Tag Archives: Essay

Improving Essay Items VIDEO

Tips for improving Essay items for assessment

Writing Patterns I

An author’s writing pattern is how they organize the information they are sharing with the reader. There are many different patterns but we will only talk about three today. The writing patterns are list, sequence, and definition.

List Pattern

In the list pattern, the author shares a group of items in a way in which the order does not matter. Some clues that the paragraph is a list pattern includes the following, such as the use of such words and phrases as also, too, another, moreover, besides and the use of such signals as a, b,c …,  bullets (•), and asterisks (*). Below is an example paragraph using the list pattern.

There are three things you need to know about dogs

–They are cute

–They are friendly

–They are loyal

These are some of the reasons you should own a dog

Instead of using dashes we could have used bullets or a, b, c, or any other host of ways to indicate a list.

Sequence Pattern

The sequence pattern is the same as the list. The only difference is that the order of items matters. Some of the signal phrases/words are first, second, third…, now, then, next, finally and some other forms include 1, 2, 3, or a, b, c. Below is an example of a paragraph using the sequence pattern.

There are three steps to buying a dog.

–First decide which kind of dog is best for your environment.

–Second, consider how much it will cost to buy the dog.

–Third, find a nearby dealer who can provide the dog.

Here, the order matters in order to buy the dog.

Definition Pattern

In this pattern, the author describes or explains a term. Common signal phrases.words include is defined as,  by this we mean, means  or (preceding a synonym), in other words, is, is known as. In the example below, the author attempts to describe dogs by defining their characteristics.

Dogs are one of the many types of pets people can own.  They are unique in that they are much friendlier than other types of animals.  In addition, they are always loyal and will not often leave a good master.  People need to know that dogs make good pets.


Different writing patterns are useful for sharing information in an appropriate way. The examples here provide some idea for determining how an other is trying to share information with a reader. Knowing the pattern can help in seeing the “big picture” of a reading passage. It helps in understanding what the writer is trying to say to his audience. As such, this is a valuable skill to develop.

Tips for Writing Excellent Essay Items

In the last post, there was a discussion on developing essay items. This post will provide ideas on when to use essay items, how to write essay items, and ways to mark essay items.

When to Use Essays

Here are several reasons to know when essays may be appropriate. Of Course, this is not an exhaustive list but it will provide a framework for you to make your own decision.

  • Class size–Even the most ambitious teacher does not want to read 50 essays. Keep in mind the size of the class when deciding if essay items work for you. Generally, classes under 20 can use long response or limited response, classes of 20-40 can use limited response, and above 40 maybe another form of assessment is best but it is your personal decision.
  • Cheating–Normally, it much more difficult for students to copy from one another when using essay items. Although I once caught my middle school students attempting to do this. Each answer for essay items must be unique, which is not possible with objective items.
  • Objectives–If your objectives are from the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy essays are one way to assess if the students have met the objectives. However, sophisticated multiple choice can also do this as well.

How to Write Essay Items

One of clearest way to write essay items is to approach them the same way as writing objectives. This means that for the most part essay items should include.

  • an action (what they will do) such as explain, predict, organize, evaluate, etc.
  • a condition (the context)
  • Proficiency (criteria for grading) such as content, clarity, thinking, consistency, etc.

Below is an example

Within Southeast Asia, predict which country will have the strongest economic growth over the next 20 years. You will be assessed upon the clarity, content, organization, and depth of thinking of your response. Your response should be 1,000-1,500 words.

Here are the three components in parentheses

Within Southeast Asia (condition), predict which country will have the strongest economic growth over the next 20 years (action). You will be assessed upon the clarity, content, organization, and depth of thinking of your response (proficiency). Your response should be 1,000-1,500 words.

Here are some other tips

  • Define the task or action for the students. See the previous example
  • Avoid using optional items. This leads to students being evaluated based on different items which make comparison difficult from a statistical point. It is recommended that all students answer the same items for this reason.
  • Establish limits in words (see example above). This relates again to comparison. If one student writes 5,000 words and another writes 500, it is hard to compare since there was no standard set.
  • Make sure the essay item relates to your objectives. This happens by developing a test blueprint.

Marking Essay Items

The criteria for grading should be a part of the essay item and falls under the proficiency component. These same traits in the proficiency component should be a part of a rubric the teacher uses to mark the assignment. Rubrics help with grading consistently. The details of making rubrics are the topic of another post.

The ideas here are just an introduction to making essay items. There is always other and better ways to approach a problem. If you have other ideas please share in the comments section.

Beat the IELTS Task 2 Writing

The task 2 writing on the IELTS calls on students to express their opinion about a topic. This is not as easy as it sounds even for native speakers. There are many common pitfalls such as not responding to the question or not understanding what the question wants you to do. One of the first steps to take in writing a response to task 2 question is to break down the question to determine what you need to do.

Many Task 2 writing prompts have three components to them. They are listed below

  1. A statement that is a fact or opinion
  2. What you need to do (the job)
  3. Advice on how to complete the task

Let’s look at an example

  • Schools should ask students to evaluate their teachers. Do you agree or disagree? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

In this example, we have all three components.

  1. Schools should ask students to evaluate their teachers. (This is the opinion you are reacting to)
  2. Do you agree or disagree? (Your job is to explain why you agree or disagree)
  3. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. (Here is the advice to complete the task)

In this example, our job is to agree or disagree about whether students should evaluate teachers. This example is a one job task. In other words, you have to only do one thing which explains why you agree or disagree. Some writing prompts call for doing more than one job such as compare and contrast in which you compare and then you contrast. One job tasks are the easiest to respond to.

Another important point is that if the prompt asks you to agree or disagree this is what you should do. It is too complicated to try and agree and disagree because it takes a much higher level of English to express a nuance opinion. Keep it simple and maximize your score through simply agreeing or disagreeing. Everybody knows the world is more complicated then that but if you need to take the IELTS you might not be ready to express this yet. Don’t try to show the reader how smart you are save that for the future.

The biggest mistake many students make is they jump right in to writing without developing any sort of outline. This is similar to jumping in your car to drive somewhere you have never been without directions. You’ll eventually get there but you journey is longer and unpredictable because of lack of preparation. It is important to make a simple outline of what you want to say.

Below is one way to approach a one job Task 2 writing prompt. It uses a traditional 5 paragraph essay format.

  1. Introduction-Paragraph has three component to it as explained below
    1. The 1st sentence should restate the statement or opinion. Indicate what the topic is even though the reader already knows.
    2. Indicate whether you agree or disagree. Tell the reader if you agree or disagree right away. There is no time to be indirect and mysterious
    3. Give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing. In order to have five paragraphs you will have to develop three reasons why you agree or disagree. Each reason will have its own paragraph in which you explain it. It is common for students to struggle here. They have an opinion but they do not have any well thought out reason for the opinon. This is one reason why the IELTS is not only an English test but a test of thinking ability.
  2. Body paragraph-The three body paragraphs follow the same format as explained below
    1. 1st sentence should state the reason-Your first sentence in each body paragraph should restate one of your reasons why you agree or disagree.
    2. Example-Every reason needs some sort of illustration that further explains the reason. For example, if you think smoking is bad for someone because it causes health problems. You might share a story about how smoking killed a close relative. This illustration further clarifies why you think smoking is bad for you
  3.  Conclusion-Restate your opinion and reasons using different English if possible. There are other ways to end an essay but this is the simplest.

Examples will be provided in the future