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How to Teach Expository Writing

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Social Studies teachers are also English teachers. We assist students with reading and writing daily. When I walked into my first full-time teaching job over ten years ago, I knew that teaching reading and writing was part of the game I was about to play, but I didn’t know to what extend. When I assigned my first essay, I quickly realized that I was going to need to walk my high school students through every step of the writing process to ensure their success on with expository writing and all future expository essays if they were to decide to attend college.

In that first year I had one class with a group of close friends who were very STEM orientated. As I went through the steps and the acronyms of expository writing, one rose his had and ask, “wait, so this is just a formula where I have to write in the specific information in a specific order…” He was right! That formula breakthrough for himself was also helped me add another technique to use to teach my students expository writing. Teach it as a formula. Here is how I approach expository writing.

First I go over the essay assignment sheet. I ensure that I write prompts or questions that the students can use to form their thesis. If I just give them names or events with no context, then students feel lost from the start. I also give them some background and try to peak their interest so they feel motivated to research the topic instead of feeling forced to do it. Side information works well here as many LOVE the lesser known stories.

The next day I go through a PowerPoint presentation that walks through the steps of researching. Students need help knowing what is good evidence and how to use it. I also go to websites and show how I can use information from a section of that website in an essay. I also use that time to go over citing the evidence. For my history classes, students write in Chicago-style, so they need assistance to know how to do that within Google Docs.

After that I go through my expository writing PowerPoint and give them an outline sheet to help them with their essay. This presentation goes through the steps and has the popular acronyms like SEA (Statement, Evidence, & Analyze) which are helpful to a group of students. To others, they like it when I write out the steps, or the formula, on the side board, which looks something like this.

I want my students to get interested in their writing and for that to be reflected in their final product. I really enjoy giving them ideas for a hook, or the starting sentence or sentences for their essay so they can go beyond telling me when someone was born or stating a random question that may or may not relate. I have them say topics that relate to what we have been covering, think for a minute, and then give an idea or the actual sentence. Sometimes I will have other students give an opening sentence from a topic that was given by the class. It is a fun activity that is building skills.

I do something similar with thesis statements. After I go over the presentation and students have written one or two thesis statements within small groups, I have them challenge me to come up with ideas to see if I can think of something to argue. Now, I tell them that I have a history degree and that I have done lots of research in my undergraduate years and graduate years, so I can come up with a thesis idea rather quickly if I have plenty of background information. However, they will have to research to help find their thesis or the item they will expose with evidence.

From there I give examples of what analysis looks like as they seem to struggle the most with this. For example, for AP European History, if we are writing about why Martin Luther’s movement was successful in Germany, we may write a paragraph on indulgences. Then their last sentence may be writing how the German population was receptive to the publication of the 95 Theses based on their list of grievances with Rome. Examples help them see what they have to do and how to do it.

By time students get to high school they have been introduced to various types of essays, so it is important to speak about the differences between them so they can see it and apply that knowledge. Some of my students love organizers while others want to jump into the writing because that is where they are at academically. However, I mainly have 11th and 12th grade students, so other teachers along the way have helped place the cornerstones of writing down for them. I simply have to help them polish it up so they can write an effective history paper. Of course having rough draft sessions or times where they can meet with the teacher before it is due to go over their work also helps. If that is not an option due to time or distance learning constraints, then tell them to at least read their paper out loud to see how it sounds and for them.

Helpful Activities

•Collaborative Thesis Writing Activities

•Peer Activities

•Writing How Expository Writing is Different than Other Essays

•Short Writing Activities Focusing on a Specific Skill

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