Do you need to write an ELA essay?

     Do you need to write an essay for ELA 30? Or perhaps you need to write an essay for IELTS or TOEFL or for CAEL? On the other hand, perhaps you are a doctor, and need to write an exam for your medical school entrance. Many of these English writing exams are holding you back. But this is the place for tips on writing almost any essay.

IELTS Writing Task 1 or 2

     Task 1 essays are about a graph or process diagram. You should have three (3) parts: the topic re-write, the overall section and lastly one or two paragraphs on details and comparisons. I will add an example to this page soon.


     Task 2 for the IELTS exam's writing part is similar to the essay structure below: introduction paragraph followed by at least two body paragraphs and then a conclusion paragraph.

How to Write an ESSAY

Here you will learn the three (3) steps to write an essay that is worth 80%, or more.


We also look at common errors and the styles of different teachers to be aware of.




ELA 10 20 30

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Sample Introduction Paragraph

The sample Introductory Paragraph on the left starts a CRT essay (Critical Response to Text). The paragraph is colour coded to help you see the different sections of paragraph and each coloured section has a text box with information in it to explain that coloured section. Take time to notice which colours are used for what and how they are distributed. [NO, you do not colour your essays before you hand them in!!!!!]


But you might look at the introduction and think, "Wow, that is crazy." And you would be right, it is crazy!! But if you want a crazy mark like 85% or more, then you had better to learn to make crazy introductory paragraphs as well. I am not saying that this is fair, I'm just saying that this is what the high school teachers expect of you.


Sorry to be the one to tell you the hard truth.


Of course, this introductory paragraph is following a particular "style." It is only one of various styles that are out there. So listen carefully to your teacher to find out his or her exact style and try to copy it.


If you want that mark from your teacher, then you need to listen to your teacher and give that teacher what he or she is asking for!!


English class is not easy. But then again, life is not easy.

Adam's super writing video

(Topics in this video apply to the body paragraphs in any CRT or PRT essay.)

Adam's video covers Task 2 writing (mostly) for the IELTS and TOEFL. His suggestions help with other essays, as well, including high school and university papers. 

Tips for Writing High School Essays

1-Plan,  2-write,  3-edit


I've observed that many  students do not know what is expected of them on an essay. Part of the problem is that many students are not paying attention. However, your teacher may partially be a fault too. Some teachers make essay writing sound more complicated than it is or your teacher may have a very complicated style that he or she wants you to follow. (Then again, if you want the marks, you'd better follow your teacher's style!!)


Either way, I can help you understand what is going on, how to learn the rules and to be aware of the styles


To begin with, writing a good essay involves three simple steps: Planning, Writing and Editing. I didn't say, easy steps, I said, simple steps. None of this will be "easy." You will need to think and rethink each step of the way. But at least you will not find it complicated.

1st step: PLAN

It seems like common sense, but you need to plan out an essay. But when it comes to essay writing, many students do not plan. Planning an essay with include four parts: a) figuring out the question, b) brainstorming answers, c) gathering examples and d) outlining the entire essay. Here we go...

- a) read the question

You will laugh but the MAJORITY of bad essays start here. The student (you) didn't read the question. You "looked" at the question and ran off with the first idea (not the best idea) that came into your head and starting writing. Wrong.


You need to read the question and understand each word. Write synonyms for each word in the question. Now, re-write the question in your own words. (And nothing is wasted: these synonyms you will use again another time. All is recycled.) If you don't answer the question, you get zero!

- b) brainstorm it

I recently heard that 'brainstorm' is a bad word in the Calgary Board of Education. Can you believe it? Talk about making things more complicated for students. Why? (Anyway, that is my rant for today.) 


READ the question and then BRAINSTORM, thinking of ways to make it sound more concrete and help you understand the question.

- c) gather some examples

Most of your pre-writing time will be spent looking for examples from the story that prove your thesis and brainstorming what the significance is.   

This is the time to look for juicy quotes too. Make sure that you take quotes that are maximum of 10 words only. Shorter is better. Look for quotes that are unique and clear that you can connect your sentences into, such as,  Macbeth was tired and worried stating  that he was "in blood steeped so far" that going ahead was as much work as going back and therefore implying that he might as well proceed as give up.   

- d) outline the essay

Now you decide how many ideas you have and which comes first, second and third. Here is where you look at your ideas to see if you have three great ideas or just 2 small ideas. Perhaps you can take something that looks like one idea and make it into two different ideas. Or perhaps you see that 

2nd step: WRITE

The second step to smart essay writing is getting it down on paper. But because you have planned your the essay, in Step 1, writing your essay will be simple and faster. You have "sacrificed" a lot of time thinking and planning in Step 1, above, so you won't need as much time to actually write your essay. How smart is that!!


But wait. You will save more time writing if you understand this other point: good IDEAS are more important than the good WORDS. In Step 2, you write your ideas down and just use "baby" words. Don't worry about the exact word, about big words, about fancy words; worry about the exact idea and making the idea clear with good support!


Actually, at this point, use a baby word like "but," and not a fancy, juicy word like, "however" or "nevertheless," even though "however" or "nevertheless" are better, juicier words. The reason is that your idea maybe be wrong and it's not a "but" that you need, but you really need a "therefore" or a "consequently" and you will be wasting your time looking for a juicy word for nothing. The other reason is that you might change your idea and then you will have wasted all that time again deciding between "but" and "however" and "nevertheless" and now you don't need either because you changed your idea. So don't waste time. At this step, Step 2, get your ideas down and don't worry about the right words, yet.


In Step 3, you improve your words!!



This step is about writing according to your plan in Step 1. Stick to your plan. Get your ideas down clearly. Use baby words to get clear idea. If you do have to change something, it will be easier because your focus is on ideas, not big, fancy words.

3rd step: EDIT

Here you must stop writing and sacrifice the class time that you have left and start editing. (Right now, I want you to raise your right hand and solemnly swear that you will always stop early and re-read and edit your essay. Thank you. Put your hand down now.)


You cannot hand in your essay before you edit it. I promise you an extra 10 to 15% in your mark, if you edit your paper before handing it in.


When you edit your essay, check for the following items.

- did you read the question and did you answer the question [Sounds dumb, but everybody messes up at this point.]

- use "literary present" (talk about Hamlet or Willy [in Death of a Salesman] -- in the "present tense" -- don't use past tense

- do not use contractions (e.g., "don't, isn't, won't, can't, he'd, etc.)

- recycle the words from the question in your introductory paragraph so that your essay is on topic (ignore this rule if your teacher said, "Don't recycle the question words".)

- check your idea and replace the baby words

- get rid of simple, baby words and use the fancy, juicy $10 words that you have in your head (or in your thesaurus!)

- vary your word choice and vary the length of sentences

- double- and triple-check the introductory paragraph and the first body paragraphs, to be sure that they--in particular--are clear and faultless 

- did you constantly refer back to your "thesis" and the essay question?!?!? 


For high school exams in Alberta, there is not a great deal of difference between the structure of a critical response essay (CRT or CART) and the structure of an analytical personal response essay (PRT). At least, there is a way to keep the two similar and save time trying to learning the two types.


Firstly, while the CRT is pretty straightforward, there are three "flavours" for the PRT. One type of PRT is the 'analytical' PRT. If you try to always follow the structure of the analytical PRT, then you will simplify things in your life because it resembles a CRT.  


If all else fails, call for a private English tutor

fair is foul and foul is fair (Macbeth)

Writing an essay isn't all gory and blood and guts. And it's not magic or full of witches or wierd sisters.

But essay writing is a lot of work (and weird words). So if your essay is about Shakespeare's, Macbeth, or if it is about something else, and you would like some face-to-face help, call for a private tutor with experience.

Don't pay a king's ransom

Duncan lost his kingdom.

But you won't have to pay that much for private essay writing classes:

  • $85/hr for one-on-one lessons
  • payments by cash, personal cheque, Interact eTransfer®
  • or bring a friend to split the cost or bring
  • all materials are included for most classes
  • simple, flexible payment plans
  • (high school courses are GST exempt)

Don't loose your head

Don't pay an arm and a leg

Great Writing Links