The perfect essay?

With 6 months until their A-level exams, my year 13s are reaching a point where they know lots of stuff, but their main targets now revolve around really answering the question and addressing the command word.

Despite this, between them, they have the elements of a perfect essay, but they just need to structure it a bit more succinctly to really be able to access those top-band marks.

To demonstrate this to them, they wrote me an essay which I marked and then used to construct ‘the perfect essay’. I put it all together, using direct quotes from their essays throughout, without changing any of the language or phrasing they used. Except I told them I had written it. I gave them the version on the first page of this document to read, and we annotated it for the quality of ‘assessment’ (i.e. addressing the command word), use of PEECL (Point, Evidence, Explain, Counter-argument, Link) and inclusion of synoptic themes.

By the end of the discussion, they were beginning to find my arrogance (“Haven’t I used such detailed exemplification here?”) a bit irksome, and it was time for the final reveal. I showed them the highlighted copy of the essay (page 2 of the document found in the link above), as shown in this screenshot:

The perfect essay examples
Writing ‘the perfect essay’ using quotes from students’ work

The highlighted parts show the quotes from them (the colours don’t mean anything except that I wanted to demonstrate where a different student was being quoted).

They could see where their own quotes fitted in (this was a real confidence boost for some!), but also that as the essay progressed, there was less of their writing and more of mine. We agreed, as a group, that most of the work that wasn’t highlighted was where the crux of the assessment lied. This was such a visual way for them to really engage with what assessment looks like and how they can easily shift towards writing this way in their own work.

Plus, now they have a model of truly rigorous assessment to work from, without me having to give them something I had written while pleading with them to ‘write more like me’.

This took me about 25 minutes to compile on top of marking each of their essays, so clearly I wouldn’t do this every time, but I think doing this even once at this stage in the A-level is very powerful as it builds self-belief in their own writing abilities, while also modelling exact examples of how to improve.

If you give it a try, please tweet me @EduCaiti to let me know how it goes!

Author: EduCaiti

Hi. I'm Caiti. I am a second in department and geography teacher about to enter my fifth year of teaching. Last year I completed a Masters in Education from the University of Cambridge.

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