Games to Help Students Write More Precisely and Concisely

I always seem to have students who believe that effective writing is verbose. If they exceed the page minimum, they expect a high grade.  These students tend to applaud themselves for the hard work on essay assignments, and it can be very difficult to convince them that their style of writing is actually quite lazy. As English teachers, we try to teach students that writing should be precise and concise. In order for students to accomplish this goal, they must have an extensive vocabulary and clear command of syntax. In short, we teach the adage:


Below are two games that can be used in the English classroom to emphasize these writing traits.  They can be used as a warm-up, brain break between lessons, after test activity, or any other time that works for your instruction.

Game 1: The Synonym Series


  • Before the game begins generate a list of precise, high level vocabulary words that your students would be familiar with. You need 1 word for every two students in your class.
  • Divide students into 2 groups.
  • Invite 1 student from each group to face off.
  • Show the first word to the students who are not in the face off. Make sure face-off students cannot see it.
  • Then, each side will take turns giving one word clues to their team member.  Clues can be synonyms or descriptors like: stronger, weaker, formal, informal, and the like. No rhyming, sound clues, or other shenanigans.
  • The first person who guesses the correct word scores a point for his or her team.

Example: Elated

Clues: Happy, Stronger, Stoked, Formal, Euphoric, Jubilant, Joyous, and so on until one member guesses correctly.

Benefits: This game enhances vocabulary by recognizing and using synonyms. It also helps students pay attention to connotation (stronger, weaker, angrier, etc) and audience (formal, informal, jargon, etc).

Game 2: Least Words

  • Before the game begins write long sentences that can be written more concisely.
  • Divide the class into 2-3 teams.
  • Project or write the first sentence on the board.
  • Have students re-write the sentence using more concise language.
  • The group that writes the shortest sentence, retaining the most precise language scores a point.

Example: The football game was seen by us as a way to suggest the fact that we are not as talented a school as our cross town rival.

Revisions would omit and reword phrases like “was seen by us as a way”, “the fact that”, and other overly wordy parts of the sentence.

Benefits: In this game the teacher overtly places value on concise sentences, reinforcing them for students. It also allows for several teachable moment grammar mini-lessons when evaluating which condensed sentence best retains the original meaning.

What strategies do you use to teach precise and concise language?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Grammarly Review and Video Tutorial

The kind folks over at Grammarly recently let me try out their service with my high school English classes.  The service offers to help students continue to develop writing skills through automated instructional feedback in grammar and word choice, as well as plagiarism tracking.  I tried out the teacher/student version, which you can learn more about at  Check out the video tutorial below and the pros and cons list.  Please let me know if you have questions or comments and remember to check back weekly for more teacher tips, tutorials, and tirades. ;)

 Grammarly Pros and Cons from my perspective:


  • Students can submit their papers multiple times to receive maximum automated input that is more effective than a simple word processor grammar check.
  • The grammar checker saves time for me as it catches many mistakes. I am all about saving time as we all know that English teachers have enough on our plate already!
  • Grammar explanations give students clear guidelines.
  • Plagiarism checker prevents unintentional plagiarism and takes away the excuse of ignorance that students sometimes claim.
  • There is a blackboard option and convenient roll out instructions.


  • Unless you have school and department support, the price can be limiting.  (Check out pricing here)
  • Some grammar suggestions misunderstand student intention, which can confuse the paper further.
  • The teacher side of the website is limited in information.  I could see how many times a paper was checked, but I couldn’t see the actual mistakes or plagiarism to tell whether they were valid or not. I had to have students print their reports for me, which seemed like a lot of paper.
  • The plagiarism tracker is limited to online sources and is not the key component to this service (as opposed to services like

Tips for Teaching The Research Paper

research paper tipsAt my school, 3rd quarter in the English department means one thing: research paper time.  We do our best to build on the process every year so that seniors graduate with confidence and a working knowledge of writing research papers and I do think that in this case departmental support is important to effective teaching. Whether you are just starting the daunting task of planning the paper or are looking for a fresh take, I highly recommend the research paper resource product from Secondary Solutions, which can be purchased as part of the Essay Architect system or separately from TeachersPayTeachers.  This Common Core Standards Based (ELA: Writing) product on teaching research papers is full of everything you need to help students grasp the concept of completing research, plagiarism, organizing their sources, using source information, MLA format, deciphering credible Internet sources, and more!  In addition to the notes, handouts, and activities included in that resource, I would like to share a couple of my tips for teaching the research paper.

1. Think through the types of sources you want students using. We cannot reasonably expect students to decipher sources for credibility and usefulness unless we teach them where to start.  I usually require that my junior students use a variety of 4-7 sources, including a minimum of one encyclopedia, one book, and one credible online source. In my experience, if I don’t put this requirement out right at the beginning, students wait until the absolute last minute and then use less than optimal sources.  Check out this post for more info on teaching students how to determine the credibility of online sources.

2. Break it down into steps.  Procrastination is a serious sport in my high school and sometimes my students want to give up before they even start because the task seems to overwhelming.  Smaller steps help with accountability and attitude.  Depending on the level I am teaching I break down my due dates into something like this:

  • Week 1: Verification of sources
  • Week 2: Thesis and working bibliography
  • Week 3 or 4: Draft
  • Week 5 or 6: Final Paper Due Date

3. Be sure that students ask themselves, “So what?”. In the information age, it is no longer important to simply find the facts.  Students need to look into the causes, effects, or importance of their topics.  Right now, my juniors are writing about topics related to The Great Gatsby and the 1920s. I let each of them pick a different topic from a list I created so they don’t feel like they are all writing the same paper.  I  emphasize the importance of discussing more than timelines, dates, and facts.  I want them to take a critical view of the lasting cultural impact of their topic.  I also have students present their research after the paper deadline, which gives them more incentive to bring out the relevance of their topic, otherwise we will sit through presentation after presentation of dates and places…

4. Explicitly discuss plagiarism in all its many forms. I used to have a line in my research paper prompt that informed students of my zero tolerance for plagiarism policy and I left it at that. However, I’ve learned over the past few years that students don’t always know (or at least feign ignorance of) the definition of plagiarism.  Some students think that the only plagiarism is buying an essay or copying/pasting 100%.  We talk ad nauseam about issues of paraphrasing too closely and taking other people’s ideas.

5. Include time for peer critique, editing, and revisions.  After weeks of struggling through the research process it is so tempting to just collect those suckers and break out the red pen, but if we really want students to improve their writing we need to slog on until the very end with lots of instruction on the process that takes place AFTER the complete paper has been written.  PS Did I mention that this resource also has a peer editing checklist?  ;)

What are your research paper challenges, tips, or ideas?  What are your students researching this year?

10 Tips for Efficient Essay Grading

Essay Grading

For me, grading essays is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching high school English (see my top 10 here). I don’t have a problem with deciphering handwriting or subjectively evaluating a written piece. I have a problem with the incredibly long hours I dedicate to the (sometimes thankless) sport of essay grading. I teach 1 advanced placement and 4 college prep English classes, which average 30 students per class. I know that many teachers have it far worse than I do, but I have to work very hard to keep my head above the essay-filled water! While we’re talking essays, you should totally check out the newly revised Essay Architect Writing System.  Here are some of the tips I have gathered along the way to make the essay grading a little more manageable:

1. Stagger deadlines: I teach 2 American lit, 2 British lit, and an AP language course. To make my life a little easier, I try to create long-term plans that insure that my classes will not have essay deadlines on the same week. Sometimes deadlines collide and I regret it later, but as we all know the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. I’m not sure if I could do this as effectively if I taught the same subject all day. It drives me a little crazy when my classes get off from each other, but maybe with some thoughtful planning, it could work out.
2. Find a happy place:  I have to have a place where I will be most comfortable and productive.  It is a place where I won’t be too comfy and fall asleep, too distracted and lose my train of thought, or too ill-prepared and struggle for the right pens and paperclips.  It seems like every year my happy place changes. One year it was my home office. Another year I loved the big wooden table in our scarcely used library.  This year has found me (probably too often) at Starbucks cozied up with a venti skinny mocha, extra espresso shot.  Where is your essay grading happy place? I think it is time for me to find a new spot.
3. Develop a rubric: There are many great ideas for rubrics floating out there, but you have to select something that clearly outlines your priorities and policies.  I require students attach the rubric to every paper so I can just circle some areas that need work and save time on note writing.
4. Require proofreading:  I do not have time to grade papers that don’t capitalize the beginning of a sentence or accidentally write form instead of from. I find that requiring students to get papers proofread in advance helps to catch those small things.  I usually have students attach a draft with proof that 1-3 people proofread and made suggestions and we have a little chat about finding competent proofreaders. One of my goals for next year is to look into how to save some trees on this step with google doc editing.
5. Set a timer: To help keep me on a pace, I set a timer for 4-7 minutes depending on the paper and my preferences. When the timer goes off I know I need to make final remarks and move on. I just started this one this year and so far it has been helping a lot.
6. Sort papers: This one causes quite the controversy in my own head, but I use it occasionally when I really need to get psyched up to read papers. When I am having a rough time getting started, I will sort them with a couple of the students who usually excel in writing on the top, the less successful in the middle and the middle of the road at the end.  When we are talking timed-write I sort by handwriting, making sure that the tough ones don’t all end up at the end when my eyes are already falling out.  The controversy here is found in the worry that I will unconsciously pre-judge a paper giving it an unfair advantage or disadvantage based on the initial sorting.  I try to only use this technique when I need that extra push to get started.  I’d love to hear your opinion on whether or not this is legit or totally messed up.
7. Create a key: Create a key so that students know that RO means run-on, IC means incomplete sentence, CM means needs more commentary, etc.  Post that key in your classroom and give students a handout copy to keep in their binders.  This will save a ton of time in comment writing.
8. Grade the whole stack: We all do it.  We get into a paper stack and we start the bargaining.  “If I grade 5 more, I get to check Facebook, then if I grade 2 more, I can watch 10 minutes of my show, etc”.  Sometimes this is absolutely necessary, but I think that staying in the essay grading mode without breaks for a whole class helps grading go by faster and is arguably more fair to all students as I am in the same mind set for all papers.
9. Require self-assessment: I ask students to grade their own papers according to my rubric and attach the rubric to their paper.  This gives me some insight into their metacognition and helps students think more effectively about how the paper will be graded, causing more corrections before turning it in.
10.Create feedback notes: This adds a little bit of work in the short-term, but helps me tremendously in the long-term.  When I am grading papers, I make a note of common successes and errors.  Then, when I give back papers, I go through things I loved and areas of improvement on a powerpoint quoting students anonymously.  Students look through their papers as we talk to see if they had the same successes or areas of growth.  For many, this forces reflection on my comments and helps to make the correction or continue the success in future papers, thus making papers-to-be easier for me to grade.

What are your tips and tricks for efficient essay grading?   I’d love to add to my list and save myself some sanity as we go into the next semester!

Tips for Attacking the Common Core Narrative Writing Standards:

Common Core Narrative

I love teaching narrative writing to high school students!  I get so busy emphasizing effective argumentation and exposition, that narrative writing always seems like a breath of fresh air and a chance for students to get creative!  Here are my tips for teaching the common core narrative writing standards:

  • Know The Narrative Standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
  • Teach Writing with Literature:  Give students a concrete professional sample to study before they start writing to actively teach techniques like dialogue, sequencing, multiple plot lines, pacing, and the other standards.  Here are some examples:
    • Read excerpts from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and teach students to write narrative satires, which critique current society in a meaningful and allegorical way.  Teenagers are masters of satire if channeled properly.
    • Read “The  Street of the Cañon” by Josephina Niggli and inspire students to write imaginary narratives that celebrate their culture.
    • Read “Earth on Turtle’s Back” or other origin myth and assign students to write their own narrative, explaining the origin of life, or natural phenomena.
    • Read “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury and allow students to write narratives about what they think the future will look like.
    • Read excerpts from A Farewell to Manzanar Jean Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston. Have students write real narratives inspired by their own lives or family members’ lives.
  • Write Interdisciplinary Narratives:  Connect with other disciplines to create meaningful narrative assessments.  For example:
    • If your students are studying WWII in World History, have them write narratives from the trenches.  They can be love stories, battle stories, tales of camaraderie, or so many other options to include the interests of all students.  Be sure they include accurate historical information gleaned from their class.
    • If your students are studying the Gold Rush in US History, teach them to write imaginary narratives of failure or success in the Gold Rush.
    • If your students are studying about the laws of motion in physics, allow them to write elaborate narrative word problems in which the main character’s real life problem is solved with he help of physics.
    • Have student write mystery narratives in which the detective uses math principals to find the culprit.
  • Emphasize pre-writing: Multiple points of view, interconnected plot lines, smooth transitions, and a coherent pieces are produced through thorough planning.  Don’t rush the pre-writing stage.  Allow students to talk it out with a partner before writing so they can bounce new ideas off each other and take the story to the next level. You may even consider making this a partner effort.
  • Integrate Art: Whether it is drawn, painted, computer generated, or using any other medium, have students create art based on their narrative.  Here’s the trick: Art must be based only on sensory details included in the text.  If students are unable to complete the art at first, they need to go back and add more detail.
  • Use Technology: Students can submit their narratives to a class blog for others to comment on.  Adding a peer audience almost always brings up the level of writing.
  • Help Students Reflect: After narratives have been crafted, it is not enough to grade it and give it back. Students need to reflect on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative and during the writing process.   This will help students have a greater appreciation for literature and their own skills.

What are your tips for teaching the narrative standard?  We’d love to hear your suggestions, questions, or comments!

Teaching Students to Determine Credibility of Online Sources (Free Student Handout!)

Credible Sources

Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:

  • The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts. 
  • Our students have incredible access to online sources.

Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments.   More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry.  In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source.  I  go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use.  Here is my credibility check list:

I’d love to hear your tips, questions or suggestions to add to the list!  Leave a comment below and add to the conversation.

Determining the Credibility of Online Sources:

When using online sources for formal research, you must determine credibility in order to validate the reliability of your own research.  Keep in mind: Articles from peer reviewed online journals like those found in JSTOR, EBSCO Host, and other databases include all citation information and can easily be found credible.  Sites like Wikipedia, blogs, and social media are open forums for non-experts and while they may be great brainstorming tools, they are not credible sources for formal research.  With so many sites in the spectrum between JSTOR and Wikipedia, it can be difficult to determine credibility, so here is a checklist to go through when making an evaluation:

  • What is your topic?
    • You should always look for sources appropriate to your topic.  For example, if you are researching heart disease, you should look at sites run by The American Heart Association and not a side note blog post from Huffington Post.
  • What is the URL?
    • Always be sure to record the entire URL.  You will need this information and more to cite properly.   Be sure you are aware of the root site of the page you found.
  • Is the extension appropriate to the content?
    • .gov and .mil are government run sites, .edu means it is an education site, and .com/.org/.co can be purchased online.  This does not mean that .com/.org/.co are not reliable, but you should make note of the extension for overall reliability testing.
  • Who is the author?
    • You should use sites that have a stated author.  Sometimes the author’s name will be on the article or page, and sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to an “about the author” page or a link on the main site.
  • Is there contact information for the author?
    • Credible authors will have some type of contact information. It may be in the form of an email, phone number, address, or online submission form.
  • What are the author’s credentials?
    • Look for authors who hold degrees, experience, titles, or memberships to recognizable professional groups relating to the topic.
  • Does the site appear to be professional?
    • Look for sites that are professional, clean, and organized. For most research, personal blogs are not a reliable source.
  • Are there typos and other errors?
    • Grammar, spelling, and other errors are a hint that the information has not been reviewed carefully and may be suspect.
  • What is the purpose of the site?
    • Are they trying to persuade? educate? preach? other?
  • Is there bias?  If so, what is it?
    • For example, if you take medical information from a cigarette company or sports information from a particular college, understand the bias.  Bias does not mean you can’t use the page; you just have to be aware and use the information accordingly.
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
    • The closer to the primary source a page is, the more reliable the information.
  • Are there citations or a bibliography?
    • These will help you determine the legitimacy of secondary sources.  Ask yourself if the bibliography shows quality research material.
  • Is there a date for the publication/revision of the page?
    • You will need this information to cite properly.  It is also important to know that your information is current.  You don’t want to research current educational trends and use high school drop out rates from 1990.
  • Does the information seem in depth and comprehensive?
    • You want to look for sources dedicated to the information you are looking for, not a source, which briefly touches on your topic.
  • Overall Evaluation:
    • Based on this list, do you find this source to be credible?  Be sure that you are able to justify your evaluation with evidence.

Citing an online source:

Please refer to the Owl at Purdue for information on citing electronic sources in MLA or APA format:

What would you add, take away or ask about this list?  I’d love to know!


Arch Method to Help Students Analyze Informational Texts

As we continue to grow in our common core competencies and take on new informational texts, we need tools to help students read closely and analyze texts that may be outside of their fiction plot structure comfort zone (and ours!).  At a conference many years ago, I picked up a valuable strategy called the arch method, which I believe can do just that.  I learned it from Valerie Stevenson who is a high school English teacher from San Diego, accomplished conference speaker, and incredible fount of knowledge.  Originally, I used it as a way to help AP students answer prose analysis prompts, but with the common core emphasis on informational texts at all levels, I want to show you how it is an appropriate and valuable tool for all of our classes.

The strength of the method is that it can work for junior high and high school students at a variety of skill levels.  For grade level modifications, the teacher simply needs to ensure that the informational text and guiding question are grade level appropriate.  For emerging readers and writers in all grades, the teacher can walk students through the process with several texts over a long period of time before asking students to work independently on this type of task.  For more advanced students, one model or explanation may be enough. Even with my AP class, I like to scaffold this process a few times to make sure that I am getting my desired result by the time they work independently.

In the hope that you won’t see this tool as something too easy or too difficult for your students, I decided to include an example from a junior high curriculum and a 12th grade college prep curriculum.  If you teach AP language and composition, leave me a comment or question about using this strategy in conjunction with prose analysis questions!

Teachers from every level- please feel free to leave questions or comments!  I’d love to hear from you.

 The Strategy (See picture below):

  • For any given informational text, the teacher asks a guided question.  The question must focus on BOTH the main idea and persuasive techniques.  This type of analysis focuses heavily on author’s purpose and style. The questions can vary in complexity for different levels.
  • Students draw an arch in their notes and write the question on that arch.
  • As they read (directed or independently) students look for the SOAPS (speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and situation), as well as persuasive language.  The use of rhetoric (or persuasive language) is recorded under the arch.
  • Then, based on the language, students write the answer to the big picture question above the arch.
  • Once this is complete, teachers can assign a variety of extension assignments like writing an analysis essay, writing a persuasive essay or speech using similar techniques, or participating in a class discussion about the themes or persuasiveness of the piece.
  • After students have gone through this method a few times, they begin to understand close reading and can apply it across the curriculum.  I’ve found that it is very helpful for students who struggle with finding textual evidence to support their gut feelings.

Click Image to Enlarge

Analyze Informational Texts 2

Junior High Example:

  •  Junior High students could read and analyze Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as part of a nonfiction unit or as a companion to novels like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry or The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.  This could also be part of a history unit about The Civil Rights Movement or a look at how leaders across time have dealt with discrimination.
  • Here is a link to download an excerpt of the “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do with teacher scaffolding.
  • Extension activities may include writing a speech about a subject students feel passionate about, writing a speech from the perspective of a character in a novel, or writing a paragraph explaining why the “I Have a Dream” speech was such a powerful moment in American history.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grade 6 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 3

High School Example:

  • Senior students could read and analyze an excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” to go along with their study of Frankenstein, or as a comparison piece across time to the poem “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” by Lanyer.   
  • Here is a link to download the excerpt of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”.
  • Here is a sample annotation that students could do individually or with teacher direction.
  • Extension activities may include writing a vindication of the rights of teenagers, writing a prose analysis essay, or conducting a class debate about the current state of gender equality.
  • In addition to other common core standards, this activity supports the following CCS for grades 11-12 informational texts: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

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Analyze Informational Texts 1

What do you think about the arch method? Would you use it? Do you have other go-to strategies for teaching informational texts?

How to use Evernote with Students!


As it becomes more common for schools to allow or require students to have laptops, tablets, or other devices for school use, teachers have the monumental task of researching, testing, and implementing the flood of applications on the market. Today, I want to share with you Evernote, which is one of my favorite school apps that can be used across the curriculum to help students organize resources and study effectively. Evernote is not specifically designed for students, but it is an amazing tool that they can use to transition from a successful high school career to a successfully organized college life and beyond. Check out the video tutorial below and be sure to leave me a question or comment sharing your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by!

How to Write and Organize a Cause and Effect Essay

Please note: This material is Copyright 2012 Secondary Solutions.  No part of this article/post may be reproduced, transmitted, translated or stored, in any form, including digitally or electronically, without the express written permission of Secondary Solutions.

Writing Cause/Effect Essays

Cause and Effect essays explore why things happen (causes) and what happens as a result (effects). These essays give reasons and explanations for behaviors, events, or circumstances. It is important that your presentation is factual and believable, and that in your thesis statement you explain whether you will be discussing causes, effects, or sometimes both.

Key Prompt Words: identify, show, give reasons, show the causes of, give the effects of, etc.


  • Present the causes or the effects of the issue—or rarely, both causes and effects

Important Aspects

  • Know your Purpose
    • It is important to distinguish between causes and effects when writing a cause or effect paper. To determine the effects, ask “What happened?”  To determine the causes, ask yourself “Why did this happen?”
  • Avoid first person pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my”
  • DO NOT SAY: “I believe that the gun control issue is way out of hand.”
  • SAY: “Lack of gun control has caused thousands of deaths in the United States alone.”


Take a look at the following simple scenario:

Because you didn’t study, you failed your final exam.

Ask yourself:  What happened?  Why did this happen?

What happened? (EFFECT) – you failed your final exam

Why did this happen? (CAUSE) – because you didn’t study

Sometimes many effects can result from a single cause, or many causes contribute to a single effect.  These can often be a chain reaction.


Take a look at the following chain-reaction scenario (with an emphasis on effects):

Because you did not study, you failed the final exam, failed your Government class, were short credits, and were not able to graduate with the rest of your class.

What happened? (EFFECTS) – you failed your final exam, failed your Government class, were short credits, were not able to graduate with the rest of your class

Why did this happen? (CAUSE) – because you didn’t study

The chain reaction can work the other way, giving several causes to one effect.


Take a look at the following scenario (with an emphasis on causes):

Because you decided to go out on a school night, locked your keys in the car, had to call a tow truck, got home after 3:00am and were too tired to study, you failed your final exam.

What happened? (EFFECT) – you failed your final exam

Why did this happen? (CAUSES) – because you decided to go out on a school night, locked your keys in the car, had to call a tow truck, got home after 3:00am, and were too tired to study

To set up a Cause/Effect Essay, consider the following outlines:

  1. Introduction
  2. Effect #1 (with reasons and explanations)
  3. Effect #2 (with reasons and explanations)
  4. Effect #3 (with reasons and explanations)
  5. Conclusion
  1. Introduction
  2. Cause #1 (with reasons and explanations)
  3. Cause #2 (with reasons and explanations)
  4. Cause #3 (with reasons and explanations)
  5. Conclusion


Organizing Cause/Effect Essays

Cause/Effect Essays:

  1. Explore the reasons, outcomes, or both, of a subject
  2. Give examples, quotes, or arguments to support causes/effects
  3. Stick with either causes or effects (sometimes, both) throughout

Goal of Cause/Effect Writing:

To introduce to your reader the causes or effects (reasons, results, or explanations) for behaviors, events, or circumstances.

Most Important Aspects of Cause/Effect Writing:


  • Must clearly state the connection and relationship of causes or effects
  • Must be able to decide between the causes or effects that are major, or contributing (often, immediate) factors, and those that are minor, or supporting (often, residual) factors
  • Must be strongly supported with logical reasoning


  • Decide whether you are trying to inform or persuade your audience.Choose appropriate wording to reflect your purpose.

Example of a Cause and Effect Essay Prompt:

More and more studies are supporting the idea that teens do not get nearly enough sleep.  Researchers feel that lack of sleep can cause major problems for teens, both immediate and long-term.  In a well–written essay, explore either the causes of lack of sleep for teens, or the effects, both immediate and long-term, that poor sleep habits have on teens today.

When writing a Cause/Effect Essay, be sure to use bridges to help your transition from cause to cause or effect to effect.  The following are some examples of good cause/effect transition words:

as a result of
because of
brought about
caused by
due to
for the reason
in effect
is responsible for
leads to

Cause/Effect Thesis:

Remember that for a Cause/Effect paper, you are either explaining the causes or the effects of something, and in rare cases, both.  Your thesis statement must state 1) whether you are looking at the causes or the effects, and 2) your position on the causes or the effects.

For Example:

Topic: Gun control in the United States

Cause/Effect Thesis: Lack of gun control has caused thousands of deaths in the United States alone.

Let’s test this thesis. 1) Is it an opinion or position, and 2) Is the topic mentioned?

  1. Yes; it is an opinion that gun control is to blame for thousands of deaths in the United States.  Some people would disagree, stating that the problem is not gun control, but irresponsible people who get their hands on guns who are the problem.
  2. Yes; the topic of gun control in the United States specifically is mentioned.

Of course, you know that this thesis is just a simple thesis.  If we want to write a “better” thesis statement, our thesis statement might look something like this:

Lax gun control laws, irresponsible gun owners, and an underground black market have caused thousands of gun-related deaths in the United States alone.

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