I have a confession: I am currently significantly behind on my ambitious SOW for the new R.S spec, only just finishing Soul, Mind and Body. Am I in a panic? Not really. This is because I have spent a long time developing assessment skills, practising essay writing and establishing evaluative techniques with my first years. Without really noticing I’ve ended up staggering (over the past five weeks) how I teach essay structure into four sections: (please follow the links to the relevant blogs, which explore these ideas in more specific detail.)
- Establish structure of essay (covered in topic on Plato): consisting of introduction, main paragraphs and conclusion. Write on the board the different elements of the introduction to trigger students writing (such as using a quote and exploring key words in question), moving into explaining that every essay needs four to five main paragraph themes that are necessary to answer the question, following the structure of: point – explain – example – strength – weakness – link back to question. Finally outlining how to conclude, summarising points and answering the question. Students then practice writing an introduction in class with teacher support and write a plan for the five paragraph themes.
- Layering of evaluation (covered in topic on Aristotle): This next step specifically looks at how to create a more evaluative discussion in an essay. I have found the easiest way to introduce this difficult technique is through teacher led explanation with student interaction. I present a strength to an idea (e.g. Aristotle’s empirical approach) which the students write down then follow with a ‘however’ statement against the strength. From here I present a ‘still’ statement in defence of Aristotle which again the students then find a problem with. This establishes how to defend against weaknesses and criticise strengths, thus creating the table tennis technique rather than chunking evaluative statements.
- Adding critical words and mature language (covered in topic on Aristotle): This is quite straight forward to cover. I give students a list of potential critical words explaining how to use these to emphasize philosopher’s views then let them practice writing a few sentences using these words. For the mature language I also give them a list of some more academic phrases, explaining that these are just examples previous students have used in essays but can be copied where relevant into their own answers to establish a more academic tone.This is one of my classroom displays to support students in their essay writing (if you would a copy, please click on the image to be transferred to the shop).
- How to apply names for or against each other (covered in topic on Soul, Mind and Body): The final step works well with this topic because of the array of names covered from Geach to Ryle to Dawkins. This topic also has clear supporters and clear critics surrounding the existence of a soul. Once reminding the students of the previous steps and practicing (and checking) the introductions, the students read a sample essay (actually taken from a previous A2 life after death essay) showing how to layer evaluation and apply names critically for or against a specific philosopher or idea. From here the students attempt to write a paragraph focused on Descartes and using Ryle, Geach and Anscombe against him.
Points to note:
- With each new step I always recap the previous steps as well
- Each step is practiced in class with teacher support and guidance.
- I am not grading work or marking out of a certain number (e.g. 35) because I would like students to focus on developing technique based on my comments and feedback rather than a score.
- I am currently teaching AS/A2 as separate years, with preparation for an exam at the end of the first year. This means I will build on the content next year but the essay technique will already be established.
Please keep your eyes open for future blogs where I will be sharing evidence of students work for stages 2/3 (currently marking) and stage 4 (holiday homework).
For further guidance in developing your essay technique just click on the image below to be transferred to the shop:
Revision bubbles/ advice and sample questions with guidance found in: