Romancing the essay…

Could all fans of teaching how to write a matura essay (Polish school leaving exam) please raise their hand! Mine is already up (I’m busy writing with the other one) because I, for one, have learnt to love it.

A discursive essay is the most frequently chosen type of text  appearing in the exam, and so far it has always been there either in the form of  for and against or opinion essay. It might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the CKE’s (Central Examination Board) recommendations on these texts, because the guidelines from some textbooks are not always consistent with those of CKE. 

Why should you adopt a different approach?

The exercise described below is worth introducing if your students have already written several essays and you are looking for some new ways of involving them. The idea is for a group of several students to write a composition together, with each student or pair responsible for one part only.

● Inform students in advance that during the next lesson they will practice writing one type of an essay and ask them to go over the conventions  for writing such texts, bring relevant notes (you can also do it in class, if you think there will be enough time to complete the whole task).

● Divide students into groups of three  or with three pairs per group and present the subject of the essay.

● Each group can (but does not have to) choose a different topic.

● Each student / pair is tasked with writing one part of an essay: one student / pair gets an introduction and ending, the second – the first paragraph of the main body, and the third – the second paragraph.

● The difficulty of the task is that all parts of the essay will be written at the same time on separate pages and all those involved in the task must consult each other for the text to be logical and consistent.

So, the essay is ready. What’s next?

● After writing the text, the group checks once again whether all parts of the essay form a coherent whole.

Then, the groups swop the texts.

● Display the checklist so that  students can see if their classmates included various elements in their compositions.

Ask them:

  • to identify the topic sentence and opinions to check if they are expressed differently in the introduction and conclusion,
  • to highlight linking devices
  • to check if the number of arguments in both parts of the main body  is the same
  • to check if arguments are well developed, if the text is logical
  • to find fragments containing appropriate range of  vocabulary and advanced grammatical structures the use of which will be likely to give them the highest score (3 points) for grammar/vocabulary use in the matura exam.

● Have students read off their checklists and suggest possible changes / corrections.

● Ask them  to reflect on this way of writing essays.

● Those interested can be asked to write an essay at home about the pros and cons of this type of an exercise – a meta-textual essay can pose an interesting  challenge for your students. I once received a composition like this from one student and it gave me a lot of food for thought.

And how do you romance the essay?

Author: Ewa Torebko

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