And in Conclusion: Inquiring into Strategies for Writing Effective Conclusions
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As part of the drafting and revision process for a current literary analysis essay (or another type of argument), students first participate in initial peer review to improve the argument in their essay. Then they inquire into published tips and advice on writing conclusions and analyze sample conclusions with a partner before choosing two strategies they would like to try in their own writing, drafting a conclusion that employs each. After writing two different conclusions and conferring with a peer about them, they choose one and reflect on why they chose it, as well as what they learned about writing conclusions and the writing process more broadly. Though this lesson is framed around an argumentative literary essay, its structure could be easily adapted to other written forms.
List of Online Resources for Writing Conclusions: Organized in two parts, these resources allow students to inquire into different published advice on writing conclusions to academic essays and then offer students sample essays to review and critique.
Conclusion Inquiry Guide: Students use these prompts to guide their inquiry into advice on writing conclusions and sample argumentative essays.
From Theory to Practice
The conclusions to student essays are often formulaic restatements of the key ideas of their introductions. While there is fairly wide agreement on strategies for constructing and improving introductions, there are fewer resources investigating “how to conclude,” partly perhaps because of the very context- and piece-specific nature of what a conclusion might do.
This lesson, then, draws heavily on two ideas from the more foundational NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing to guide students through inquiry into the genre of the argumentative essay and what function the conclusion can serve:
“Developing writers require support. This support can best come through carefully designed writing instruction oriented toward acquiring new strategies and skills.”
“As is the case with many other things people do, getting better at writing requires doing it -- a lot. This means actual writing, not merely listening to lectures about writing, doing grammar drills, or discussing readings. The more people write, the easier it gets and the more they are motivated to do it.”
Students participating in this lesson are supported in the specific task of drafting multiple conclusions to an essay to determine which is most effective, a process that itself involves significant writing to achieve.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
Materials and Technology
- Access to Internet-connected computers
Organized in two parts, these resources allow students to inquire into different published advice on writing conclusions to academic essays and then offer students sample essays to review and critique.on
A student recently pointed out that essay expectation sheets and rubrics often give detailed descriptions of or advice about how to approach the introduction and body paragraphs, and then offer very brief attention to the conclusion. She noted that they might say something along the lines of “Bring your paper to a close without restating the introduction directly.” This seems to be a symptom of teachers ourselves under-thinking what can make a conclusion effective. To prepare for this lesson, first reflect on your own assignment sheets, rubrics, and beliefs about what a conclusion does in an argumentative essay. Are there principles that cross multiple types of writing (bridging the reader from the specifics of the essay back to the general world)? Are there some that are more specific to certain types of essays (the call for social action, for example)? As part of this work, preview the Online Resources for Writing Conclusions and consider how some of the suggestions align with your own thinking about effective conclusions.
- This lesson assumes some familiarity with essay writing and works best when students have drafted most of an essay except for a conclusion. Consider using the Essay Map to facilitate this process.
- This lesson assumes some familiarity with effective peer response practice Consider using ideas and strategies from Peer Edit with Perfection: Effective Strategies or Peer Review.
- Make copies of all necessary handouts.
- Arrange for access to Internet-connected computers for Sessions Two and Three, ideally one computer for every two students.
- Check links in the List of Online Resources for Writing Conclusions to ensure students can access all necessary resources.
revise an existing essay in preparation for writing a conclusion.
develop through inquiry a repertoire of strategies for concluding a literary analysis essay.
draft multiple conclusions and select one based on peer conferring.
- reflect on their choice of submitted conclusion and learning throughout the lesson.
- Begin the lesson by eliciting from students various advice they have gotten in the past about writing conclusions, as well as strategies they have used before to conclude their academic writing. If students have access to their writing folders or digital portfolios, give them time to scan over conclusions of past essays.
- As students share, record or project their responses and ask them to reflect on how useful that advice has been or how successfully those strategies have served them. Be sure to encourage discussion of what students think of as “bad conclusions,” even when those conclusions seem to be following advice that they have gotten. Discussion will likely generate a shared understanding that writing conclusions is a common challenge, and that no certain approach or advice always works all the time.
- Explain that in this lesson, students will inquire into different approaches they might take to conclude their current essay with an eye toward building a larger repertoire of strategies they might use in crafting conclusions in the future. Emphasize that the goal of this lesson is not to develop “one right way” to conclude a paper or essay, but to increase possibilities for and flexibility in their writing.
- Share with students that a conclusion is typically only as effective as the argument that comes before it, so they will first participate in a peer response activity in this session to improve the existing draft of the essay.
- Explain the expectations for peer revision using the Peer Response Sheet to guide the conversation. After trading essays and first reading drafts in their entirety, students should answer the questions on the Peer Response Sheet to provide feedback to their partner.
- Give students time to read and respond to a partner’s essay and then share and clarify feedback before asking students to set three revision goals for the next session at the bottom of the Peer Response Sheet.
- Set or agree upon a date for the next session (probably not the next day) and share the expectation that students come to class with a revised essay that works toward the goals they set in this session.
- Inform students that in the next few sessions, they will be investigating some Online Resources for Writing Conclusions to generate new ideas and analyzing sample essays for their effectiveness.
- Share the link to the List of Online Resources for Writing Conclusions and distribute copies of the Conclusion Inquiry Guide, explaining how they will use the two together: first to investigate advice for writing conclusions, and then to read sample essays to evaluate in light of that advice (in the next session).
- Direct students, perhaps in their peer response pairs from the previous session, to investigate the Online Resources for Writing Conclusions and complete the Conclusion Inquiry Guide.
- Depending on your students’ levels of independence, you may wish to provide additional guidance in investigating the Online Resources for Writing Conclusions. You might, for example, set a timer for each of the sites in the Tips/Advice section and after students have investigated, facilitate a full class discussion about what they noticed or will put on their Conclusion Inquiry Guide. Also consider asking them to talk through with their partner some of the strategies on their current essay. The strategies on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center: Conclusions website lend themselves particularly well to this kind of work.
- If time permits after pairs have finished, ask them to find another pair with whom to share their impressions, findings, and ideas.
- Collect the Conclusion Inquiry Guide to return to students in the next session for analyzing sample essays.
- Open this session by returning students’ Conclusion Inquiry Guides and drawing their attention to the second half of the guide, which prompts students to choose and critique two of the essays from the Online Resources for Writing Conclusions.
- Point students to the Online Resources for Writing Conclusions and be sure they understand the expectations for the activity: to read the essays in light of the tips and strategies they developed in the previous session and to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the conclusions.
- Depending on your students’ level of independence, consider reading and analyzing one of the four essays together as a class before asking pairs to evaluate and analyze. Adaptations to this part of the activity might include projecting the essays, but covering the conclusion. Then have student pairs brainstorm possible ways they might conclude before comparing their conclusions to what was written. Or, ask student pairs to rewrite one of the conclusions based on the feedback they offer. Regardless, remind students to note their impressions in the spaces provided on the Inquiry Guide.
- Near the end of the session, bring the class back together to debrief what they noticed and learned, focusing specifically on generating ideas that they might try in their own writing.
- Ask students to re-read and bring with them their essay drafts before the next session.
Ask students to get out their essay drafts and review their Inquiry Guides. Explain that in this session, they will choose two techniques they are interested in “trying on” to conclude their essay. Point out that many of the strategies will require additional revision to the body of the essay (particularly the introduction).
Give students a few minutes to talk through their ideas with their peer response partners or another nearby classmate.
Have students get out two sheets of paper or open two documents and give them time to draft a conclusion that tries each of the strategies. Circulate the room to assist students in decision making and drafting, and encourage students to continue to confer with their peer review partner as necessary.
- As students complete drafting their two conclusions, ask them to bring a copy of both versions of their essay to the next session, one with each possible conclusion.
- Explain to students that in this session, they will meet again in their peer response pairs to provide one another feedback on their current essay drafts and conclusions.
- Share the Conclusion Peer Response Guide and explain its expectations and how it will shape their interaction in the pair.
- Give students time to read each other’s essays, with particular attention paid to the conclusions, and provide one another feedback on their conclusions using the Conclusion Peer Response Guide.
- Close the lesson by asking students to share with the full group ideas, strategies, and questions they still have about writing effective conclusions, both for this essay and for academic writing in general.
- Explain that students should select a conclusion and make any necessary revisions to it and to the rest of the essay before submitting it. On the day papers are due, also consider having students respond to the reflection questions in the Assessment section below.
Have students develop a Web resource of their own, similar to those in the lesson, to share their learning about effective conclusions. Include links to their essays, with multiple versions of conclusions and commentary about their effectiveness.
- Use this inquiry model to support students in working through other trouble spots in academic writing, including introductions, transitions, developing support, or writing in different genres/styles.
Student Assessment / Reflections
When students submit their essays, ask them to reflect on their learning by responding to questions such as these:
How do the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion work together to make a coherent argument?
Why did you choose to submit this conclusion rather than the other?
What did you learn about writing conclusions through participation in this activity?
What did you learn about your writing process (and yourself as a writer) by participating in this activity?