to live on Mars longer?

Do the worksheet in class time and have them start their writing and complete it for homework. Correct the assignment and then have them rewrite it completely. Read each students finished assignments to the class. This will encourage the kids to be more creative.

This has been my approach to junior high and upper elementary. It has been very successful.

Once the kids start producing writing you can then start to introduce concepts of paragraph structure and types. When they have mastered a variety of paragraph styles then move them on to essays. This will be years down the road.

Just get them writing something or anything.
Let them experience the fun side of writing.
Build up their confidence in writing.
Give them the practice of writing longer passages.
Group writing would be a good exercise, too.

Don’t worry about academic style writing. You can easily present appropriate issues by guiding them towards those goals.


I agree with much of the above, but I was taught to proceed from the easiest type of writing (involves the least mental gymnastics) to the hardest.

So, I’d start with narrative writing as it is the easiest – simply telling a story from their lives.

Then move on to descriptive (an object or place), then maybe descriptive of a process (slightly more difficult).

Then maybe compare/contrast.

Then maybe persuasive.

But whatever you do try to make it fun. Have short enjoyable writing exercises in class (not just dry instruction) as well as assigned papers in the above categories.

Explain important issues such as Intro paragraph, supporting paragraphs, conclusion; topic sentence, supporting sentences, transition; etc. Show them examples and give exercises to work on those concepts. I would think the biggest problems for Taiwanese students would be writing a good intro paragraph, having a logical organization, sufficient supporting material and clear transitions.

Have them do exercises in groups, everyone must share and participate, you circulate around the room and see how they’re doing, etc, and try to make it as enjoyable as possible. And when you read their papers, be sure to give them meaningful, constructive comments rather than just telling them their writing sucks (or whatever).

Look for a copy of Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, by Kenneth Koch. It has a lot of good ideas you could use.

Its ISBN is 0060955090.

James Moffett also wrote some good teaching writing books with lots of exercises. He talks about how one should focus on the process, not the product, and everyone is good at different things. Some students are good at coming up with ideas, some with organization, some with vocabulary, some work well alone, some in a group, etc. So he advocates extreme freedom in the classroom. One kid is writing a narrative alone, while a group of kids are working on a play and two others are writing a dialogue. It sounds crazy and unwieldy and impossible, but at least one can use some of his ideas.

He published many books but I think the best might be Active Voices, one of his early books. I believe it has dozens of interesting exercises.