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Including Essay Instruction in Large (and Small) Classes

Prepared by Dr. Mike Hennessy
Chair, Department of English

Students often perform poorly on essay tests because they lack experience writing under pressure, or because they simply don’t know what the instructor expects. Here are three strategies faculty can use in large (or small) classes to prepare students for essay exams: review sheets, grading rubrics, and model answers. These strategies take little class time but can yield good results in student performance and grading efficiency.

General suggestions for addressing writing issues:

  • Address writing issues directly in the course syllabus
  • Don’t assume that students already know how to write an essay exam
  • Be as explicit as possible about your expectations for writing
  • Make writing a visible presence in the course
  • Link writing to course content: writing as learning

Specific strategies:

  • Take time before each essay test for explicit writing instruction
    • review sheet with guidelines/scoring rubric
    • sample essay (annotated)
    • sample theses (strong/weak)
    • sample passage showing how to combine generalizations/support (PIE)
  • Take time during the essay test to keep student on track
    • reviewing the prompt(s)
    • last-minute reminders: plan, write, review
    • keeping track of the time
  • Take time after each test for follow-up (while you have their attention)
    • sample planning/brainstorming
    • sample essay(s) from the test/grading rubric

Handouts (click below):