How to Use TEACH to Improve Student Essays
The bane of our existence.
Some students enjoy writing essays (I did!), but for the bulk of our students, writing an essay seems overwhelming.
Students write different types of essays: reflective, persuasive, narrative, cause and effect, and many others.
One type of essay that seems to be particularly difficult for students is text-based essays.
Most students find writing a reflective (personal) essay much easier than writing an essay with text evidence to support the claims.
Although text-based essays can be difficult for students, they don’t have to. My county uses a standard form of teaching text-based essay writing that I believe works well:
– TEACH Method –
T – The Topic Sentence
The T in TEACH is the topic sentence. Students should start by reading the prompt more than once.
You and I have both read essays that answer a question that was NOT asked in the prompt – or only answered part of the prompt. Make your students show you they understand the prompt by highlighting, underlining, or speaking it out loud.
Once your students know the prompt without a doubt, have them find the key-words in the prompt.
Taking the time to do this helps students make sure they are the right track with their essays.
Just like the prompt, have students highlight, underline, or speak out loud the key-words in the prompt.
Once you are sure students know the key-words of the prompt, have them write the key-words at the top of their planning space.
E – Evidence
The E in TEACH is evidence. I think having students pull out evidence from the reading makes planning an essay easier for them.
As I teach my students to read documents, I show them how to summarize the big ideas. Summarizing makes it easier for them to find evidence because they already have.
The easiest way to start this is with sticky notes. Have students write the main ideas on a sticky note and place it next to the paragraph.
Already having the evidence makes writing a text-based essay far less stressful for students.
During E, students should do the following:
- Find which main ideas connect to the topic
- Underline, highlight, or star any facts that are repeated in the documents
- Strikeout facts that don’t support the topic
- Plan how their essay will be organized by making an outline with the topic, evidence, and space for analysis
A – Analysis
The A in TEACH is for analysis. The analysis is probably the trickiest part for students, as it is where students have to figure out how the evidence supports the topic or claim.
The analysis is where students have to convince me that their opinion is correct. Their opinion must be based on their research, not personal experience. (Many beginning writers use analysis that comes from outside the texts.)
While working on their analysis, students should focus on the following:
Elaborating each piece of evidence
Stating how the evidence supports the topic or claim
C – Conclusion
The C in TEACH is for the conclusion. I never really have students take a lot of time working on the conclusion, especially not in the beginning stages.
It can be difficult to know what your topic statement is until you are writing the essay. Since the conclusion is just a rewrite of your topic statement, I don’t worry about writing it until later.
In the meantime, have your students do the following:
- Write the word “conclusion” on the outline to remember they need to write one later
- Restate their topic or claim
It is now that students should write their essays using the outline they’ve created. This is when the magic of the outline comes into play.
Students tend to balk at the idea of writing an outline, calling it a waste of time. But when I tell my students I can write five paragraphs in less than five minutes, they start to believe me.
I become the coolest person when I prove it.
If you can convince your students of the importance of using outlines, they will be better prepared for all of the writing they do in the future.
H – High Five (Editing)
The H in TEACH is for “High Five,” which is just my way of saying it is time to edit! You have five fingers, and there are five edits.
Here in Florida, spelling and grammar errors don’t count for much on our state exam.
These errors aren’t less important in life, but they are on the standardized test. That being said, if my students run out of time for editing, it’s okay on standardized testing.
It is more important for students to have good evidence and sharp analysis.
During the time you set aside for H, students should edit the following things:
- Capital letters
I have found this system to be very successful for my students. It is a method that can be used in higher grades and levels because once students understand what it means, they can take it with them anywhere.
How Long Does This Take?
I know what you’re thinking, “Gosh, that looks like it will take time.”
But here is what I’ll say. The longer students spend getting organized, the less time the actual writing will take.
Once your students understand this method, they will be able to get themselves organized independently and will produce solid essays.
Here is how I would chunk up a 90-minute writing session.
35 minutes for reading & research
5 minutes for the topic
25 minutes for planning
15 minutes for writing
5 minutes for the conclusion and introduction
Do you have questions about using the TEACH method? Please email me or comment below. I would love to chat with you about it!
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