The Essay Workshop

Holly Van Houten

Ages:  10-13

Writing well is an essential skill that will help students succeed in all their classes.  Whether a student is an enthusiastic writer or a bit reluctant, this class will strengthen skills and lay the foundation for future success. Learning to write well involves mastering the parts of an essay before building towards the whole. This year-long class is designed to introduce students to the organizational techniques and analytical strategies they’ll need to construct full length essays.  


In the Fall Quarter, our focus will be on creating POWERFUL PARAGRAPHS. Students will learn to structure, develop, and support their ideas by creating categories and sub-topics. We will move from individual paragraphs to multi-paragraph essays, learning how different paragraphs function in an essay.  


In the Winter Quarter, our focus will be on learning strategies for EFFECTIVE ESSAYS. Students will practice a variety of development strategies to help them organize and develop their ideas, including classification, extended definition, comparison/contrast, cause and effect, and other development strategies. We will end with a fun narrative assignment to illustrate how stories can be used for persuasive purposes. Gaining fluency in these different approaches will give students a ready set of tools to draw upon, so they’ll be familiar with all the options available to them when beginning a writing project.  


Finally, in the Spring Quarter, our focus will be on RESEARCHED WRITING. Students will learn to evaluate and choose reliable sources for academic essays, incorporate quotations into their own writing, and clarify to readers how to interpret any quotes they include. Students will use internet resources to track sources and document them in MLA citation style. 


This class will take students step by step through the process of creating a strong essay.  If they’ve written essays before, this class will provide valuable practice and experience.  If this is their first time expanding their ideas to essay length, they’ll learn the fundamentals.  Regardless of ability level, students will polish and improve their writing as they work on structure and expand their ideas from their introductions to their conclusions.  We’ll hone and sharpen thesis statements, write focused and controlling topic sentences, strengthen transitions, develop detail and improve style.  Students will gain valuable experience planning, drafting and revising their essays.  Revision is, in many ways, the most important part of the writing process.  It’s only when you have your ideas down on paper that you can begin the essential work of clarifying and organizing them well.  


Because revision is such an essential part of the writing process, we will devote class time to our roundtable writing and revision workshops.  The workshop structure of this course will provide students with an audience to make their writing more meaningful.  They’ll receive feedback from each other, as well as from me in class and learn revision techniques to help improve their writing skills. Students share their writing in class so that they can learn about the reactions their writing elicits from others and receive helpful feedback to aid with the revision process.  These workshops not only allow students an important opportunity to receive revision suggestions but allow them to be immersed in the writing of their peers as well.  This requires each student to sharpen his or her own analytical skills as they consider how others may improve their essays.  Over the course of the semester each student will complete several writing assignments and critique many more in class – a process that will improve their writing by leaps and bounds.  


Students will definitely do a lot of writing in this course but writing only improves with regular practice! There will be weekly homework assignments, in addition to our in- class work, to provide students with lots of opportunities to hone their skills. 


In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. Each student will need to have a Google Account to access Google Classroom and Google Docs.  All essays will be created and submitted through Google Classroom, so students will be using Google Docs to type their essays. Taking advantage of the incredible, collaborative power of Google Docs and Google Classroom will make it possible for us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently. 


If conditions related to the coronavirus pandemic require that this class occur an Online Platform, we will  meet online each week for two hours through Zoom - an online video meeting platform (free for students).  The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in learning to write thoughtful, organized, and unified essays.