Writing can be quite intimidating when a topic is first suggested to you, but I am here to tell you that words are our friends and can be great allies in the pursuit of getting your point across.
While we all grew up thinking that the heavier the paper the higher the grade, the weight of your collective words can make or break your current livelihood. In an era of expanding social media and speedy communication, it is incumbent for us to be rapidly understood and be able to move quickly from one project to another.
Back to school
I was a fifth grade teacher not so long ago (even though it seems like a lifetime) and was faced with a state social studies test the school was very invested in, but the students could care less about. As usual, my goal was to simplify the material and then build my 25 ninja warriors up to comprehensive dominance.
While the subject was social studies, I quickly realized that half the test was comprised of essay questions. I thought, “Oh happy day!” although the actual internal observation exceeding PG-13 guidelines. There was no way I was going to forego all of the other subjects in my toolbox to focus on a test that could benefit the school and do little for the kids (besides create long, monotonous and frustrating days).
I placed four large pieces of lined paper across the antiquated chalkboards and turned to my students and said, “Let’s learn how to write an essay.”
Of course they were predictably skeptical, as their moans and groans suggested. But, I was undeterred because I knew they would hop the fence to my writing backyard once they saw how easy the whole process was.
Are you talking to me?
I always broached each subject with explanations they could understand, much in the way you should use plain, direct language to convey your message.
“No matter what the topic, whether it is the primary causes of the American Revolution or your favorite things to do after school, an essay is always written the same way.”
Now, my class always became excited when I presented ideas they were interested in, and this occasion was no exception. I would once again like to apologize to all of the teachers within a 100-yard radius of my classroom and their students who were awoken by all of the noise.
“Our topic today is…” I said like a good game show host trying to enhance the suspense of the moment. I then wrote on the board next to the large white, lined papers, “What are your favorite pizza toppings?”
And then I tried to focus their exuberance for the subject matter by saying, “Write down your three favorite pizza toppings on a piece of paper. Most essays require that you have two or three main points, and I have discovered that any more than three makes the reader wander and probably quit way before you’ve finished.”
Tell me a story…
I also find in my professional life (as, surprisingly, a writer) that we all want to impress each other by putting just about everything we know into a single document. And this is done without considering the commonality of what we enjoyed as children and now as adults: WE REALLY LIKE A GOOD STORY!
A good story tells us what is happening now, what has happened to get to this point, and then we conclude with a view of the future. That’s the backbone of any riveting story, analysis or paper.
I canvased the classroom and we came up with the most popular pizza toppings, which were pepperoni, meatball and mushroom. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t an anchovy to be found.
I then wrote on the lined paper and interjected the following comments:
STEP 1: Tell us what you’re going to talk about.
The first line of any essay or question you are answering should repeat the question before detailing your main points of focus, and why you’re writing these words to start with.
My favorite pizza toppings are pepperoni, meatball and mushroom, and I will detail why I prefer these ingredients.
STEP 2: Talk about your points in detail.
This might be the most enjoyable part of any paper or essay, especially if you are familiar with the topic. And, if you’re unfamiliar with the topic, it’s always a good idea to do research and become an expert before you even write a word.
The primary reason I like pepperoni as a pizza topping is because it’s spicy. Meatballs taste just as good with a bowl of spaghetti or in a hero as they do on top of a pizza. Most mushrooms work well with many varieties of cheeses and pizza crusts.
And make sure you go into further detail of each topic. When you’re taking a test or writing a paper or email, much of this background information will be available to you, so just use what you’re given. The people that are reading your words want you to stick to the facts and not make anything up. You’ll see that the more you practice writing, the more the subject matter becomes irrelevant and you will crush whatever topic you’re given. Writing should always have a pleasant flow and these essays are no different.
STEP 3: Wrap it up and get it to go.
I have detailed why my favorite why my favorite pizza toppings are pepperoni, meatball and mushroom, and why using any of them either together or separately would make a tasty meal.
The first comment from a student was, “That’s it?”
I smiled, “That’s it!”
I talked to them about being confident before you do anything in life, and this would always happen if they were well prepared. The same holds true for you: being prepared and having structure will help you write confidently!
Three weeks later my kids took the test and their wasn’t a stressed look among them, unlike the students in the other fifth grade classes who were driven crazy all month. The principal came to my empty classroom a few weeks later after school and asked, “How did you do it? Your class had 22 perfect scores on the writing portion of the social studies exam out of 25 students. And the other three scored in the 90th percentile.”
I smiled and replied, “I taught them how to write.”