How to Teach Essay Writing Skills

If you’re a new teacher you’re probably wondering how to teach essay writing skills to your students.  If you’re a seasoned teacher, you’re still probably wondering how to teacher essay writing skills to your students.  Though they are one of the most basic foundational elements a student needs for success, finding ways to communicating those skills to students can be difficult at best.

How do we engage our students when trying to get essay writing skills across to them?  How do we help show them the essay writing skills that professionals use?  How to we teach essay writing skills in such a way that moves from the standard five paragraph hamburger or nacho paper that so many of us were taught when we were in school?


Breaking it into smaller steps

Teaching essay writing skills to  your students does not happen all at once, in one lesson.  An entire unit can be devoted to properly communicating essay writing skills to your students.  But fear not, this doesn’t mean it has to be boring.  You just have to use engaging materials.

What do Harry Potter, bra burning, the importance of sharing your salary with co-workers, and comic books have in common?  They can all be used to engage your students as you teach proper essay skills.  You just have to take small steps, laying a strong foundation and building upon it block by block, brick by brick, until your students are ready for the full release of responsibility, becoming proficient writers of their own.

Building the Foundation.

The very first step is to ensure your students know how to write a persuasive paragraph.  They should be familiar with the PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation) style of writing.  Many student have been taught this prior to writing an essay.  For those that need a refresher, an assignment based on the extremely short story ALLIGATOR RIVER can be accessed HERE.

When building essay writing skills, the order you want to take thing in is as follows:

0. Ensure students understand how to write a persuasive paragraph.

  1. Introduce students to Common Essay Problems
  2. Ensure students know how to write a five-paragraph essay outline
  3. Immediately demonstrate how to move away from a five-paragraph essay (Harry Potter)
  4. Demonstrate the importance of using evidence to support their claims (Bra-Burning)
  5. Show students how to embed quotations into their work
  6. Demonstrate how to move from text, to outline, to finished essay (The importance of sharing your salary with co-workers)
  7. Teaching ways to polish your essay through digital editing
  8. Release responsibility to students to write their own paper, with a strong exemplar for reference (Comic Books)

By following these steps, you should have an engaged and informed class that has not only learned how to write a strong essay, but a class that has also used the material to further their own knowledge and sense of self-discovery.  When life skills, self-discovery, and literacy skills all come together at the same time, everyone wins.

What’s Next?

The next step is to take a persuasive paragraph, and each students the common essay problems.  By re-working their short paragraph they will gain the skills they will apply to all pieces of writing, moving forward.  Be it short response, or multi-page essay, they will students will gain confidence and skills that will help they IDENTIFY AND AVOID COMMON ESSAY PROBLEMS.

Navigate the Essay Unit

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

One thought on “How to Teach Essay Writing Skills

  1. Tracy says:

    Thank you so much, Mr. Barltrop, for the essay writing resources you provide. I am using them with my home schooled children. I was wondering if you intend to put your essay unit into a document for sale one day. It would be very helpful to have it on file to use with my children when each of them is ready. Websites come and go, but a PDF doc lasts forever! lol. I see you already have an account on Teachers Pay Teachers, but, alas, this unit is not there.
    Thank you again,


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