Teaching Writing to Non-Writers: Showing Reluctant Writers How Easy It Is to Write a Class Essay

Following this format will allow teachers to pull in even the most reluctant writer. Start the writing instruction by having students pick their favorite movie, animal, or person.

Writing Controlling statements

First, model a qualified controlling statement for students on the board using one of the above topics. Explain that the statement must include the topic, the word "because", and three short reasons why the topic is their favorite. Then assist students in writing their own. At this point it is okay for students to use first person. Types of statements to expect to see will include:

  • My favorite movie is Star Wars because it has lots of action, interesting characters, and science fiction creatures.
  • My dog Sammy is my favorite pet because he is loving, likes to play, and protects me.

Be sure to check each student's controlling statement before moving to the next step.

Writing Topic Sentences

Second, show students how to write a topic sentence for each reason. These can be very simple constructions.

  • The movie Star Wars has lots of action.
  • The characters in Star Wars are interesting.
  • Star Wars contains lots of science fiction creatures.
  • Sammy is very loving.
  • Sammy likes to play with me.
  • Sammy protects me.

Students can develop these all at once or one at a time. Be sure to check each student before continuing.

Helping Students Add Descriptive Details and Examples

Third, have students give at least two examples to explain each topic sentence. The first topic sentence for each of the above examples is shown.

  1. One action part is the opening scene when the space battle is taking place. The storm troopers have boarded Princess Lea's ship and are shooting it out with the Republic's men. Another is when Han Solo and Lea are being chased by the Emperor's ships. They end up landing on a deserted planet that isn't a planet at all.
  2. My dog Sammy always welcomes me with kisses when I come home from school. At night he likes to lay by my side to sleep.

The important thing to remember here is that whatever type of examples students write down, with a little encouragement and questioning they are able to expand the description. Students also quickly see how each reason stated in the controlling statement can be expanded into a paragraph.

Writing Summary Statement

Last, explain that the final sentence of the paper should be a summary. Once again, this can be a simple sentence.

  • The action, characters, and creatures make Star Wars an enjoyable movie.
  • All children need a pet like Sammy to love them, play with them, and protect them.

A completed essay should appear similar to this:

My favorite movie is Star Wars because it has lots of action, interesting characters, and science fiction creatures.

The movie Star Wars has lots of action. One action part is the opening scene when the space battle is taking place. The storm troopers have boarded Princess Lea's ship and are shooting it out with the Republic's men. Another is when Han Solo and Lea are being chased by the Emperor's ships. They end up landing on a deserted planet that isn't a planet at all.

The characters in Star Wars are interesting. (Add examples.)

Star Wars contains lots of science fiction creatures. (Add examples.)

The action, characters, and creatures make Star Wars an enjoyable movie.

After finishing this, have students count up how many sentences they have written. Most reluctant writers never believed that they could write 17 sentences about anything!

Using this approach allows students to understand how the pieces of an essay and paragraph fit together. Once they master the controlling statement, they learn to use that to write the topic sentences. The hardest part for students is providing the specific examples for the topic sentences. The examples do not need to be lengthy. It is important for students to realize that they can come up with examples. The depth will come later. Taking the time to model this process for them and do it with them will enable students to duplicate it in their own papers. More importantly, students learn that they can write.

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