By the end of this six to thirteen-day unit, students will be well on their way to writing a finished copy of a college application essay. Additionally, by examining published essays, completing exercises, and participating in class discussions, they will they will have an understanding of the elements of a successful personal essay. If you prefer to have students write in class, because they have other work for homework or you would rather not assign homework, you could insert two to three writing workshop days after day one and one after each of the other days.
Day One: What is a Personal Essay?
review prompts and write two free writes on any two prompts
read “Fish Cheeks”; discuss questions on handout, define personal essay
HW: two truths and a lie
Day Two: Stories, Structure, and Show Don’t Tell
read stories and play guessing game
discuss good stories
read “The Inheritance of Tools”
discuss questions on organization, show don’t tell, anecdote, details and description, grabber
go over expectations for draft
HW: write very rough draft of essay
Optional: two to three days of writing workshop to complete draft
Day Three: What’s the Point?
read “Us and Them” or “My Father Smokes”
discuss main idea/point
answer questions on own draft
apply “I used to think…” structure to essay
HW: revise draft for meaning/point (or assign in writing workshop)
Optional: one day of writing workshop to revise for meaning
Day Four: Peer Conferences
peer conferences with handout and checklist
HW: revise again (or assign in writing workshop)
Optional: one day of writing workshop to do final revisions
grade sample essay with rubric
HW: final draft of essay due in one week (or assign in one or two days of writing workshop)
Optional: one day of writing workshop for editing and sentence additions
Grading and Rubrics
I suggest giving two different grades for the personal essay: a process grade and a grade on the
For the process grade, I require two free writes, a draft, two major revisions, two peer conferences, and if there is time or the class is small enough, one or two teacher conferences. Obviously, it will be easier to check off these steps and to enable students to complete them if you have time to do a writing workshop in class. Even if students complete the required steps for homework, you can still grade them on the process.
I usually start at 100 and then take off 7 points for each step (so missing just one of the peer conferences would be a 93, and missing the peer conferences as well as one of the revisions would be an 86).
The second part of the grade, which I weight at about two times the process grade, is the grade
on the final product. I use a rubric to grade the final draft. One possible rubric is included at
the end of the packet.