How to Write an Essay, Grades 6-8

Teaching Tip of the Month

This month's Teaching Tip comes from How to Write an Essay, Grades 6-8.

Finding a Topic

The first step in writing an essay is deciding on your topic. For some students that is an easy step, while others struggle. Have you ever found yourself saying, "I don't know what to write about"? Or you decide on one topic, and then the next day you change your mind? Fortunately, there are some steps that might make finding a topic a smooth and painless experience.

Before we practice these, however, we have to ask ourselves what kinds of topics are appropriate for an expository essay. Remember that an expository essay explains or gives information about a topic. You could simply write about your favorite sport or about three kinds of spiders that live in your neighborhood.

Remember that this information can highlight something about the topic. In other words, you can have an angle on your topic. For example, if you write an essay about the nature of tornadoes, you can also be doing so as a warning to those of us who live in tornado country. Therefore, the information serves a purpose. Later, we will go into this more deeply.

Does this mean you can write about anything? Yes and no. There are three points to consider:

  • Since you will be writing only five paragraphs, you don't want your topic to be too general. For example, "Earth" is probably too wide a topic. Can you narrow it? How about "Continents." That might work, but how about "South America?" Is there a country in South America that you have always wondered about? What about Brazil? "Yes," you think to yourself, "I have a friend from Brazil who lives on a farm. He visits every summer." A five-paragraph essay about Brazil would be terrific!
  • That brings up our second point: Choose a topic that interests you and leaves some room for discovery. A topic that requires at least a little research will help keep your momentum flowing.
  • You also don't want to choose a topic that's too narrow. If you do, you'll find it hard to develop your topic. In such a case there may not be enough available information, the information may be too detailed and complex, or else it may be too simple and self- evident. For example, it might be difficult to write an essay on the sleeping positions of hibernating bears! "Hibernation" is more suitable, and there is plenty of information to find on the topic.

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