How planning can save your life in an exam

What should I teach my students about writing? How can I help write what they want to write, in a way that their readers can understand? 

How planning can save your life in an exam

Diary submitted by Lolita M, Erasmus+ internship in Valencia

In this essay I will discuss the method of planning that I teach to my students. Planning is one of the most important components to creating a good piece of writing as it makes the structure clear and therefore understandable to the reader. Once I have discussed my method of planning teaching, I will move onto explaining its importance and why it helps produce clarity of thought. 

When I prepare the students for a writing exam, I like to put emphasis on teaching them the method of planning their essays. Provided that the students are at an advanced level and are aware of the other basic skills for essay writing (such as the structure of an essay, the inclusion of idioms / conditionals / perfect tenses, how to write a formal vs informal piece of writing, etc…) I like to spend some time going over how they come to plan their writing. My first piece of advice when faced with an exam question is to spend 3 minutes creating a mind map. This mind map is used to help put all of the ideas on the topic onto a page, in order to be able to visually perceive the information that is in their minds. This step is necessary for the purposes of organising which ideas 1) answer the question most clearly 2) have the most depth to them 3) run together most smoothly. Once they have narrowed down which of the ideas of the mind map tick these points most clearly, the next step is to create a more detailed plan. It is important for the students to note that all of these steps cannot take longer than 10 minutes combined, so this work has to be very immediate as it is just a way to help them organise their thoughts. The second, more detailed plan will take the shape of the essay structure, specifying what will go in the introduction, the main body (paragraphs one and two, sometimes three) and the conclusion. The purpose of this exercise is to give a visual representation of the structure of the essay. Most importantly, it is to help the student understand which ideas to put together as it is necessary for the writing to have a precise direction. It has to answer the given question clearly with precise premises that undeniably lead to a conclusion. This exercise helps the students understand how the full, detailed version of the essay manages to fulfil this task. 

Now that we have familiarised ourselves with how the planning is done, it is important to understand why it is a necessary part for the clarity of an essay. A lack of planning is always noticeable in an essay as it appears like freely run thought. An essay that has not been planned does not portray the clear idea to the reader of what the writer intended of meaning. The essay lacks clarity and precision, which in turn makes it less interesting for the reader to get through. A planned essay shows structure of thought and clearly demonstrates the steps that lead the writer to the conclusion. This is necessary for a good essay because it helps the students ability to write what they have intended, without running into the possibility of not being able to express their thoughts clearly or precisely. Clarity of writing makes their piece more enjoyable for the reader, as they can be taken step by step through the writing and arrive at a logical, anticipated conclusion. 

Overall, I have discussed what I would teach my students about writing and how that helps their writing be more understandable for the reader. 

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