How to write a high school essay

How to make essay writing easier for high schoolers - Kids First Children's Services - Sydney's northern beaches

Many parents worry about whether their high schooler will ever learn to write an essay.

Essay writing is a complex task that involves many high order skills that some 12-16 year olds just don’t seem to have.

But before you and your teen give up completely, experienced teacher and English tutor Sonja Walker has some tips to make essay writing easier for your high schooler.

Before kids can write an essay

Learning to write an essay well takes time, but there are several skills that your teen will need to master first.

The foundation of any essay (or speech) is a well constructed paragraph…and if you are the parent of a student in Years 7, 8 or 9, it probably wont surprise you to know that that some kids find it hard to put a paragraph together.

Yours might even be one of them!

What is being taught in schools?

Many Australian schools, including those close to Kids First here in Sydney’s northern beaches, teach Year 7 and Year 8 students the ‘P.E.E.L.’ model for paragraph writing.

The P.E.E.L. paragraph structure is also occasionally called the T.E.E.L. structure.

Essentially, these structures offer kids a guide that’s designed to help them answer the question, use evidence to support their views and explain what they mean.

P.E.E.L paragraphs

In many schools, teachers teach versions of this plan for a paragraph:

    Main Point (or Topic) Sentence – the topic, point or focus of the sentence

    Explanation – expand on the point and give more detail

    Evidence – support your idea with quotes, evidence and examples

    Link – link the point back to the overall theme of the text.


In my experience, most high schoolers ‘kinda’  understand the first 3 steps in the P.E.E.L. model, but younger students in Years 7 and 8 sometimes struggle with the concept of a ‘link’.

Let’s face it…it is a bit vague!!

I also sometimes find that, even within the same school, different faculties can sometimes change the order of the two ‘E’s ….

For example, History teachers might want students to give evidence first, while English teachers demand that kids explain what they mean before they give a quote or example.

So it’s entirely possible that your child has two teachers who are both asking them to use a different version of P.E.E.L.

No wonder kids are confused and reluctant to write!!

An easy alternative

When I tutor high schoolers here at Kids First, I teach a slightly different version of this model that many kids find easier to understand.

I find that is particularly useful for students in Years 7, 8 and 9.

It has four simple steps that are similar to the P.E.E.L. and T.E.E.L. models, but kids tell me they are  easier to remember…

AND an added advantage is that they can use ‘Sonja’s Paragraph Plan’ across many subjects, such as English, History, Geography, and PDHPE.

Sonja’s Paragraph Plan

  1. Topic Sentence
  2. Examples
  3. Why is this important?
  4. What does it show?

What is a Topic sentence?

I ask kids to start their paragraph with a main idea and to use a key word from the question in their sentence.

So, if the question is ‘Examine the major causes of road fatalities in New South Wales’, a paragraph might begin with a Topic Sentence like this…

‘Drink driving is a major contributor to the road toll in New South Wales.’

Here, the student has identified the point that they will discuss in the paragraph.

They have shown the marker that they are ‘on-topic’ too.


In my model, ‘Examples’ means any evidence, fact, quote or statistic that kids can come up with to support their argument.

For the above task about drink driving, a student might follow their first sentence up with the following examples, statistics and facts (note too that these sentences acknowledge the source of the information)

‘According to the NSW Government’s Centre for Road Safety, alcohol is a factor in approximately one in every five fatal road accidents in NSW. In addition, of the drink drivers who died between 2008 to 2102, 89 per cent were men and two thirds of these men were aged under 40.’

Why is this important?

When kids tell the marker why a fact, quote, technique or statistic is important, they are showing that they have thought about that information and can explain what they have learned.

Here’s an example …

‘Despite the fact that millions of dollars are being spent on education and advertising campaigns to prevent drink driving fatalities, there are still a significant number of NSW drivers who are not abiding by the state’s drink driving laws’

What does it show?

The last sentence in my paragraph plan encourages students to ‘show what they know’ and to link back to the question, like this…

‘Drink driving not only causes the deaths of drivers. Accidents involving drivers with Blood Alcohol Contents (BAC) over 0.05 also kill innocent passengers and pedestrians. This presents a challenge for authorities, who need to find new ways to influence driver behaviour and so reduce the road toll.’   

Give it a try!

So if your teen is struggling with P.E.E.L. or T.E.E.L., feel free to introduce them to ‘Sonja’s Paragraph Plan’.

Hopefully it will help them to remember what they need to include in their paragraphs and they will be on their way to better (and easier!) essay writing.

© 2016 Kids First Children’s Services

Does your high schooler struggle with English and Writing?

Sonja Walker - Founder of Kids First Children's Services, teacher, speaker and author on children's learning, behaviour and development

Sonja Walker, teacher and founder of Kids First Children’s Services in Brookvale, has been making English easier for high schoolers for more than 25 years.

Sonja’s popular after school tuition classes give students in Years 7 to 11 tips, strategies and support as they learn how to succeed in English.

Places in Sonja’s classes, which take place on Thursday afternoons, are sought after.


High school English tuition

Call Kids First on (02) 9938 5419 or click on the click below to find out more about high school English Tuition for northern beaches kids.

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