Let’s talk Life-Hacks here. I mean serious ones; I don’t mean buying fake flowers to conserve water and save groundhogs in South Africa, or saving electricity by throwing away your microwave, or saving money by saving coupons. I’m talking about that bane of student existence: Writing Essays.
Why do students have such a tough time writing essays and what can be done about it?
The main difficulty I’d like to touch on is conceptualization. Students receive the main goal from their teachers: “write an essay on x topic, x words long, complete with introduction, x number of body paragraphs, and finally, a conclusion paragraph.” This is the big picture. So of course, many students very understandably think big picture all the way through the assignment, and thus very likely accrue symptoms such as writer’s block, frustration, stress, and, inevitably, many head-sized holes in their drywall. The problem? When writing an essay, you need to think step-by-step, not just big picture. I myself am a victim of Big-Picture Thinking. “Alright, I need to write a five paragraph essay about dolphins, so let’s start writing,” and immediately it becomes clear that I don’t know how or even where to start. My mind is trained on the prize, the complete five-paragraph essay, so I can’t focus on the little steps that it takes to reach that goal. Students must train their mind to think step-by-step while also keeping that ultimate Goal in mind. This is not just a writing skill I’m talking about here. This is a big juicy life-hack I’ve heard from many professionals. You see, I firmly believe that the majority of students who fail written assignments have the brain capacity to complete it correctly, and yes, even effectively. Not to be overly in accordance with Plato’s theories or anything, but the main roadblock is learning how to reach what they already have. The difference from my point and Plato’s theory is that I’m not arguing that we already have all knowledge, I’m merely stating that most students in high-school and college have the capacity to complete a given task, and either aren’t trying hard enough, or don’t know yet how to use their capacity to the extent that it can be used.
How do we overcome it? I hinted at it previously. The solution is simple. Simply simplify the process. How? Create mini achievable goals that add up the the large one. For example, some of your mini goals should be: First, research your topic. Second, what is is your thesis? Third, what two or three points will you be touching on to prove your thesis? Fourth, how will these points be structured in your essay? Will you dedicate each body paragraph to each point, or will you structure differently? What attention-grabbing line should you use for your first sentence? These are excellent questions to ask yourself (somewhat in that order), as you begin formulating your essay. One of the best things you could possibly do to yourself in the beginning is to outline your body paragraphs in a bullet point list. 1. Dolphin eating habits 2. Dolphin methods of swimming 3. Dolphin methods of communication. This outlining is the single most effective tool you could possibly utilize, because it allows you to envision the content of your essay, and to hone in on your topics. It also prevents your ideas from going all haywire. No essay is vomited out of the mouth of a scholar in its entirety. It is written piece by piece, conceptualized at first, outlined, then written.
In conclusion, the main difficulty I have when writing is something that I believe is prevalent in all schools with a majority of students who have trouble writing. These students probably have the capacity to write their essay, but are unaware of the “mini goals” they must set to reach the ultimate milestone. They think Big Picture, and thus cannot achieve it. It’s a balance of thinking big and small at the same time.
Think of the small things that you can do to achieve your big goal. It’s just so.
Food for Thought.