I found a simple way to check students’ essay writing. I read their thesis and then read the first sentence of each paragraph for their topic sentences. Finally I read their conclusion. If the thesis, topic sentences, and thesis restatement in the concluding paragraph are not strong then almost always the rest of their essay is very weak.
I have students peer-evaluate by reading each other’s paper and underlining the thesis, topic sentences and restatement in the concluding paragraph if these sentences do support the thesis. Students soon realize that often the first sentence of their paragraph does not tell the purpose of the paragraph. Many times they dive into the topic without showing how it relates to the thesis. After they do the peer-evaluation, I offer students the opportunity to rewrite their topic sentences while the topic sentence idea is still fresh in their mind.
How do help improve your students’ work?