Students begin writing as early as kindergarten. But let’s think about kindergarten writing…it is often focused on story-telling, or the narrative style of writing. We encourage our young students to write a detailed story with a beginning, middle, and end. We talk about plot and characters and setting. While these are important elements for readers and writers to understand, they are typically not a part of expository writing. However, as our students get older, and start taking standardized tests, they are often required to write expository pieces. Expository writing is a skill that must be taught on its own, but you will find there are many areas of crossover from narrative writing skills into expository.
Regardless of the style of writing you are doing, planning is a critical element for success. There are three steps to proper planning for an expository essay. First, one must analyze the prompt. Next, creating a quick graphic organizer is suggested to get your initial thoughts down on paper. And finally, students can use a more detailed essay organizer template, or outline, to plan out their writing.
Step One: Analyzing the Prompt
You can use a common acronym, RAFT, to guide your students’ thinking as they consider their writing prompt. Let’s take a look at each of the four pieces of RAFT.
- R stands for role: What is their role as a writer? More often than not, they will be taking on the role of an expert about a topic. The term expository come from the root “expose,” so in essence, a writer is exposing information about a topic. Some creative prompts require the writer to take on a specific role.
- A stands for audience: Who are they writing this for? This answer is often that they are writing for a teacher, or an assessment scorer, but some prompts may assign a particular audience.
- F is for format. In other words, which style of writing should the writer use to address the prompt? For the purpose of this article, we are focusing on expository text, but within that genre alone, there are several different expository text structures. To learn more about five different types of expository structures, you can enroll in our Expository Writing course. This article will focus on the descriptive writing structure, which is the most versatile.
- T is for topic. What is this prompt about? What is the general answer to the question?
Consider this prompt and think about how the RAFT acronym can help your students prepare for responding to it:
“Think of a problem that students in your school are currently facing, and think of how it could be reduced or eliminated. Write an editorial for the school newsletter with suggestions for how the problem can be addressed.”
In analyzing this prompt with the RAFT acronym, students would acknowledge that their role (R) is a concerned student, and their audience (A) is fellow students and school staff. They would use the descriptive text structure (F) to describe their suggested solutions. And finally, they would have to choose a problem at school on which they can focus their writing (T). One example problem might be that new students feel overwhelmed and left out. Students should be encouraged to come up with three solid suggestions, or examples, to describe in their essay. For this example, they might come up with ideas such as assigning a buddy to each new student, creating a video tour of the school, and developing a brochure about extra-curricular activities.
It is a good idea to have your students analyze numerous writing prompts. This does not mean they have to take the piece through the entire writing process, but through repeated practice of analyzing prompts, they will build their confidence at how to tackle a prompt, thus feeling more prepared for a writing assessment.
Step Two: Creating a Graphic Organizer
Once students have a response in mind for the prompt, they need to put their ideas on a paper, and start visually organizing their plan. A basic web is a great design for planning a descriptive essay. The main topic would be in the center of the web, with their three ideas or examples branching off from the center. Then from each idea or example, students can add more branches to represent supporting details. See the example below based on the topic described in Step One.
HERE IS AN EXAMPLE:
Step Three: Completing an Essay Organizer Template
Using their graphic organizer as a stepping stone, students will now flesh out the details of their original thoughts. Our Descriptive Essay Organizer resource is available for you below to share with your students. You can reproduce the template and have students write directly on it, or you can share an electronic version so they can type their responses. A third option is to simply show them the organizer, and have the students recreate their own on paper. This is probably the best option if you want them to be able to use this tool for future essays.
The essay organizer is organized into three distinct parts: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Just as with narrative writing, a strong lead helps to grab the reader’s attention, and it is important for students to spend some time developing their thesis, or main idea statement, as well as crafting a lead that will draw the reader in. The body of the essay organizer is divided into three examples, with space for students to write out their supporting details for each example. These ideas will all come directly from their graphic organizer, but they will include more detail on this essay organizer. Space for transition words is also included. Students need to plan out how they will transition from one idea to the next. And finally, the essay organizer ends with a conclusion in which the student restates their thesis or main idea, and wraps it all up with a strong closing.
By equipping your students with this basic outline structure, they will be able to develop a well-organized essay with enough details to support their main idea. Once they have internalized the basic structure, they will be able to recreate this plan for many types of expository writing.