Choosing a Topic Overview
Before students begin to write essays, they must first choose their topics. Sometimes that is easy, because the topic is already assigned, such as “Who Am I?” or the dreaded “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Then, the challenge is simply to make it interesting enough to stand out from the 40 or so others the teacher will receive. (More about that later.)
Purpose of the Essay
There are a few rules to remember when the topic is open. First, what is the purpose of the essay? Is it to inform, instruct, or persuade? If it is an informational essay, write about something you know about or are curious enough about to find more information. If it is a “how to” essay, write about something you already know how to do, and then list the steps and tell why each one is important. If it is a persuasive essay, choose a topic and take a side. Then, the topic can be anything from global warming to plowing the streets in your local community during a snowstorm. Read articles in your local newspaper for ideas, as the editorial page is full of opinions on any topic.
Choose an Exciting Topic
Second, it is easier to make an essay interesting if the topic is interesting to the writer. For students, that means knowing what is interesting and exciting to them as individuals. If Jill wants to be a theoretical astrophysicist when she grows up, she might choose a topic about quasars and the beginnings of the universe. If Bill is on the football team, he might want to write about the way coaches drill during practice and how those skills are used during the game, or the way teammates learn to work together. If Sue takes band, choir, and plays three different instruments in the orchestra she might write about the mathematical foundations of music. (Hint: the mathematics of music goes back to ancient Greece and involves geometry.)
Build the Essay, Then Revise
No matter what the topic is, there are a few simple rules to follow. To keep from staring at a white sheet of paper or a blank computer screen, write a few words or an outline to get started, as it can always be revised later. Even a few words on the page can make the project seem less intimidating. State your main ideas in topic sentences, and then build the essay from that. Get the ideas down on paper, and then revise and edit. (Do not turn in your first draft. Even if the first draft sounds really good, there might be errors of spelling or punctuation that the spell-check doesn’t catch. It’s easy to get so excited when writing that words are left out, so the sentence doesn’t quite make sense.)
Have Fun with an Assigned Topic
If the essay topic has been assigned, it’s even more of a challenge. Try an interesting twist to make the topic memorable. If a student is involved in drama, the topic “Who Am I?” can be written from the perspective of an actor making up before a play and writing about how they are different from the character on stage. As the actor takes off the stage makeup, the inner person is revealed. In addition, most students do not go on fantastic vacations or join exciting internships in foreign lands during the summer. If Jenny worked 10-hour days at the local fast-food grill during the summer, she could write about her three most challenging customers, and how she solved their problems. If Bob played video games and cooled off in the city pool, he could write about new skills he learned while swimming, or strategies to beat the highest scorer in a virtual game.
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