Basic essay techniques



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BASIC ESSAY TECHNIQUES



Essays begin with the prompt. Make sure students understand what the prompts are asking them to do. Students may be asked to analyze, assess, evaluate, compare, contrast, describe, discuss, and explain. Know the difference between these words. Additionally, prompts can be multi-tasking in that they ask the writer to perform several actions. Make sure students answer all parts of the prompt, or they may fail.
All essays should have five paragraphs. The first should be a thesis paragraph. It need consist of only one sentence – a thesis statement. If students have any other sentence, an attention grabber similar to the headlines of a newspaper called a hook should precede their thesis. Students should not waste time and effort on long theses’ paragraphs. Students should come to the point – their thesis – immediately, and go on to prove their argument.
All theses should include their argument with three methods or points they will use to prove their argument. For example, if the prompt asks about the Mongols, a superior thesis would be “The Mongols were efficient governors because of their political, economic, and social policies.” The first portion of the thesis, “The Mongols were efficient governors,” is a simple, acceptable thesis. At the bare minimum, all essays should include this type of thesis. The second part, “because of their political, economic, and social policies turns a simple thesis into a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis. Better essays follow this second format.
The conclusion paragraph need only consist of one sentence. While a conclusion resembles a thesis, students should not copy or paraphrase the thesis. They should write a sentence that sums up what they have learned or proven in their essay.
The other paragraphs form the body of the essay and are critical. Within three of the paragraphs, students prove their argument. Set up body paragraphs in an order parallel to the structure within the thesis sentence. Students should organize points from the strongest point to weakest point. Strength is based on the amount of evidence presented and the thoroughness of the argument. The weakest point should be last. Based on the above thesis, this means “political policies” should be the topic of the first body paragraph, while the second point will be “economic policies” and the last paragraph will cover “social policies.”

The first sentence in the body paragraphs should expand upon the sub-point from the thesis. An example about the Mongols could be “Politically, the Mongols were tolerant governors, who insisted upon honesty, efficiency, and equality in their policies.” Within each paragraph, there should be two or three facts or pieces of historical support material.
While grammar is important, the essay is a rough draft. It does not have to be perfect. Graders know that 50 minutes does not allow students much time to perfect grammar, syntax, and diction. While it is imperative that the essay be readable and intelligible, national graders will not deduct for grammatical mistakes.


The Document-Based Question (DBQ)
Document based essays are designed to test a student’s ability to use documents to support a historical argument. It corresponds roughly to writing a research paper and duplicates the work of historians, where the student is given the evidence and asked to write a paper – in one hour. And a DBQ essay may include compare and contrast, and/or change over time.
The Document-Based Question consists of a prompt with between five and nine primary source documents. The question is not designed to test a student’s knowledge about world history, so much as the student’s ability to use documentary evidence to make and to support a written argument. Critical to this process are the concepts of bias (reliability) and use of all documents to support a thesis. The graders will grade by the following criteria.
An acceptable thesis requires a simple thesis stating the point of argument, or what you will prove. An expanded thesis, which earns an additional point, requires a comprehensive thesis statement with point of argument and three ways you will prove it.
Students need to use all or all but one of the documents in the essay. Use is defined as citing, quoting, paraphrasing, listing, summarizing, mentioning, analyzing, interpreting, or critiquing the documents in any way.
Students must support the thesis with appropriate evidence from the documents. Students must analyze, interpret, and critique the documents. Quoting, listing, summarizing, citing, or mentioning a document does not qualify for this criterion! Students should support their thesis through the use of outside material not mentioned in their documents. If students know of facts and information relevant to the topic, which were not mentioned in the documents, they should include them.
Students must understand the basic meaning of the documents cited in the essay. Students may misinterpret one document but two or more will cost one criterion point. Mistakes involving dates and names are not critical but misrepresenting a document can be fatal. Placing a document in a wrong group that leads to a wrong conclusion also counts as a misunderstanding.
Analyze point of view or bias in three documents. The rubric says students need to analyze only two documents but this is too few. Students should do three or more. In order to earn this point, students should attribute and analyze point of view, bias, purpose or intent, tone, or audience in an attempt to determine reliability. Analysis of point of view also constitutes supporting the thesis with appropriate evidence from the documents and using the documents, too! One method of analysis (and use) is based on the acronym, S.O.A.P.P.S.
Students must analyze documents by grouping them depending on the DBQ prompt. If the DBQ identifies groups in the prompt, students must use the mentioned groups. Students must have three groups. If the prompt only specifies two, students should create a third category. Once again, students must organize the evidence and arguments into three groups. These groups could be mentioned in the thesis statement. The better writers will create their own groups or categories based on the documents. Nevertheless, students might use the acronym P.E.R.S.I.A.N. or S.C.R.I.P.T.E.D. to help structure their thoughts. Evidence should fit into three of these categories. Other methods of grouping include organizing by gender, time, social class, occupation, geography, nationality, similar points of view, or religion. When grouping a document, each group must contain at least two documents. If possible, use three because it prevents a failed group if you misinterpret one document.
Students will be asked to identify one additional type of document they could have used to support the essay prompt. One useful way to accomplish this is to identify a point of view or group missing from the discussion. For example, an essay on gender rights that does not include a woman’s point of view is weak. You should mention this failing. At the same time, if all of the documents in the same essay are by women, a man’s point of view might help balance the essay. Students should decide what is missing and mention what specific type of document or point of view might improve the essay. And they should ideally state how it would help the essay. They should place this sentence in whichever body paragraph will be most effective. This could also include bringing in outside information relevant to the topic.

Other typically missing documents include charts, maps, or statistical information, social classes, and opposite points of view.
Students will have 50 minutes to write their essays. They should use 10 minutes to read the documents and to structure or outline their essay. They should spend 30 minutes writing and 10 minutes reviewing what they have written. Student should make sure they have used all the documents, have three groups, and performed all activities they are required to do. They should especially check their prompt to see that they have addressed all parts required.

NAME: _________________________________________________ PERIOD: _______ DATE: ________________


CHART: DOCUMENT BASED ESSAY QUESTION (DBQ)
GROUPING THEMES (3): _______________________ _______________________ ___________________________
Based on the prompt and documents, select three groups from SCRIPTED or create your own groups. If the prompt asks for Chang/Continuities over Time, the comparison groups should be time periods. Each color represents a paragraph.


THESIS



Use at least 2 documents

in each group!

Using techniques from SOAPPS-Tone or OPTICS, analyze the documents as they relate to the thesis.

Analyze Point of View in at least one of the documents in the group

What document is missing from the group and why is it needed?


1st

Group












2nd

Group












3rd

Group











CONCLUSION


Name: _______________________________________ period: ________ date: __________________



DBQ ESSAY FORMAT “GREEK TEMPLE”


HISTORICAL

INTRODUCTION

(HOOK)



tHESIS SENTENCE(S) – wahp3


SUB THESIS POINT

Group hp1




SUB THESIS POINT

Group hp2




SUB-THESIS POINT

Group hp3

D
DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

EXTRA DOCUMENT

& REASON

NEEDED

EXTRA DOCUMENT

& REASON

NEEDED





DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV




DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV

DOCUMENT

ANALYZE

POV




EXTRA DOCUMENT

& REASON

NEEDED



CONCLUSION PARAGRAPH




Name: ___________________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________
BEGINNING DEFINITIONS AND MEANINGS
Before students plan and write essays, they must understand the tasks that the prompts ask them to perform. It will be disastrous if students misread or perform the wrong action. Using a dictionary, define these tasks. List close synonyms.


  1. ASSESS

  2. COMPARE




  1. ANALYZE




  1. CONTRAST




  1. DEBATE




  1. DECIDE




  1. DEDUCE




  1. DESCRIBE




  1. DIFFERENTIATE




  1. DISCUSS




  1. DISTINQUISH




  1. EVALUATE




  1. EXAMINE




  1. JUDGE




  1. JUSTIFY




  1. PRIORITIZE




  1. RELATE




  1. RELATIVE IMPORTANCE

Name: _____________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________


READING A PROMPT AND WRITING A THESIS
Use the following Document Based Question prompt to assist with these exercises.


Differentiate between mankind’s relationships with the environment. Evaluate whether it is more important for a developing civilization (or nation) to conserve and protect its resources, or fully develop them. Decide what the consequences of each decision would be.
Based on the documents, discuss human relationships with the environment. What kinds of additional documentation would help access the human impact on the environment?



PART A: READING THE PROMPT

        1. One of the most frequent and most fatal mistakes that students make is failure to read the prompt in its entirety and answer all of its portions. Explain why this is fatal?



        1. Prompts contain “actions” that the College Board asks you to perform. Circle these parts in the above prompt and write them below.



Part B: Identifications and definitions.

  1. Identify the key action verbs in the above prompt. What do they mean?



  1. Does the prompt ask you to compare and contrast? If so, list them below.




Part C: Two Criteria and Thesis Writing



The “Basic Core” on all AP World History rubrics includes an acceptable thesis based on the documents. It is sufficient if you mention one specific policy or quality mentioned in the thesis provided that more are discussed later. A “Expanded Core” thesis will contain not only “what” the essay is about but also the manner or “how” a writer will prove the thesis. It has a clear, analytical, and comprehensive thesis. This type of the thesis identifies at least three qualities or policies by name that support your argument, AND reaches a conclusion about the differences between the two policies mentioned in the prompt.


  1. A simple thesis sentence tells “what” the essay is about, but has few details. Write a simple thesis below based on the prompt for Exercise Three.


  1. Based on the prompt, write a detailed, analytical thesis sentence.

Name: _____________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________


THE INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH
The introduction paragraph is the single most important paragraph you will write; the second most important is the first body paragraph. These two contain the first ideas and proofs a grader will read. The quality or lack of quality of these sentences can prejudice a reader about your whole essay. Introduction paragraphs need contain only two sentences – a hook and a thesis sentence. In fact, a thesis paragraph need consist of only one sentence, a thesis. But historical introductions or hook sentences add color and are the attention grabbers that start an essay. They most resemble newspaper headlines. They do not have to be complete sentences but they should reflect the theme of your essay. One student in particular, in her essay on who would win a war between Sparta and Athens used this hook and thesis:
Once upon a time two boys were born in Ancient Greece. One was born in Athens and given a quill, a scroll and sent off to gymnasium; the other born in Sparta was given a sword and shield and sent off to army camp. While some dreamers argue that the pen is mightier than the sword, in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta’s sword defeated Athens’ pen for military, social, and economic reasons.
PART A: WRITING HISTORICAL INTRODUCTIONS
Based on the essay prompt, can you write one or two sentences telling the history leading up to the event or time period which is the focus of the prompt? Please write them below.

1.

2.


PART B: WRITING HOOK SENTENCES
Based on the essay prompt, can you think of some creative and interesting hooks about human views toward the environment? Please write two below.

1.

2.


PART C: INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH
Ideally hook sentences or historical introductions should act as signposts to the thesis. They should not be cryptic or difficult to understand. Using the thesis sentences you wrote in the previous exercise, select one of the hooks or historical introductions written above and write an introductory paragraph.

Name: ___________________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________



ANALYSIS
In the DBQ, the College Board says students must use and analyze the documents. Students must use a majority of the documents and interpret the documents correctly with no more than one error in the interpretation of the content of a document. A misinterpretation is one that leads to an inaccurate statement or grouping, or a false conclusion. Most misinterpretations occur because students do not understand key words from the prompt.

Part A: USE of a document



These actions constitute “use of a document.” Nevertheless, they receive no credit for analysis. Students should know the difference.


  1. Definitions




  1. Summarize

  2. Quote

  3. Cite

  4. List

  5. Paraphrase




  1. Why do the above action words not constitute analysis?

Part B: Analysis and Interpretation (soapps-tONE, OPTIC)



These items involve analysis and support of a thesis. Define the following concepts.


  1. Definitions




  1. Occasion (Historical Context)




  1. Audience




  1. Speaker




  1. Purpose




  1. Point of View




  1. Tone




  1. Relevance of the document to the topic and question




  1. How would discussion of these items constitute both use and analysis?



Name: _____________________________ Period: __________ Date: _____________




POINT OF VIEW


One method of interpreting and analyzing documents involves the identification and discussion of point of view. In a World History DBQ, the student must address at least TWO or more points of view. These are opinions, biases, interpretations, prejudices, beliefs, and personal views held by the documents’ authors. Collectively they are points of view. Students often mistakenly feel interpretations or analyses means restate the facts; they often do not critique the documents for bias, accepting the statements at face value and as absolutely accurate.
Consider using the acronym A.S.A.P. to help. It stands for Attribute the summary, analyze the point of view. It is an one or two sentence construction to analyze documents from their point of view. For instance, Niccolo Machiavelli, a 15th century Italian political writer believed that as a ruler it was better to be feared then loved. He probably held this point of view due to Renaissance politics of the day which gave rulers much power.

PART A: ATTRIBUTE (THE SPEAKER)



Attribution cites the authorship of the document by name of the writer, his or her social position or occupation, and tells something about the statement. The importance to attribution is that the student demonstrates that he or she knows it is the author’s point of view rather than a fact. To be effective, the student must attribute all documents used in the essay.8 Examples are Christopher Columbus, a Spanish explorer believed or John Calvin, a French Protestant theologian felt . . .

Tao Te Ching (The Way of Virtue, Number 29: “Taking No Action”), Lao Tzu, China, Fifth Century BCE
The external world is fragile, and he who meddles with its natural way, risks causing damage to himself. He who tries to grasp it, thereby loses it. It is natural for things to change, sometimes being ahead, sometimes behind. There are times when even breathing may be difficult, whereas its natural state is easy. The sage does not try to change the world by force, for he knows that force results in force.”




Write an example of attribution.

PART B: SUMMARY (OF THE DOCUMENT)



In one sentence summarize the subject of the document of the above document.

PART c: analyze POINT OF VIEW



Students must demonstrate that they understand that an author’s point of view is influenced by many things, such as education, occupation, religion, social class, political persuasion, nationality, sex, sexual preference, and ethnicity. Note that some positions and occupations are more important than others. An example is Muslims believe that the Quran is inerrant and without flaw because Muslims feel that God gave the Book to Muhammad directly through the Angel Gabriel. It is important that students use verbs which denote opinion. For instance, “Muhammad felt” begins to discuss opinion whereas “Muhammad wrote” starts a declarative statement.
Write an example of an author’s point of view. Use the document from Part A.

PART D: PURPOSE, AUDIENCE, OCCASSION
Students should point out how an author’s purpose or intended audience, his social background, or the historical context influence the understanding of the issue. All may influence a point of view: authors tailor their speech or writing to achieve a particular end; when and where a speaker was educated or worked influences how he or she may see the world; and all speakers are products of their times often reflecting a certain perspective.


Johann Gottleib Fichte, German philosopher, nationalist, and early Romantic, 1762-1814, remarks about nature
Cultivation shall quicken and ameliorate the sluggish and baleful atmosphere of primeval forests, deserts, and marshes; more regular and varied cultivation shall diffuse throughout the air new impulses to life and fertility; and the sun shall pour forth his animating rays into an atmosphere breathed by healthy, industrious and civilized nations. Nature [shall] ever become more and more intelligent and transparent; human power, enlightened and armed by human invention, shall rule over her without difficulty.”


Give examples of the author’s intended audience, historical context or purpose.






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