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Teaching Second Grade Essay Writing

by Christopher Cascio

The Common Core State Standards Initiative suggests that second graders write short, simplified essays that include elements like introduction, body, conclusion, description and even argument. You can teach all of this by focusing on the writing process -- or a simplified version of it -- as the framework for instruction. Doing so stresses the most important lesson: writing is about organizing your thoughts and setting them to paper.

Understanding the Mode

The first step of the writing process, understanding the mode, must not be ignored. Students need to know the differences of writing an opinion piece (an argument), a narrative (a short story), or an expository essay (a book report). By focusing on the needs of each type of assignment, you can teach the techniques used most effectively in each. Explain the importance of details in stories or how written arguments need to give reasons to support opinions. Writing book reports gives you the opportunity to teach them some sentence-level techniques, such as using time-related words to indicate the orders of events.

Brainstorming

Students must understand the importance of getting their thoughts onto paper, so they can actually see all of their options instead of trying to remember them all. Start by asking them to make one list of all the things they know about their topics (At this grade, you can assign topics.). Then you can have them write separate lists that start to organize their thoughts, perhaps by chronology: things that happen in the beginning, then the middle, then the end; or separate lists of facts and opinions. As they progress, continue to encourage specificity and finer levels of organization.

Outlining

Outlining is a step students routinely resist, especially those who don't like writing to begin with. Explain that outlining is a blueprint for their essays and a step that will make finishing the assignment that much easier. Suggest the analogy of constructing a house. They wouldn't start building a house without a good plan, would they? When they understand the helpfulness of outlining, they will appreciate that help. Furthermore, seeing their essays taking shape as sequences of ideas provides the opportunity to teach basic transition words and phrases.

Drafting

As they come to the point when they write their first drafts, you'll want to review the characteristics of good, simple sentences. Review punctuation and the importance of specific nouns and active verbs. For students who don't like writing, suggest they just follow their outlines, step by step. For those who enjoy it, let them write freely so they might find a passion for the art. The remaining mechanics and rhetorical strategies you wish to teach are accomplished while students edit their work, which you should do individually and in the presence of each student, if possible.

Revision

As much as students might not like it, they have to learn that revision is an important part of writing. To keep the mood positive, explain revision as an opportunity to make their essays better, as opposed to a time when they have to fix mistakes. This is also an opportunity to teach them the importance of reading their work aloud so they can hear their writing voices. Writing short stories might be especially suitable for this exercise.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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