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How to teach your pupils to plan a successful essay

Posted by Simi Rai on Wednesday, 7 November 2018
Simi Rai

Planning. Arguably, the most important stage of the writing process. Without one, writing can appear unstructured, difficult to read and incoherent.

At least that’s what we try to teach our pupils. Under timed conditions your thoughts become jumbled, and you end up with stream-of-consciousness writing. However, with a plan, your writing is more likely to be structured, clear and coherent. So here is a step-by-step guide to help your pupils plan an answer to any essay style question in timed conditions.

  1. Deconstruct the question

    Ask pupils to read the question thoroughly and underline key words or phrases. Get them to circle the task words (explain, describe, evaluate, etc.) and define them. What exactly are they being asked to do? Pupils often make the mistake of misreading or misinterpreting the question, so this task would force them to engage with it. A simple brainstorm can be very effective.
  1. Create a five-minute flash plan

    Teach pupils how them how to create the backbone of their essay in the form of a table or mind-map. One they have chosen the method they feel most comfortable with, ask them to bullet point their introduction and conclusion. This would also be a good time to write key quotations, mnemonics or equations that they have memorised, so they are not forgotten later on.

boy writing

  1. Write down topic sentences

    Ask pupils to consider the purpose of each paragraph, and how they directly answer the question. They have already identified the key words in the question – now is the time to use them. Examiners don’t have the time to sift through, so they need to be concise with the points they make. A topic sentence will guide each paragraph and help their essay flow. In English literature, this step is crucial for creating a convincing argument and achieving top marks.
  1. Edit and proof-read

    Once you’ve finished planning, and written up your essay, allow at least five minutes to check your answer. Does each point answer the question? Are you using the key words from the question in your answer? Is the topic of each paragraph clear? Have you included a concise introduction and firm conclusion? This will be the first and last thing the examiner reads, so leave a good impression.

Answering an essay style question without a plan is like telling a story without the facts. A plan determines the trajectory of the essay, and without one, it is easy to lose focus and stray away from the question.

The answer is not something that should be decided while you are writing, so plan, plan, plan!


About our Community Expert


Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject - both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Simi is our English Literature and Language Expert.

Topics: Teacher development


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