In order to use a cutesy activity like tinker toys to teach essay writing, it is essential that students know exactly what they are writing. Students need to know about the structure of the paragraphs as well as how paragraphs form an essay.
Even though it sounds fairly simplistic to great English minds, some students do not have a clue, and they will not ask for help. If you start with simplistic terms, you make sure everyone is on board, and you can always increase the difficulty as you go.
Teaching Parts of an Essay Part 1: The Introduction
The introduction of an essay is where it is appropriate for students to start in very general terms. Many students have a difficult time beginning their essays, so I recommend prewriting strategies. These strategies allow students to organize their ideas in a logical order.
If students are still struggling after prewriting, I tell them to start with the word "all." For example, if a student is writing an essay on the people they admire, I tell a student who is struggling to put pen to paper, to begin with the word "all." From there, I instruct the student to write three or four sentences about people admiring others. When the student has covered this topic in very general terms, I instruct students to key in one person they admire, and using the essay prompt, I tell the student to write the name of one person he or she admires and give three reasons why they admire that specific person. Of course, this is written in the form of a sentence, and this last sentence of the introduction becomes the thesis statement.
Sample prompt: Write about a person you admire.
Sample thesis: A person I admire is my mother because she is hardworking, dedicated, and friendly.
Teaching Parts of an Essay Part 2: Body Paragraphs
Above, I stated that I had a thesis statement and three reasons why I admire my mother, so if I have three reasons, I am going to have three body paragraphs. In each body paragraph, I will address one of the reasons. Remind students to include a main idea and have supporting details that explain how one admires his or her mother for that particular reason addressed in that paragraph.
Teaching Parts of an Essay Part 3: Conclusion
With sophomores in high school, I keep the conclusion fairly simple. In the first sentence of the conclusion, I ask that students restate their topic. Sentence two in the conclusion should be a summary of the reasons one admires his or her mother as set forth in the first body paragraph. Sentence three and four come from essay paragraphs three and four, respectively. In sentence five, I ask that students begin with a dependent clause. Because my mother is hardworking, fun, and dedicated, she is someone whom I admire.
Provide students with an essay prompt and see if students were paying attention. If students have a difficult time writing their essays, you may decide to write a sample essay and allow students to model the sample. Just remember that if you provide students with a model essay, make sure it is good because students will copy the form and change the words.