I have reviewed all the essays (or nearly so). Some were okay, and some weren't. Some were REALLY not okay, but very few were incredibly terrible. I could even tell where those with low scores were going.
No matter the score, though, everyone needs to revise. The revised paper will be your test score, and I know that we can do better.
So, what was lacking? Three main things.
- Evidence. Examples. PROOF!!!
- Effective Commentary
- (Distant 3rd) Effective Conclusion
There was very little in the way of adequate evidence. In this case:
- Adequate = Specific Evidence
- Inadequate = General or Vague statements
I know that last year, you went over HELP as a way to generate examples. Even if you don't remember it.
- H - History
- E - Experience
- L - Literature
- P - Politics or Pop Culture (depending on teacher)
I was very generous with the score that I gave in all categories, but especially evidence. Your revised essay will not be graded so gently. So let's go over the whole thing from stem to stern.
First up, did you pick ONE side of the argument?
Most students did, though a few did not. Some just misunderstood the prompt. Therefore, let's go over what the prompt really means.
The prompt is asking you to determine "...whether your current choices should define the rest of your life."
This means: Should the choices that you make right now, AS A TEEN, determine exactly how your life is going to go, later?
- If you skip school now, will you end up working at McDonald's for your whole life?
- If you study hard now, will you definitely be successful?
- If you're a mouthy or sweet kid now, will that be the way you are forever?
Obviously, there are some choices that are going to change your life immediately and for the long term:
- Rob a store
- Drive under the influence and hit someone
- Get in a fight where someone is seriously injured
Those aren't the choices we're talking about, though you may be able to change the outcome of these, somewhat, too.
We're talking about the kinds of choices that you make every day that affect how you interact with the world:
- Do you sit with someone who’s upset at lunch, by yourself, or with friends?
- Do you sleep in class, play with your phone, or pay attention and learn something?
- Do you yell at your brother and sister, or do you help out around the house?
So, we need to pick a side right now: Will these "everyday" kinds of choices determine what kind of life you're going to have, or not?
Write down your thesis, but remember something:
- IT'S NOT YOUR OPINION
- It's a claim, like the Law of Gravity
Sir Isaac Newton didn't say "I think that two bodies (masses) are probably attracted to each other, the strength of which is possibly in relation to their mass."
Instead, he stated it as a truth that he was about to back up with research.
The prototype for a simple thesis would be something like:
- "The choices we make today will/will not determine the lives that we lead in the future.“
However, you can reuse your own thesis, as long as you remove your "I believe", "My opinion", "I think", etc. statements. And be sure to OBVIOUSLY choose one side of the question.
Topic Sentences: First Time Around
What reasons did you give in your Topic sentences? Did you HAVE Topic Sentences? Unfortunately, MANY of you ignored your Topic Sentences. Tsk, tsk
As I'm writing this the night before, I can already hear you complain: But sir! I didn't start my paragraph with "For example..."
This is true...for most of you, anyway. Instead, many of you began with your commentary, rather than tell me what you're going to be talking about. In other words, you started to explain your example before you ever got to your example!
Assuming there was one, which for many, as I’ve mentioned, there wasn’t, really.
For now, let's leave at least two lines for the topic sentence, and move on to your evidence/examples/proof.
Concrete Detail (Proof, Evidence, Example)
This is where the HELP acronym comes into play.
Now it is entirely possible that I forgot to mention that your examples should be specific! I mean, I DIDN'T, but it's POSSIBLE.
It's a lot more likely that you did.
What do I mean by "specific?"
I mean an example where I can identify a particular person, place, thing, event, etc. Do I need to know the person's name, necessarily? No. But it needs to be more specific than "a person" or "a student."
It should be, "My friend," "A man at the grocery store," "In a building in Paris, Texas," etc.
Now, to be clear, your examples don't have to be from Unwind. They can come from your own personal experiences, the experiences of others, movies, books, even video games!
Additionally, you can use the word "I" when you're giving an example. Keeping yourself out of it really only applies to the thesis.
Here are some examples of various, uh, examples from HELP for this essay (Except for the one about Connor, these should not be copied):
- History - Alexander Fleming's choice to leave out a dirty experiment over the weekend led to the development of penicillin.
- Experience - In high school, I didn't pay attention, and I didn't learn effective study habits. This had an effect on me for years afterwards, but I was able to change.
- Literature - In Unwind, Connor's choice to approach the crying baby caused his small group to be burdened with a child.
- Politics - President Trump's choice to talk with the Ukranian president about Joe Biden will have an effect on Trump’s Presidency.
Also, think about whatever example you have actually already used.
Is it specific? Does it have:
- A specific name?
- Identify a specific person (“My friend,” “My dad,” “A man at the grocery store”)?
- A particular place?
- A particular event?
If you are currently using a generic example: “Somebody could mouth off to their parents and…” can you turn it into a specific example?
- On occasion, I mouth off to my parents, and I get in trouble every single time.
Then, you need to tell me the outcome of the choice in your particular example. What happened after that choice? This is the commentary. It's a bit easier in this particular assignment, because it's a very chronologically-based essay:
- This happened, and, as a result, this happened.
Here are some examples that explain the outcome of the previous examples.
- H - It was a small choice, and one that he had made many times before. This time, however, Fleming noticed that one of the petri dishes no longer had any fungus growing in a ring around another, different fungus. That second fungus, refined, became penicillin: the most important medical breakthrough of the 20th century.
- E – I didn’t initially do well in college. It took me a long time, but I was eventually able to start making good educational choices. I finally graduated from college 18 years after I started, and I did so with really good grades.
- L - That burden affected how the group travelled, interacted with others and, eventually, how and where they hid from authorities.
- P - Even though, to Trump, it was a seemingly logical thing to talk about, it directly led to formal impeachment inquiries that are ongoing in the House of Representatives right now.
Connection (Transition Sentence)
Last (actually, second to last in the process for the body paragraph), and possibly least, is your transition sentence.
You need one, but don't waste too much time or effort on it, unless you have a lot of time. Just bring it back to your thesis, somehow.
- Don't be too obvious, though: "This links back to my thesis by..."
- Be subtle: "Fleming's ordinary, lazy choice had long-lasting effects on his career and on medicine."
- Or, generic: "This example shows that choices have a lot of/little effect on our larger lives."
Topic Sentence (Back Again!)
Now that you know what example you're giving, and how you're explaining it, we need to back up and determine what kind of Topic Sentence you want to write.
Remember that your Topic Sentence should be a headline that previews what you're going to be talking about. Not the actual example, itself, but rather what your example is going to be addressing:
- H - Sometimes, it's the seemingly little choices that have the greatest effect on our lives.
- E - People change, and their choices change.
- L - Some choices are bigger than others, and have a huge effect on us.
- P - Literally anyone can have a problem with making bad choices.
These are just examples, and not ones you should copy. You should always create your own work, unless I’ve given you something specific to use.
Doing It All Again a Second Time 'Round!
And now, we do it all again for the second body paragraph.
Did you even have a second body paragraph?
Statistically, about 1/3 of you didn't. In fact, several of you didn't have more than 1 paragraph.
Now's a good time to add one.
Go through the whole process again.
- Leave a line for your Topic Sentence
- Choose your example (it doesn't have to be from the same letter of HELP)
- Write your explanation
- Connect it back to the thesis
- Make sure you have a Topic Sentence that covers what you’ve been talking about
Conclusion (Call To Action)
There are a LOT of ways to do your conclusion, but here's a simple, effective one.
- "It is for these reasons that the choices we make today do/do not affect our later lives."
Then...a Call to Action. Some of you were very subtle. Some less so.
- "Think about..."
- "Next time, be sure to..."
All of these are good Call to Action candidates.
Pick one, and let me know what I should think about, consider, or do next time.