What Skills Must a Student Develop to Write an Effective Essay?

Students must incorporate various thinking and writing skills in order to compose an effective essay.
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Essay writing is an unavoidable part of every student’s education -- it's a curriculum objective on virtually every grade level. Students are often overwhelmed at the thought of writing an essay because it requires a combination of various thinking and writing skills. Before they can approach essay writing with a manageable strategy, students will need to develop the individual skills needed to master this assignment.

1 Universal Skills

There are several types of essays that teachers may assign to students. However, for all types of essays, universal skills are required. Students must be able to introduce the topic clearly, engaging the reader while informing him of the topic. The student must develop organizational skills to provide structure to the essay. Ideas must be presented logically and support the purpose of the writing. The student also needs to decide what kind of details will best support his topic sentences: facts, quotes, examples, reasons or anecdotes. Writers must also learn to bring an essay to a conclusion. Depending on the type of essay, this could be a summation or a sense of closure on a theme.

2 Persuasive Essays

Most students in the elementary grades are assigned persuasive writing assignments. This could include opinion pieces, persuasive essays or arguments. For these types of essays, students will need to develop skills in logic and critical thinking. They'll need to understand the difference between valid arguments and fallacies. They must support their position with relevant information and credible sources, linking their opinions with supporting details using words such as “because,” “therefore” and “since.”

3 Narrative Essays

A narrative essay is a retelling of a real or imagined experience. For this type of essay, students will need to sequence events in a way that the story develops naturally. They'll need to integrate words that indicate chronological order, such as “before,” “finally” and “eventually.” They will need to introduce and reveal characters through dialogue and other elements of characterization. They will need to write description using sensory details and powerful nouns and verbs which bring the reader into the scene. In a narrative essay, the writer should bring the reader to a sense of closure, having established a theme applicable to life.

4 Expository Essays

Expository essays examine a topic and provide information which will help the reader understand the material. Examples of expository essay topics could include how specific inventions change the way we live or why math is important. For these types of essays, students will need to develop research skills. They need to know where and how to find relevant information that explains the topic. They will need to analyze information, select the most reliable facts, and organize them into a cohesive and understandable structure.

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.