Dear Dr. D’,
Could you review the conclusion portion of the argument essay and the expository essay? I’m still struggling with that part.
Sure. Let’s start with expository. Go to your expository packet and turn to the page on conclusions and look at the left columns.
#1 reads “Start with your topic and finish your sentence with words you haven’t used before.” As you can tell, this is language for students, but let me clarify it a little. We know that the first sentence of a conclusion is a restatement of the thesis statement. Students sometimes repeat the thesis statement, and we want to avoid this at all costs. One idea for preventing repetition is to web-off-the-topic like we Web-Off-the-Word™ for Commentary and Web-Off-the-Topic Sentence™. Also, in the commentary portions of the T-charts and WOW sheets, students might find words and phrases that they have not used in their body paragraphs and that are broad enough to use in the thesis restatement.
#2 reads “Use one or more of these sentence starters to think of some thoughts.” Remember, the “sentence starters” are triggers and are not to be used in the actual sentence; otherwise, everyone’s essays will look and sound the same. The purpose of a “sentence starter” is to prompt the student’s thinking. Interestingly, the student has six sentence starters from which to choose, but, if a kid gets going, sometimes several sentences in the conclusion might stem from these promptings. Remember, these are ideas; ask students to experiment. The prompt, the topic, and the student’s writing style/voice will guide him or her to the “sentence starter” that prompts a response that “feels” like a conclusion, a reflection of the essay as a whole. And, even though Jane offers ideas to students like “In conclusion, as a result,” etc., she offers that for triggers, too. So beginning writers in the early grades might begin with “In conclusion,” but we want writers to learn quickly to cross out “In conclusion,” and simply capitalize the next word to start their conclusion. Be careful not to let the students start or end every paragraph or every essay with the same words. Way too contrived.
#3 reads “Finish with an anecdote or story that reminds your reader of the introduction to your essay.” Again, this is an idea not a mandate. If an anecdote is not appropriate for the topic, or if a student cannot readily think of a zinger anecdote that leaves the reader with a thorough understanding of the writer’s intention in the previous paragraphs, do not use one. But, sometimes, just sometimes, an anecdote is perfect at the end.
#4 reads “Use ideas from your introduction chart that you didn’t use in your introduction.” In addition to an anecdote, Jane provides other suggestions to begin an introduction, such as a rhetorical question, a quotation, an interior monologue. Again, only suggestions to prompt the student’s thinking. I avoid rhetorical questions with the younger students (<11th grade); otherwise, I get a rhetorical question every time! There are those rare students who can do it well, no matter what age . . .
The persuasive conclusion is very similar. Go to that packet’s conclusion page, and you will see. The only admonition I will give you is that teaching connotation and denotation is crucial prior to teaching persuasion. Students must learn to select words carefully (diction). In persuasion/argumentation, this is especially true.
The length? Well, that’s an author’s call, and I tell the students that a conclusion should have a finished feeling. For process papers, don’t rush out of an essay, but don’t belabor the points either. Leave your reader thinking that you created a well-developed, organized, logical exposition. Leave them wanting to read more of your work. Teachers might want to determine a word count or a sentence count for the younger kids and struggling writers; hopefully, however, the more mature they become, the more they’ll understand the concept and take ownership of a conclusion.
More on Counting Words and Sentences – When Jane first developed the program, teachers asked her about number of words per paragraph, and she suggested that for a 40-minute timed writing (AP Lit), the students should have 40+ words for intro and conclusion (emphasis on strong thesis) and 100+ words for each paragraph, the emphasis being placed on the + sign. Whenever Jane provided numbers or ideas, however, they were not prescriptive – just a way to help teachers, especially rookie ones, with a way to negotiate their students’ writing practice and progress.
When teachers ask about counting words, we typically turn our attention to the subject of sentence variety. We advise that not only should sentences vary in types (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex), but also sentences should vary in their openings (not every sentence should be Subject-Verb-Object; watch out for repeating words, unless they are intentionally implementing anaphora; look at starting with different parts of speech, etc.) and their lengths. So, we tell students, “if all of your sentences are 5-7 words, then that becomes monotonous. You should have some long sentences, some telegraphic sentences, some medium sentences, depending on your purpose and the purpose/intention of each sentence. Counting words, then, help students to create a variety. In Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the first sentence is 60 words in length. I love to show them that when they complain about my asking for compound-complex sentences.
DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.