Lesson Plan on Essay Organization And Structure

*Note: this lesson plan is not linked to a particular course, but was developed by Writing at Queens to be easily adapted for any course.  You may view and download all lesson plans in this series or download this lesson plan in .docx format.

Outcome: Students will learn the elements of organizing and structuring college essays through definition, example, and practice.

Work Completed Before Class: Students should have read any scholarly article with an appended abstract.

Sequence of Activities (about 50 min):

1 (5-10 min) Read aloud Harvey’s definition of an essay’s structure, and as a class answer the question “What does Harvey mean when he says that essays should have a ‘progressive order’?”

2 (5-7 min) Discuss the purpose of an abstract for a scholarly article. Read aloud the assigned abstract and discuss how it acts as a “road-map” to the article they read. As a class, identify one place in the abstract where the author demonstrates what Harvey would call “development” or “complication” (as opposed to a “list or series”)?

3 (15-20 min) In small groups, students map out how the abstract connects to the article using a key based on Harvey’s “structure” such as this:

A – thesis

B1, B2, etc. – sections or sub-topics of the essay

C1, C2, etc. – turning points (i.e., transitional moments in the text, turning from one section to another)

D1, D2, etc. – “developments” (i.e., where the writer’s argument shows “complication,” not list-making)

Students use the letters to mark in the margins of the abstract and article where each of these appear.

4 (15-20 min) Student groups share their results. Class discusses how the abstract represents in miniature the structure of the essay, and decides whether or not the author accomplishes Harvey’s ideal “progressive order.” For homework, students should begin drafting an abstract for their own essays.


Hand-out for students:

Gordon Harvey’s definition of “structure” from “Elements of the Academic Essay” (doc):

Structure: the sequence of main sections or sub-topics, and the turning points between them. The sections should be perceptible and follow a logical order, and the links in that order should be apparent to the reader (but not heavy-handed: see “stitching”). But it should also be a progressive order—there should have a continuous direction of development or complication, not be simply a list or a series of restatements of or takes on the thesis (“Macbeth is ambitious: he’s ambitious here; and he’s ambitious here; and he’s ambitious here, too; thus, Macbeth is ambitious”) or list of elements found in the text. And the order should be supple enough to allow the writer to explore the topic, not just hammer home a thesis. (If the essay is complex or long, its structure may be briefly announced or hinted at after the thesis, in a road-map or plan sentence—or even in the thesis statement itself, if you’re clever enough.)

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