Formal Essay Process

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 1 class period
20 minutes
Materials: Examples of brainstorming techniques (see Related and Resource Websites below) copied onto several transparencies, overhead projector


Now that students have been introduced to the concept of language registers and the use of formal language and formatting in professional documents, they are prepared to approach essay writing from a more formalized perspective. This lesson will give the class an overview of the formal essay process and the steps involved in writing an academic essay. We will begin with pre-writing techniques, reviewing four different types of brainstorming tools. Students will then explore the purpose and methods of selecting attention grabbing opening statements to incorporate in their essays. Students will have a chance to practice these techniques in preparation for the writing of their final project essays on city development.

Purpose – The goal of this lesson is to allow students to explore and practice the first steps involved in the essay writing process, namely prewriting and finding attention getting statements.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify and use the four types of brainstorming techniques used in essay prewriting.
2. Select an appropriate attention getting statement to attract the essay reader.

National English Education Standard
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Teacher Background
The teacher should be familiar with essay writing techniques overall, but specifically the following prewriting strategies (you may copy these notes onto transparencies along with diagrams):

  • Word Webs: Spider-like diagrams with a main idea placed in a center circle, with related ideas connected to the circle with lines.
  • Bubble Clusters: Diagrams similar to word webs which consist of a thesis statement in the principal circle, connected to three medium sized bubbles which contain the topic sentences for each of the three body paragraphs. Each topic sentence circle is then connected to two smaller bubbles which contain supporting details related to each topic sentence.
  • Outlining: One of the most traditional prewriting techniques; each paragraph of the essay, including the introduction and concluding paragraphs, is outlined by the main idea and supporting details, often using Roman numerals.
  • Lists: A more unstructured form of prewriting where the essay writer simply lists and links ideas which will later be crafted into paragraphs.

Related and Resource Websites
Prewriting strategies:



1. Starter: Before class begins, write some or all of the following questions on the board:

  • What is an essay? How would you describe or define it? What does it look like?
  • What are the purposes of essay writing? Name as many as you can think of.
  • How do you write an essay? What are the steps involved?
  • What is the purpose of your final project essay on environmental city planning?

2. Give the class about 5-10 minutes to think about and answer these questions.

3. Spend several minutes discussing student responses. This helps the teacher determine what ninth graders already know about formal essay writing and if they understand the goals of the essay they are writing for their final presentation.

4. Help the class to see that an essay is another formal document, like a business letter or resume, which has a particular format and process to its writing. A formal essay can have any number of paragraphs (usually no less than three) but most important is that students understand a good academic essay has a beginning, middle, and end.

5. Explain that the purposes of essay writing are also varied, but the primary ones they should identify are to instruct, to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. The steps of essay writing also vary, but in general follow this order: prewriting, rough drafting, proof-reading, editing, and final drafting.

6. Explain to the class that in this lesson they will review the first steps of essay writing: brainstorming and finding an attention grabber.

7. Mini-Lesson: Prepare your overhead projector with the transparencies you have created concerning brainstorming techniques. You may want to allow students some time to copy this information into their notes for future use on essays.

8. Examine and discuss each type of brainstorming format with the class. Give further examples and answer questions as they arise. Ask students to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each format. Tell students to save interesting statements and quotes to be used as attention grabbers at the beginning of their essays.

9. Practice Activity: Have students choose two out of the four brainstorming techniques that they like best.

10. Give them some time to think about and create two “brainstorming sheets”- one done in each of the formats they have chosen.

11. As students practice using these tools, walk around the room to answer any questions they might have as they progress. After about ten minutes, ask the class to think about which of the two brainstorming techniques they found the most useful and why.

12. Writing Time: Allow students the remaining class time to continue brainstorming and outlining their final project essays. Float around the room and ask students to share their essay titles and various ideas they will cover in their essays.

None for today.

Ask students to sift through their project information and research to find “attention grabbing” statements, quotes, or facts relating to their topic. Have the class bring in these quotes the following day, written down and cited.

Embedded Assessment
See that students are appropriately using the brainstorming techniques (which many will already be familiar with). Although students will only use one or two of the techniques in their own essay writing, be sure they understand the utility of each of the various types. Students should see that the more effort they put into brainstorming and organizing their ideas, the easier it will be to compose a rough draft.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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