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Have Your Students Been Drafted?- Using the 11 minute essay to teach expository writing

New Drafted

Since I talked about timed expository/informational essays on Instagram , there has been some interest in an explanation of what it is, and how and why you should use it. I thought, instead of trying to explain it to each interested teacher, I would just write a post about the technique that has truly changed the way I teach writing.

Getting something on paper- FAST

I don’t know about you, but getting 7th and 9th graders to realize they have time to draft during a state test was a big hurdle that I hadn’t couldn’t seem to get over. In talking to my students, it seemed that getting that first word on the page was a struggle. So how to break through that barrier, and quickly, was a problem that needed to be addressed. Enter the timed essay. (There should be heavenly light and angels singing when you read that) After I began teaching this way, students became more confident VERY quickly, and the realization that they DO have time to write a rough draft during a timed test was something they started to believe.

How do you do this magic?

Thanks to a former department head, that is now one of my best friends (shout out Christa!), I was introduced to this method when I was teaching English I on-level and PAP. Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a PowerPoint on which you outline the prompt, time each slide so they progress after a given amount of time, and make sure you are HARD CORE about the #1 rule in timed essay writing- Never stop writing.
  2. Go over the state released rubric for essay scoring, and have students score the released examples for each level. In Texas, they give us four examples of each score, 1-4, with an explanation of why each essay received that score.
  3. Have student do 2 or 3 essays before you have them choose one to redo as a final draft.
  4. Have students score each others essays while referencing the state rubric.
  5. Discuss the process and repeat.

Making a PowerPoint

When you make a PowerPoint to guide your students through, you need a couple of things: a prompt for the writing style you are teaching, and an idea of how to break that prompt into 5 clear sections.

We do expository (about to be renamed argumentative) in both 7th and 9th grade. You can set up a timed essay presentation for any style. Here is how my PowerPoint is set up:

  • first slide outlines the rule- NEVER STOP WRITING. If I see them stop, I take it up and give them a zero. That’s how important this rule is to the process.
  • then the prompt is given and they write it at the top of their paper
  • the first slide is timed for one minute, and they answer the prompt for 1 minute (intro)
  • next slide is timed for 3 minutes, and they write about a text-to-self connection that proves their answer
  • another 3 minute slide for a text-to-text connection that proves their answer
  • last 3 minute slide for a text-to-world connection that proves their answer
  • final slide is 1 minute, and they restate their answer and conclude

At the end, they have a 5 paragraph essay draft to work with. When we do the first essay of the year, I always ask how many of them have ever written that much in minutes before. Very few ever raise their hand. Most are still looking at their draft in wonder. Now, the students only get 26 lines to write their final draft on our state test, so we talk about only choosing their best two connections to include in the final.

What do they do now?

I take up the first 3 essays they write and hold on to them. They don’t get them back until we have studied the state rubric and graded the sample essays. At that point, I give them back, and they spend the rest of the period perfecting ONE essay. I tell them to choose the one they feel most confident about.

The next class period, they sit in a circle and grade each other’s essays according to the state rubric. There is a strict no judgment rule, and the kids want the feedback, so I never have issues with them being rude to their classmates about their writing. I then take a few and read them aloud, tell them what the consensus on the score was, and then we talk about if the score was correct and why.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Before the test, I have them do 2 more essays, but they have to write final drafts for both, and we do class scoring again. If I find particular errors, I will conference individually with those students. By putting the drafting, writing, and scoring all on them, there seems to be more ownership. They get almost immediate feedback, and it tends to improve their writing more quickly. I will tell you that the last group of 7th graders I taught had a 95% passing rate on the state writing test. My freshmen had a 100% passing rate on the English I EOC.

It’s not difficult to make your own timed essay PowerPoint, especially once you’ve used the first one. I have several expository essay presentations in my TPT store, some of which are based on STAAR released prompts.

Please feel free to contact me through comments or email if you have any questions or need clarification. I’d love to be able to share the knowledge that has gotten me so much more comfortable with teaching writing.