If you have a child at a UK school or an international school you will probably have heard of PEE paragraphs. They are a very common, almost ubiquitous tool for teaching children to write analytical essays. However, parents are often confused about what they are, their importance, and why children are taught to write this way. This article will help you answer those questions.
What are PEE paragraphs?
They are a paragraph structure taught for English, the humanities and any extended writing. It is widely taught and is the basic structure of a clear, analytical paragraph – the type of paragraph that gets good marks in exams.
Schools may use slightly different terminology to describe it, but the technique remains the same.
P = the point sentence i.e. the main theme/idea of the paragraph
E = evidence (or example) i.e. a direct quote from a text, a clear example etc.
E = explanation i.e. a deeper level of meaning, why it is important/effective etc.
Why are PEE paragraphs important?
Recently there has been some criticism of teaching children PEE – Article Link
The argument is that it teaches young people to write essays in an unimaginative and restrictive way, becoming more about generating perfect PEE paragraphs than actually understanding the topic. Whilst I have some sympathy with this view and as a teacher of academic writing will move my students quickly beyond PEE, the fact remains that it is a widely-used strategy to teach essay writing. It also has the significant benefit that it is achievable by the vast majority of students. By reducing academic writing, and the often-dreaded analysis element of essays and examinations, to a formula, it becomes far less threatening.
Why are children taught to write this way?
To get high marks, or even decent marks, in English and humanities essays or exams it is essential to include analysis. Without analysis, the student will just be regurgitating what the teacher has told them or what they have read in a book. That is more a test of memory than a test of skill and understanding.
Analysis is, however, often extremely difficult for a beginner. They often don’t quite understand what analysis is, or how to get it down on paper. Natural narrative writers – children who are good at writing stories – often struggle with analytical writing because it is very different from a story. PEE paragraphs take away the mystery and oblige the writer to use analysis. The very structure of PEE forces us to analyse and to clarify our ideas.
Therefore, a straightforward way to encourage children to start analysing and writing in an academic style is to teach them PEE. The fact that they must produce some evidence of their point, explain why or how this is important, or what effect it has, leads them to be analytical.
In my view, it also shows if they have understood their own point. For example, most GCSE or IGCSE students will be able to spot alliteration in a piece of English Literature. This is their Point. They will also be able to quote – their Evidence. But what about the all-important analysis? Can they explain what effect the alliteration has on the reader? Why the writer may have used it at that point in the text? Essentially, can they explain the function of the alliteration? This is their Explain in a PEE paragraph. If they can’t explain it, it is probable that they don’t understand it. When I am tutoring, that is my cue to go back to the text and develop an understanding of alliteration.
Like it or not, PEE looks set to stay for the foreseeable future and most schools will be teaching this strategy.