Let’s dive more into ways we can examine essays at home with our teens. If you missed part 1, I shared how I used sections in The Writer’s Jungle to explore essays. You can read that post here.
As I mentioned before, Brave Writer has an online class on reading essays that I hear is excellent. If you can swing the class reviews say it’s worth the price. We haven’t personally taken the class, so to the best of my knowledge the tips I’m sharing here do not replicate the online class. Instead, I’m sharing how I utilized the resources I had to explore essays with my teens.
What Do You Need?
We’ll look at ways to use sections in Help for High School to examine essays. Obviously you’ll need to own a copy of Help for High School. That goes without saying, but for some reason I just said it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Examine Opening Hooks
(H4HS pg 144 to top 146)
You can create a bullet point list like the ones from The Writer’s Jungle. Keep the cheat sheet beside you as you guys read through the essay. Look at what kind of opener the author used. Was it effective? Did it draw you in?
Copy your favorites in a notebook for future reference. This will come in handy when writing an intro paragraph of an essay, using your favorites as models. Practice writing a few pretend openers using your favorite ones too.
Read over this section to understand a good thesis statement. Take bullet point notes if you think it’ll help. Some essays you’ll read during this exploration exercise will likely have more sophisticated thesis statements, making them more challenging to find. Unlike school-assigned essays, it’s unlikely to find an obvious thesis statement in the last sentence of the opening paragraph.
But on the other hand, some are the last sentence in the opening paragraph. See? The world won’t make it easier for us, will it? Like parenting and homeschooling aren’t challenging enough.
I grabbed Breakfast on Mars and scanned my two favorite essays (Sasquatch & Donkey Kong). Guess what? I think the thesis statements are the last sentence in the paragraph. So there you go. Sometimes they are the last sentence, even in professionally written essays.
Compare the thesis structure with the information in H4HS. Is it a thesis with tension, as described in H4HS? What makes it a compelling thesis? Would is be as compelling if written differently? “Trash” the thesis by writing it poorly; notice the effect.
Select a favorite, use it as a model and practice writing your own thesis on a favorite topic.
This exercise will be easier if you start with a persuasive or argumentative essay, something that takes an obvious stand on an issue.
Examine Arguments, Supporting Evidence & Commentary
(pg 123 & 126)
In H4HS language, the argument will be the “point,” the supporting evidence will be the “particular.” (See pg 123) On page 126, about middle of the page, there is a paragraph that lists out the types of particulars (evidence) you’re likely to find in an expository essay. Look for those in the essay you’re examining.
In the body paragraphs of the essay, where did the author make their point? (What’s that paragraph arguing for or against?) What evidence did they use to back it up?
Where is their commentary? How did they explain and/or comment beyond just cited evidence? What was the point of their commentary? To clarify relevance? Explain a connection? Can you hear the writer’s voice in their commentary?
We found it helpful to use three different colored highlighters for each part: yellow for point (argument), pink for particular (evidence) and green for commentary. Like that. This helped my teens internalize how body paragraphs were constructed.
How often do you do this? Where do I find essays?
The short answer is not so often that you beat it into the ground. Keep it interesting; don’t turn it into a chore.
Another quick tip: Do one or two essays together first before handing it off to your teen to do alone. Collaboration when introducing a new skill is vital.
Here’s a short list of essay resources to get you started:
- Breakfast on Mars (one of my favorites, obviously)
- The Norton Sampler
- The Little Norton Reader
- Kelly Gallagher’s article of the week archive
- Help for High School! Don’t forget there are a couple of student samples towards the end of the curriculum. Be sure to use these so you’ll see what student writing actually looks like instead of only professional writing.
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by Brave Writer. As I’ve said before, I purchased these BW products with my own money.