When your children come home from school with an expository writing assignment, your first thought as a parent might be, "Huh?" Expository writing is the moniker given to the kinds of writing assignments that simply used to be known as a report. And as such, expository writing, or writing reports, is simultaneously probably the most straightforward and the most challenging kind of assignments that kids will get in elementary school.
Understanding Expository Writing
Expository writing is used to describe, explain, define, or otherwise inform a reader about a specific subject. It’s devoid of opinion or unnecessary descriptive language. The ability to write in an expository manner is a component of many careers, and as such, it's an important skill for your child to master. Young students are typically taught to prepare expository writing by following a five-step model. For children just learning to organize their thoughts and write them down, the steps may consist of sentences. Older children may use paragraphs.
Expository Writing Format
The first sentence or paragraph of an expository writing assignment will convey the main idea of the piece. If it's a paragraph, it should include a topic sentence that conveys the thesis clearly, without taking a position or resorting to opinion. The following three sentences or paragraphs will contain supporting details to buttress the main idea.
The fifth sentence or paragraph will provide a summary of the piece, or conclusion, often restating the thesis or main idea.
Why Expository Writing Is a Challenge for Students
Unlike other writing assignments that children may get in school, which are designed to inspire them to use words and grammar in a proper fashion, the expository writing assignment has an overarching goal in addition to correct grammar and spelling.
Students must be able to organize their thoughts, follow a plan, and in higher grades, conduct research to support their thesis. Fulfilling these kinds of goals, in addition to spelling and using grammar correctly, asks children to think on multiple levels. In particular, children who may be adept at grammar and spelling may struggle with conveying their thoughts in an organized fashion.
Exercises for Expository Writing
Younger children can be introduced to expository writing simply by having them write journalistically without forming opinions. The teacher might bring in a box of unfamiliar objects and ask students to describe them in writing. Descriptive writing is a great way to start students writing in a neutral tone. Children could compare opposites in writing, describing a summer day's activities versus a winter day's.
For older children, the time-honored book report is a classic exercise in expository writing. Students choose a book and craft a thesis about or a position on it. A topic sentence might identify what kind of book it is, or the kinds of readers for whom the book may be of interest and why. Subsequent sentences back up this assertion.
One good way to help older kids in their use of expository writing is to remind them to address the who, what, when, where, and why of the topic they've chosen.
All five components may not always apply, but remembering to think about each of these aspects can help students write a compelling report.
Tips on Writing an Expository Essay
The purpose of the expository essay is to explain a topic in a logical and straightforward manner. Without bells and whistles, expository essays present a fair and balanced analysis of a subject based on facts—with no references to the writer’s opinions or emotions.
A typical expository writing prompt will use the words “explain” or “define,” such as in, “Write an essay explaining how the computer has changed the lives of students.” Notice there is no instruction to form an opinion or argument on whether or not computers have changed students’ lives. The prompt asks the writer to “explain,” plain and simple. However, that doesn’t mean expository essay writing is easy.
The Five-Step Writing Process for Expository Essays
Expository writing is a life skill. More than any other type of writing, expository writing is a daily requirement of most careers. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students, master the expository essay.
Expository Essay Structure
Usually, the expository essay is composed of five paragraphs. The introductory paragraph contains the thesis or main idea. The next three paragraphs, or body of the essay, provide details in support of the thesis. The concluding paragraph restates the main idea and ties together the major points of essay.
Here are expository essay tips for each part of the essay structure and writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Expository Essay
In the prewriting phase of writing an expository essay, students should take time to brainstorm about the topic and main idea. Next, do research and take notes. Create an outline showing the information to be presented in each paragraph, organized in a logical sequence.
2. Drafting the Expository Essay
When creating the initial draft of an expository essay, consider the following suggestions:
- The most important sentence in the introductory paragraph is the topic sentence, which states the thesis or main idea of the essay. The thesis should be clearly stated without giving an opinion or taking a position. A good thesis is well defined, with a manageable scope that can be adequately addressed within a five-paragraph essay.
- Each of the three body paragraphs should cover a separate point that develops the essay’s thesis. The sentences of each paragraph should offer facts and examples in support of the paragraph’s topic.
- The concluding paragraph should reinforce the thesis and the main supporting ideas. Do not introduce new material in the conclusion.
- Since an expository essay discusses an event, situation, or the views of others, and not a personal experience, students should write in the third person (“he,” “she,” or “it”), and avoid “I” or “you” sentences.
3. Revising the Expository Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. Keep these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay give an unbiased analysis that unfolds logically, using relevant facts and examples?
- Has the information been clearly and effectively communicated to the reader?
- Watch out for “paragraph sprawl,” which occurs when the writer loses focus and veers from the topic by introducing unnecessary details.
- Is the sentence structure varied? Is the word choice precise?
- Do the transitions between sentences and paragraphs help the reader’s understanding?
- Does the concluding paragraph communicate the value and meaning of the thesis and key supporting ideas?
If the essay is still missing the mark, take another look at the topic sentence. A solid thesis statement leads to a solid essay. Once the thesis works, the rest of the essay falls into place more easily.
4. Editing the Expository Essay
Next, proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. While an expository essay should be clear and concise, it can also be lively and engaging. Having a friend read the essay helps writers edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing the Expository Essay
Sharing an expository essay with a teacher, parent, or other reader can be both exciting and intimidating. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay better.
Essay writing is a huge part of a education today. Most students must learn to write various kinds of essays during their academic careers, including different types of expository essay writing:
- Definition essays explain the meaning of a word, term, or concept. The topic can be a concrete subject such as an animal or tree, or it can be an abstract term, such as freedom or love. This type of essay should discuss the word’s denotation (literal or dictionary definition), as well as its connotation or the associations that a word usually brings to mind.
- Classification essays break down a broad subject or idea into categories and groups. The writer organizes the essay by starting with the most general category and then defines and gives examples of each specific classification.
- Compare and contrast essays describe the similarities and differences between two or more people, places, or things. Comparison tells how things are alike and contrast shows how they are different.
- Cause and effect essays explain how things affect each other and depend on each other. The writer identifies a clear relationship between two subjects, focusing on why things happen (causes) and/or what happens as a result (effects).
- “How to” essays, sometimes called process essays, explain a procedure, step-by-step process, or how to do something with the goal of instructing the reader.
Time4Writing Teaches Expository Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing essays, including the expository essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.