English Essays

7 Ways to help your teenager with English essays

I have often heard parents say that they’d like to help their teenager with an assignment, but they’re not sure exactly how.  The new GCSEs and A levels have muddied the waters even further, as most parents are now unsure exactly what is being tested.  Assessment objectives can certainly seem confusing, but there are some straightforward ways a parent can be a great help with English.  Here are a few things to look out for in your teenager’s English essays:

Have they answered the question?

1) It sounds obvious, but this is the biggest single thing that goes wrong when a student has received a low mark. It doesn’t matter how well the essay has been written, if it doesn’t answer the question it simply cannot earn a decent mark.   When your teenager has written a draft, you can help by reading through it and making sure every paragraph is addressing the essay title at the top of the page.

What about spelling, punctuation and grammar?

2) Again, you can help by reading through the essay after your teenager has written it.  Check spelling, punctuation and grammar for them.  Even if you think you don’t know much about English grammar, you should be able to tell if the sentences make sense.  Are there very long sentences without any punctuation? Are all the quotes in quotation marks?  Do questions end with a question mark?  Picking up on even a few mistakes can raise the essay mark.

Does the essay have a clear introduction?

3) An introduction should be quite brief (e.g. a paragraph), should reference the set question and outline what the essay will be about.

Does the main part of the essay lead sensibly from one point to the next?

4) Are they signposting their reader through the essay so they don’t get lost? This means using words and phrases like ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’ and ‘finally’, or ‘therefore’, ‘on the other hand’, and ‘by contrast’.  This useful guide from the University of East Anglia explains the technique.

Does the essay have a clear conclusion?

5) It does not have to be long, but it needs to be a decent paragraph.  The conclusion should briefly summarise the main points of the essay and reach a judgement in relation to the essay title.  You are looking for a circular form, where the conclusion reflects the introduction and both reference the question.

Have they quoted from the text?

6) If it comprehension they will need to quote from the text they have been asked to analyse.  If it is English Literature they will need to quote from the book/poem/drama etc.  Quotes should be kept short and they should avoid lengthy chunks of quotation at this level.  They can use ellipsis (…) to break up sentences or just quote the exact phrases they are discussing.  Remember that all quotes need to be in quotation marks.

Are they explaining the effect?

7) It is never just a matter of identifying a literary device, or persuasive technique, or a style of writing – they must also explain the effect of those choices on the reader.  Every time they spot a language feature, check that they have explained the effect.

Hopefully, this brief guide will give you a starting point to help with English homework and will help to guide your teenager into good writing habits.

Related: Essay Writing – What do teachers mean by analysis?

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About Dr Rose

Dr Janet Rose is an international tutor and a graduate of the University of Oxford, who teaches English and History for The Tutor Team. She is a director and founder of The Tutor Team.  Learn more about Dr Rose

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