I'll come to the fish in a bit. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on helping sixth-formers plan essays.
Building a cogent and coherent argument in essay form is an essential skill at AS for MFL, and it takes a lot of care to build up the skills. For AQA, the essay has 20 out of the available 35 marks for content and structure. How can we help our sixth-formers to write these essays?
Planning and preparation
Encouraging planning is essential. In the early days, I used to insist on the sixth-formers handing in their planning as well as their essay before I realised that they often did their plan after they had written their essay. Now, especially in the first few months when we are embedding good habits, I get my sixth-formers to hand in a plan, a word-bank and their planned examples before I let them write the essay. This can either focus minds or highlight any potential mistakes.
If they don't get into the habit of planning, they will forget to do it in the exam, and probably find themselves with a wobbly blancmange of an essay. It is all the more important, as the AQA essays are often in 2 parts, and failure to answer one part of the question is penalised.
Why the fish?
Well, that is what the essay structure should look like. I saw this demonstrated many moons ago when I was just starting out, and I've used it ever since - the image is clear and really gets the point across.
The head is the introduction, preferably with a hook to get the reader's attention.
The main body with the spine is the development - with a clear line of argument (the spine) running through
The conclusion is the tail.
The proportions also roughly correspond.
There are many acronyms for helping to structure a paragraph, and although sticking slavishly to them can limit students writing at this level, there are some elements of these acronyms that are helpful. The most acronym for supporting students who struggle with structure is:
L- link to the question, link to the next paragraph
An example of the usefulness of acronyms: a student, who had done a rather shabby essay was reviewing his work, and when I told him that he hadn't explored the implications of the essay said, "Oh -so I've done P.E. rather than P.E.E.L."
There are some key principles of a paragraph:
1. The first sentence should tell you the theme of the paragraph
2. Once you have made a point, you need to explain and explore it, preferably using an example
3. It should be clearly linked to the question
4. If you give a statistic, you need to explore all the implications
5. It is expected that you will analyse as you go, rather than waiting for the conclusion, as in other subjects,such as history.
A great little exercise for emphasising the importance of the first sentence is to present the pupils with several paragraphs with the first sentence removed, and a choice of possible replacements. This focuses the pupils on the key elements very effectively. I'll post an example in the next post.
A few of my resources for essay-writing are on the TES here. I'll be adding to them in the next few weeks. Here is the essay feedback sheet - designed for AQA. Here is the essay plan template.