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Essay Models for Teen Writers

One recommendation I hear over and over for high school English is to expose teenagers to quality essays before requiring them to write one. You hear it from Brave Writer, I’ve read in Kimberly Hill Campbell’s book.

I want students to read essays as attempts to capture the author’s thinking with both truth and imaginative craft. It’s my hope that exploring essays will open the students’ eyes to the rich and diverse possibilities of the genre for them, as readers and as writers.
– Less is More, pg 109

How can we expect teenagers to write quality essays when they’ve not read many? Or any? It makes sense to have your teens read essays.

But where does a homeschool mom of teens find essay samples? I don’t enjoy an extensive search and find game on Google just to locate pdf copies of teen essays I can share. Who has time for that?  Ideally, I want essays that are already collected for me and it just so happens I’ve found a few sources I can recommend.

Norton publishes many essay samplers. I have this one in particular and it’s been helpful. Once my son was stuck writing an opening line for his essay, so we returned to an essay we’d previously read in our Norton book and used its opening paragraph as a model for his. It was just the inspiration he needed to get started on his intro.

Lately, though, I’ve wanted to see more samples from actual teen writers. Sure, it’s great to examine the masters and professional adult writers as models, but I wondered if it set the expectation too high for students.

One disadvantage of homeschooling is you don’t get to see 25 other student essays for comparison. How are we to gauge whether our 15-year-old’s essay is in the ballpark of writing skill for that age range? We can have them take a class with an outside teacher who does see many essays. But I still want something to help us out at home.

I found that help.

The Best Teen Writing by Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. They publish these each year and I ordered the 2015-17 books. I’m so glad I did. I’ve only read the critical essays section in 2017 so far, but just that section alone made the book worth the purchase price to me. (I purchase most school books used to save money.)

The 2017 book has two literature essays that I think are great models for teen writers, especially those who haven’t written lit analysis essays yet. One of the essays is on The Book Thief, which I read many, many moons ago. After reading this teen’s essay, I want to reread the book! To me, if a literature essay makes the reader want to go read the book, that’s the sign of a successful essay.

How do I plan to use these books in our homeschool English?

As I read through the critical essays, I noted on a sticky note what aspects we could examine with the particular essay, such as how it acknowledged the complexity of the issue (in one case racism) and included a personal narrative to support their assertion. Another essay opened with a quote and raise direct questions to the reader to challenged their thinking. Locating the thesis, how the author came up with the title are other ideas I jotted down.

These books offer many other categories than critical essays: Gold Medal award winners, American Voices winners, sci-fi & fantasy, fiction, short stories, poetry, journalism, personal essay & memoir, and humor.

With that lengthy list of genres, I think these books will be an excellent addition to my homeschool toolbox.

 

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