Cynthia was an ESL student taking an intro to government/ political science class. When I asked her if she had taken English 100 or 101, she said "No" because she had enrolled too late. I figured that this was an opportunity for me to teach her an important tool, otherwise she might struggle in her poli-sci class. Her class assignment was, "What is your dream law?". She had to find out about an issue and take a position on it with supporting research. She requested my help in writing a 5-6 page essay. The problem was that all she had written was 1 paragraph. She knew what she wanted to write about, she even had read two articles to research her topic.
BUT WHAT DO I SAY? HOW DO I WRITE IT CLEARLY? These were here concerns. I helped her by saying she needed to OUTLINE her thoughts before writing her entire essay. An outline makes it so much easier. Every outline starts with a Main Idea (Thesis Sentence) which clearly states the whole point of your essay in 1 or 2 sentences. For Cynthia it was, "My dream law is to ban cell phone usage in cars because they are a distraction and dangerous."
From this point I showed her that each paragraph will focus on one of those reasons (distraction or danger). These will be her body paragraphs. Each paragraph will need to start with a simple and clear topic sentence to indicate what the paragraph will be about. For example, "Cell phone usage in cars must be banned because they are dangerous." Following this topic sentence Cynthia will need to start providing facts and quotes from her research. And in between each of her facts she needs to explain how/why the fact is important to the topic. For example, after giving a statistic she can write, "This statistic shows the high number of drivers who cannot operate vehicles while using cell phones." She explain after each fact or quote the significance of the data which proves her thesis.
Cynthia was fine doing the conclusion on her own. I just commented that it needed to be only about 4 sentences, with the first sentence being a restatement of the thesis. So today was a good day. I felt like I gave a student a priceless tool. Essays and research seem very intimidating, but when broken down into an outline they're actually not that scary. ;-) boo