In this essay, I will (bore the reader)


We did some work yesterday in class around how to begin their short research papers which they have been working on for the past week. More and more, I notice how many of my sixth graders start every reading response with “In this paragraph, I will …” and every longer essay with “In this essay, I will …” and I am trying to ween them off those boring starts. It’s not easy. They have been programmed by other teachers, I think, to begin their pieces this way so that, at least, they will have an opening. (and don’t get me started on the closing sentences, which end with “In this paragraph, I have shown you …”)

I know why this kind of teaching was put into place. Many students jump right into the heart of the text, and lack structure. But at some point, young writers need to be told “this is how you learn the skill and this how you move beyond that skill to make your writing your own.” I guess I do that a lot in my classroom.

So, yesterday, I wrote out a few samples as mentor texts (and will do some more today), and we compared/contrasted various openings of essays. I had them reflect on why you want to draw the reader in (so that they want to read what you wrote and learn from the research) instead of bore them to tears.  (Me: “I know this is an essay you are writing. I assigned it, and am helping you with it. You don’t need to tell me that you are writing an essay in your opening sentence.”) I suspect this will be a continuing one-on-one consultations with some students, but I did notice improvements already. It’s as if some students realized for the first time that they can be creative in their essays, which is what I am hoping for, instead of jamming their words into a formula.

Peace (in variation),



  1. Kevin,
    YES! I do believe that it’s our job to move beyond the mundane when teaching structure, and agree that they need that structure first. Mine are currently writing narratives, and 6th grade teachers must’ve thought onomatopoeia was the way to start! I didn’t know that narratives were supposed to begin with alarm clocks going off! 😉

    Enjoy the small successes you get when you DO help them improve!

  2. In the AP textbook, they call this “metadiscourse.” It might be fun to teach your students that word.

    Just thinking right now… maybe it would be fun to look at times when metadiscourse can be effective. Writers do it a lot, especially in modern times, for effect: humor, or maybe to create a self-conscious voice. For example, in my blog I often apologize for cliched or mixed metaphors. But sometimes I don’t change them, because the pace of the writing can be so fast these days. I always figure my blog is a mind in progress, in a way.

    Anyway– students like learning that word. Makes them feel smart. Which they are if they know that word!! 🙂

  3. P.S. discussing the metadiscourse and why it doesn’t belong there, I think, helps situate academic writing as its own very specific writing situation. We all know you’re writing an essay, yes. And we all know it’s a paragraph and you’re going to show something, yes. So get on with it. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *