Improving Critical Essays

My senior class (a mixture of Int 2 and Higher pupils) will be sitting their exams in a couple of weeks time.  We are spending the few weeks between Easter and D-day revising the class texts, practising close reading techniques and improving essay writing skills.  The latter of these is the trickiest, I feel.  Though the pupils understand the importance of sticking to the task, of structure and of using quotations, their analysis can be a little thin sometimes. 

With this in mind I have set about using AiFL techniques in order to heighten the pupils awareness of what is required of them and where their own work needs to be improved.  I’ve found the following mixture of modelling and self assessment to be very successful. 

After reviewing the meaning, types and importance of analysis the pupils are set an essay question to complete at home.  On the due date I hand out a strong Model Essay.  Pupils colour code where the essay’s author has used quotations and where they have focused on analysis.  The class then do the same with their own essay and compare the results.  The majority of pupils found that they ought to increase the amount of analysis in their essays.  Some also realised they should be including more quotations.  Using this information pupils set themselves targets for the next essay.

I have tended to do the second essay in timed conditions and set a very similar task to the initial question.  The results have been very pleasing indeed.  :)

5 thoughts on “Improving Critical Essays

  1. I find a slightly more advanced use of colour-coding is helpful for Higher questions – the one you use as an example is very non-specific, isn’t it? For example, in a question like this:
    Choose a poem that at first seemed simple and straightforward, but on further study was revealed to be increasingly complex. Referring closely to the language of the poem, show how your awareness of the poem’s complexity developed……

    I suggested using blue for “simple and straightforward”, red for “increasingly complex” and purple for “language of the poem”. Every time the student noted that she had dealt with the relevant area, she coloured it appropriately. That meant that not all quotations were purple, because some would be red or blue, and the purple included comment on language as well as the actual quotation.

    The students noticed how in the model essay the first para was largely blue, and the last red and purple. The main caveat was to keep the colours fairly specific and not attempt too many sub-categories!

  2. A really great idea, Chris. Feel like the pupils understand how much analysis is required of them. Your idea will help them focus on keeping the analysis relevant. Will most definitely try it out this week.

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