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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Learning task 4

Writing good literature essays

Whatever level you are writing essays for, all markers want the same thing from you:

  • evidence that you understand what you have read
  • evidence that you can express your understanding in a logical, convincing, coherent manner.

For that to happen, you need to:

  • read and understand the text
  • you must understand what is being asked of you
  • you must ensure you respond directly, with detail and that you fulfill the demands of the task
  • finally, what you write must make sense, be logical and, if possible, enlightening.

Below is a simple format for writing literature essays. It isn't the only way to write good essays but it is a sound way:

  1. Think about your response to the question. Jot down possible answers - reasons, examples, ideas.
  2. Draft out your introduction. In two or three sentences, explain the main thrust of your essay with direct reference to the essay topic, and how you are going to go about explaining and supporting your ideas.
  3. Paragraph one: Take one of the main points from your argument and write it down. Call this the statement.
  4. Find an example from the text to support this statement.
  5. Find a specific quote, or quotes from the text which adds to this example.
  6. Finally, explain how this example and this quotation support or justify the statement you have made and how it links to the topic.
  7. Steps three though six form the structure of one paragraph. Repeat the process for each new point you make.
  8. Finally, again summarise in one or two sentences the main thrust of your essay. Summarise how you have explained and supported your ideas. Do not repeat phrases but do not introduce new ideas. Your conclusion should leave your reader/marker with something to think about.

Essay preparation

  • From your notes, write down two main themes.
  • Find at least two examples each which give evidence for these themes.
  • Find at least one quotation to support each example and explain how that quotation relates to the example.
  • From your notes, write down five main points relating to two characters from the film.
  • Give examples which support each point.
  • Find quotations to support each example and explain how that quotation relates to the example.

And so on.
This preparation encourages you to think carefully about the supporting detail you need to use to justify the statements you make as well as explaining how each example and quotation adds weight to your argument. It also means you attack almost any essay topic with confidence that you have the information to back up your arguments.

Essay topics

  • Describe an important idea dealt with in the text. Why is this idea important?
  • Describe the setting of the text and explain why this is important.
  • Describe an important character in the text and say why he/she is important.
  • Describe the beginning and/or ending of the text. Explain why you could describe it as memorable.
  • Choose several of the production features that work well in the text and show how they are important. You could choose from the following: music, dialogue, lighting, graphics, colour, props, special effects, costume, sound track, camera work.

Published on: 24 Jun 2009