Lesson 2 Tue Structure of an Essay

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Lesson 7.2

Tue Structure of an Essay

As you learned in Unit 5 of this book, there are many types of essay. To name a few, there are narrative essays that tell about real-life events, personal essays in which people share their experiences and reflections, persuasive essays that attempt to convince others to take an action or to adopt a point of view, and informative essays that define, analyze, compare and contrast, classify, or describe processes. Despite their astonishing variety, most essays have three elements in common:

1. Essays are relatively short. For a timed writing test, your essay will probably be no more than four or five paragraphs long.

2. Essays present and elaborate on a single main idea, or thesis.

3. Essays have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

The Five-Paragraph Theme

Unless the test you are taking gives other instructions, the safest approach is to write a five-paragraph theme. This is an essay that consists of a one-paragraph introduc­tion, three body paragraphs, and a one-paragraph conclusion.

Paragraph 1. The introduction grabs the attention of your audience and presents your thesis statement, or main idea.

Paragraphs 2—4. Each body paragraph presents a major supporting idea related to your thesis statement. This idea is expressed in a topic sentence. Supporting sentences within the body paragraph elaborate on the topic sentence, presenting additional information or details.

Paragraph 5. The conclusion sums up your essay and gives the reader what critic Frank Kermode has called “the sense of an ending.”

Throughout the five-paragraph theme, transitions should be used to connect ideas.

Transitions are words and phrases that relate paragraphs, sentences, and parts of sentences to one another. For a list of transitions that you can use to express various kinds of relationships among ideas, see the chart on page 160.

The chart on the next page shows the parts of a sample five-paragraph theme. On the following page is a graphic organizer that can be used for planning such an essay.


The Structure of a Five-Paragraph Theme

See diagram on page 186

Chandra Battacherya

Header -------------------------------------------------------------------- Monday, April 15

title ----------------- “Looking for Life in the Solar System”

paragraph 1, introduction

Have you ever looked up at the stars at night and wondered if there were life on other planets? If so, you are not alone. people have been wondering since the beginning of time whether human beings are alone in the universe. In our century, scientists have invented great tools for turning the search for extraterrestrial life into a reality. ri particular, twentieth-century scientists have used tele­scopes and space prol7es to search for life in other parts of the solar system. thesis statement Three places where life might exist elsewhere include Mars, the moon of Jupiter known as Europa, and one of the many asteroids that lie in the asteroid l7elt l7etween Mars and Jupiter.

Summaries of paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, the body paragraphs of the essay

[Paragraph 2 describes the discovery of a rock from Mars containing evidence of bacteria that used to live on Mars. Explain that such bacteria might still be alive on Mars, buried deep in the Martian soil.]

[Paragraph 3: Explain that a space prol7e flew by Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, and diserved that this moon has a surface of frozen ice but may contain oceans beneath the ice that have life in them.]

[Paragraph 4: Explain that some scientists believe that small organisms such as viruses and bacteria can be frozen and live for a long time. One of the asteroids in the asteroid belt might contain such ancient, frozen extraterrestrial life.]

Will we ever be able to prove the existence of life in one of these paragraph 5, places? Scientists at NASA have not yet figured out a way to conclusion examine the individual asteroids in the asteroid belt. However, plans are underway for more missions to Mars to look for life on that planet, and other plans are being made for traveling to Europa and drilling beneath the ice to find out whether life exists in Europa’s oceans. Eventually, evidence may be found to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are not alone in the solar system.


Graphic Organizer for Planning Essays

See diagram on page187


Writing the Introduction

There are many ways to introduce an essay. Whichever way you choose, however, you need to make sure that your introduction includes your thesis statement, which is the main idea that the rest of the essay will elaborate upon, or support. Imagine that you are going to write an essay about the benefits of taking part in a drama club production. Here are some possible ways to introduce the essay:

1. Begin with a quotation or proverb.

My grandmother used to say, “Many hands make light work.” I learned the truth of this statement by taking part in a play given by my school’s Prama Club. Few activities are as complicated as producing a play; however, when everyone pulls together and does his or her job—the director, the actors, the stage manager, the costumers, the makeup artists, the technical crew, and the house crew—the difficult job of mounting a production becomes, if not easy, at least doable. Learning the value of teamwork is just one of many valuable lessons that can be gained from taking part in a theatrical production.

2. Begin with an anecdote, or very brief story.

A few weeks ago, I had to give a speech in my English class. Most of my classmates were scared to death about getting up in front of the rest of the students to speak. I was not afraid, however, because I had learned how to overcome stage fright by taking part in a production given by the Prarna Club. This is only one of the many benefits of taking part in a school play.

3. Begin with a startling or interesting fact.

In one nineteenth-century production of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, a sword flew out of the hands of one of the characters and stuck into one of the seats in the audience. While nothing this dramatic happens to most students who take part in a school play, nearly everyone who has done so comes away from the experience with lots of lessons learned and lots of stories to tell.

4. Begin with an analogy to something else. (An analogy is a comparison presented to make a point.)

Coaches often make the claim that participating in sports builds character and teaches the value of teamwork. If you really want to build character, however, I would recommend joining the Prania Club. There you can build character in more ways than one, and you can also learn how a team—what theater people call an ensemble—can pull together to create something magical. Suilcling character, learning about teamwork, and just having a great deal of fun are three benefits of Prania Club membership.

5. Begin by posing a question.

How often does a high-school student get a chance to demonstrate bravery? As everyone knows, high-school students are obsessed with how they look in front of their peers. For that reason, it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of one’s classmates as an actor in a play. I7roving that one is capable of overcoming the fear of looking foolish is one of many positive results of taking part in a school play.


Writing the Body Paragraphs

Each of the body paragraphs in your essay should present a single main idea that supports the thesis statement. The sentence in the paragraph that states this main idea is called the topic sentence. The rest of the sentences in a body paragraph present details to support the topic sentence. Here is an example of a rough outline for a body paragraph that supports the thesis statement “Taking part in a school play has many benefits”:

Benefit 1: Teaches responsibility

—Must learn lines and movements on time because director and other actors depend on this

—Must not miss rehearsals or show up late

—Must remember to bring materials to rehearsals, such as script, directors’ notes, and rehearsal schedule

When writing body paragraphs, make sure to use transitions like those shown on page 160 to show how your ideas are connected. You may use transitions both at the beginnings of paragraphs and within them. Notice how transitions are used in the following paragraph to connect the ideas:

One important lesson that acting in a play teaches is responsibility. For example, an actor must learn his or her lines and movements on time because the director and the other actors depend on this. in addition, out of courtesy to others working on the production, an actor must not miss rehearsals or show up late. Furthermore, an actor has to remember to bring important materials to rehearsals, such as his or her script, notes given by the director during the previous rehearsal, and his or her copy of the rehearsal schedule.

An actor soon learns that responsibility means not letting others down.

Writing the Conclusion

Suppose that you were watching a movie on television, one that you really loved, and that ten minutes before the end of it, the power in your home went out. In essays, as in movies, giving the reader a good experience depends a great deal on bringing the work to a satisfactory close.

Usually, the conclusion will be a single paragraph. Often, its beginning will be signaled by a transition such as “In conclusion,” “In summary,” or “As the preceding paragraphs show.”

One way to develop a conclusion is to restate your thesis in different words and then summarize the supporting ideas presented in the essay. For instance, suppose that your thesis statement is this:

Few experiences in life teach one as much as one learns from participating in a school play.

If this is your thesis statement, you might begin your conclusion by restating your thesis as a question, like this:

What are the positive consequences of taking part in a school play? As this essay has shown,...

The chart on the following page presents additional ideas for writing conclusions.


The Structure of a Five-Paragraph Essay

The Parts of the Essay and What They Should Include


—Introductory material to grab the reader’s attention

—Thesis statement

Each Body Paragraph

—Main supporting idea (topic sentence)

—Details related to main supporting idea

Note: A five-paragraph essay should contain three body paragraphs


—Any material that will wrap up the essay and give your reader a satisfying sense of closure

Suggestions for Writing Each Section of the Essay

Follow one of these strategies:

—Begin with a quotation or proverb

—Begin with an anecdote

—Begin with a startling or interesting fact

—Begin by posing a question

Note: Make sure that your introduction states the main idea, or thesis, of the essay.

Do the following for each paragraph:

—Use transitions at the beginning of and within the paragraph

—Somewhere in the paragraph, include a topic sentence that states a single main idea related to the thesis of the essay

Follow one or more of these strategies:

—Restate your thesis in other words or as a question

—Summarize the main ideas from your body paragraphs

—Draw a conclusion based upon the information that you have presented in the rest of the essay

—Relate your topic to your reader, telling why it is important to his or her life

—Suggest that your reader take some action related to the topic



A Study the sample essay presented on page 186. Then answer the following questions about it.

1 What is the subject of the essay?

2 What is the main idea of the essay? Where is this main idea stated?

3 What method has the writer used to grab the reader’s attention in the introduction?

4 What would be a good topic sentence for the first body paragraph?

5 What would be a good topic sentence for the second body paragraph?

6 What would be a good topic sentence for the third body paragraph?

7 What method does the writer use to conclude her essay?

B Study the sample body paragraph given on page 189. Then answer the following questions about it.

1 What is the topic sentence of the paragraph?

2 What are four transitions used in the paragraph?

3 What details are presented to support the topic sentence?

4 What is the clincher sentence of the paragraph?

C Choose a topic related to one of your classes in school. Your topic can be related to science, social studies, English, mathematics, foreign language, art, health, physical education, or any other class that you are taking or have taken. Do some thinking about your topic, and consult informative sources about the topic, such as your textbooks and class notes. Then, write a thesis statement and a rough outline for a five-paragraph expository essay on the topic.


D Write two possible introductions for the five-paragraph essay that you outlined in Exercise C. Use two of the methods for writing introductions described in this lesson. Make sure that both of your introductions include a thesis statement.

E Do additional research on your topic, if necessary. Choose the best of your introductory paragraphs from Exercise C to begin your essay. Then write the body paragraphs and conclusion for your essay.

F Once you have completed your rough draft, exchange papers with another student in your class. Check your classmate’s paper to make sure that it:

• Has an introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and states the thesis

• Contains three body paragraphs, each of which presents a main idea in support of the thesis statement

• Has a conclusion that wraps up the ideas presented in the essay

• Uses transitions throughout to connect ideas

• Presents ideas in a logical order

Write a list of suggestions for improving the essay, and give these to your classmate. When you receive your classmate’s suggestions for your own essay, review the essay to make sure that it meets the criteria described above. Then, revise the essay and make a list of the sources of information that you used. Attach this list on a separate page at the end of the essay.

G After you have revised your essay, proofread it for errors in spelling, grammar, usage, capitalization, and punctuation. Then make a clean final copy and proofread the essay again. Share your completed essay with your teacher and with other students in your class.


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