Writing about yourself is one of the most challenging writing assignments for many students. It’s natural that a student will seek the advice of a trusted adult or writing tutor to assist in ideas and essay formation, since it can be difficult looking at oneself from an outside perspective. Still, a personal essay goes beyond writing about yourself. You can help writers create thought-provoking, creative essays through specific personal writing techniques.
Focus on One Event
One of the biggest misconceptions about the personal essay is that it is an opportunity to write your whole life’s story. Instead, treat the essay as an opportunity to express one or a few events from a personal standpoint. General topics come across as boring to readers, and large events cannot be covered in one essay alone. Encourage the writer to get specific as possible about the topic, focusing on rich details and the writer’s response to them. For example, instead of narrating a trip to Disney World, the writer can relay his experience with one ride. Even the most seemingly trivial of topics can be transformed into essays with a purpose, making a point that sticks with the readers.
Develop the Voice and Style
You’ve heard the importance of finding an individual writing “voice,” but encouraging this in other writers can be a challenge. Word choice is just one component of a writer’s voice; other aspects to consider are the writer’s sentence structure and tone. For example, students from the East Coast may not communicate exactly the same way as students from the South. Encourage the use of the writer’s differences and make sure she shows her personality and background on the page. Remember that, unlike other types of essays, first-person is allowed, and encouraged.
Treat It Like a Story
A personal essay is technically a nonfiction account of an event, but the last thing you want to do is turn it into a research paper. Unlike more formal types of writing, narrative essays come with the advantage of more creative freedom. The essay can have a similar format as a short story, with a setting, foreshadowing and climax. While you should instruct the writer to tell a story from his point of view, you should also encourage the use of literary techniques used in fiction writing. This includes personification, imagery and metaphors, as well as stream-of-consciousness and repetition.
The revision process is an important final step in all written works -- including personal essays. Encourage the writer to dig deeper and see whether certain passages can be revised to make a more powerful essay. These types of essays are designed to appeal to the emotions of the reader, perhaps even sparking empathy. Therefore, you’ll want to see whether the writer uses the best language and rhetoric possible to serve this end. The final step is the editing phase, where you can see whether the writer uses her own voice along with correct grammar and mechanics.
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