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  • Writer's pictureDiving Bell

Student blog: The stand-out essay feature

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

Most students are still working from the PEEL, TEAL, or PETAL model of writing essays that they got in Year 9. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s pretty right – mainly. But by the time you’re doing Stage 6, your ideas are supposed to be so big and profound that you need to expand that model.

Basically – if you lurch straight from your topic sentence to a quote, you’re probably not writing a very sophisticated essay.

You need to expand on the (big, impressive, profound) idea you’ve raised in the topic sentence with a few more sentences before moving elegantly on to the evidence.

What kind of things?

That, my little padawans, I cannot tell you. This is where really good essays are more than just click-together creations.

Basically, you should find the most important phrase in the topic sentence and explain it a bit more. Not repeat it, but expand on it by saying

· how something happens

· or why it’s important that it happens at a certain point

· or what contextual ideas inform the point

· or clarify a statement that seems controversial

You should imagine that you’ve just spoken your topic sentence to a psychiatrist, who then picks out the most interesting phrase and says, ‘Tell me what you mean by that.’ You just say a few more sentences (as he charges you $200 and falls asleep).

An example

We’ve been working on this question from the sample paper:

Through the telling and receiving of stories, we become more aware of ourselves and our shared human experiences.

Explore this statement with close reference to your prescribed text.

And we’ve written the first topic sentence:

Winston’s attempts to tell the story of his life in the forbidden journal shows a self-awareness that is unusual in an Outer Party member, but more dangerous is his desire to increase this through storytelling, and to share it with other self-aware people.

There are a couple of key phrases in this sentence.

· self-awareness that is unusual in an Outer Party member

· desire to increase this through storytelling

· share it with other self-aware people

Any one of these could be expanded for a few more sentences. Here's how I might expand the first one:

As the long extract from Goldstein’s book will reveal, the Party can command absolute obedience only because the rank-and-file members are not aware of themselves as individuals with agency, choices, and potential to act in any other way. By filling Party members’ days with closely-directed communal activities like the Two Minutes Hate and the Anti-Sex League and morning physical jerks, they never achieve complete individuation and thus never object.

These sentences just answer a kind of intermediate question posed after the topic sentence – ‘how is self-awareness made difficult for the Outer Party?’.

You try

If you’re doing 1984 take one of the other two key phrases and try expanding them in a couple more sentences that you’d write before starting to look at evidence.

If you’re doing another text, try writing the topic sentence, identifying the key phrase in it, and then expanding it.

Have a look at the shop for some sample essays that demonstrate how to expand your ideas

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