Analyzing Sample Essays to Make Revision Changes

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Students will be able to write an informative essay by reviewing the parts of an essay, analyzing the effectiveness of sample essays, and making changes to a rough draft.

Big Idea

In which we compare our writing to others to see how we can improve.

Daily Grammar

15 minutes

Many students thought that harbor porpoises, since it refers to a specific animal, should be capitalized.  No.  If it's not the name of a specific harbor porpoise, it's not capitalized.  Since the name isn't derived from the name of a country (Indian elephants), it's not capitalized. 

We also looked at frequently confused words.  When you use the indefinite article a/an, and the next word begins with a vowel, you use an.  "The Navy put AN underwater net," for example.  However, the rule doesn't apply when you use the word unicorn. I want a unicorn.  Why doesn't that rule apply?  Do you know? 

Reviewing the Parts of an Essay

20 minutes

I spent twenty minutes reviewing the parts of an essay with my students.  We used this essay reference sheet, which was given to students the previous day.

There are really only three parts to an essay--an introduction, body, and conclusion.  And within those three parts, everything goes back to the thesis statement.







The thesis may be just one sentence, but it's the most important sentence in the entire essay. It's the road map to the essay. And if you brainstorm cleverly, the thesis writes itself.  See this video, Using a Web to Write a Thesis Statement, to see how it's done.

Once the thesis statement is written, the body paragraphs are written using the T3C paragraph.  Since we've been doing this ALL YEAR, I reminded students, they are pros at this. Write three T3C paragraphs about the topics of your body paragraphs, and then move on to the conclusion.

The conclusion is super short, just like the introduction.  The introduction just needs a hook and a thesis. The hook grabs the reader's attention using strategies like

  • compare and contrast
  • asking a thought provoking question
  • using a quote

The conclusion has those two basic things, but in the opposite order.  You start with the restated thesis statement, which is the thesis statement but using different words or in a different order, and then explain why it matters. Like I tell my students, you wrote this huge essay.  Five whole paragraphs!  So what?  Why does it matter? That's what goes in the last , the last sentences in the conclusion, the last few sentences of the essay, the last chance you have with your reader.  

Evaluating Student Samples

30 minutes

The next step was to look at some student samples and evaluate them. I've used the the sample essays on my state's webpage. The sample essays here are similar, but not the ones I used.  I can't find the link to the ones I used, or find the file that I saved them under.  The prompt I used was "Imagine that the only discount movie theater in your town is closing.  Write a persuasive essay in support of keeping the theater open."

Since the essays are scanned copies of real students' writing, sometimes it's hard to read.  I typed the essays for readability, being careful to type exactly what the student wrote, including all of the mistakes.  Since I wanted students to assess the essays themselves, I didn't want to use letters or numbers.  I used stamps to label the essays so we could refer to them. We had a skull essay, flower essay, guitar essay, palm tree essay, and Goofy essay.

My state isn't using the PARCC until next year, and for that matter, the state still hasn't decided for sure that we'll be taking the PARCC.  We're still taking the AIMS test with the Falls Far Below, Approaches, Meets, and Exceeds categories.  It was very easy for students to determine that the flower and guitar essays would fall far below. They're both only one paragraph, and in the case of the flower essay, using the word paragraph is generous. 

Which leaves us with the skull, palm tree, and Goofy essays. Using what we know about essay structure, and developing ideas with concrete evidence and commentary, which of the three essays would approach, meet, or exceed?

We determined that the skull essay would only approach.  It does have multiple paragraphs, but there isn't sufficient evidence and explanation to develop the paragraph. It's also in the form of a letter (incorrect format), and that isn't what the prompt asked for.  Therefore, the skull essay would not receive a passing score.

Both the palm tree and the Goofy essay would receive a passing score.  And the discussion that came from this serves as a testament to how far students have come.  Every class thought there wasn't enough information.  There wasn't enough evidence. The facts were made up in these essays.  They could see that what was passing for AIMS wasn't really good enough.


Evaluating Our Own Essays

20 minutes

Once we'd evaluated the sample essays, from really seventh grade students, I turned it around and asked them the following questions. 

  • Which of those sample essays was their essay closest to? Were they closest to the flower or guitar?  Skull? Palm tree or Goofy? 
  • What changes could you make to bring your essay up to the quality of the palm tree or Goofy essay, or even surpass those?

For closure, I asked students to make a list of things they could do to revise their essay.  Their homework was to write the final draft of their essay, which would be due the day after the state writing test.

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