________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007


Essay Writing: Teaching the Basics from the Ground Up.

Jock Mackenzie.
Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers, 2007.
94 pp., pbk., $23.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-210-4.

Subject Headings:
English language-Rhetoric.


Review by Kristen Ferguson.

**** /4


The skills required to write an essay are the same skills required to write a speech, to prepare a persuasive argument, to prove a point, to explain an idea—and on the list goes. If we can help our students acquire these skills as we “teach” the essay, we will have assisted them in accomplishing truly valuable life skills. In my experience (a phrase often repeated in the pages that follow), essays have a bad reputation among students. If we can teach essay writing in a way that engages and challenges them, we can change their opinions about essays and writing.


If you’ve ever taught essay writing to students who have never before written an essay, you know what a difficult task it can be.  Where do you start?  What if the students don’t get it?  How do you mark essays? Jock Mackenzie’s Essay Writing: Teaching the Basics from the Ground Up is a text written for teachers that will be of definite help in answering these questions and more. Jock Mackenzie, a veteran teacher for over 30 years, helps teachers bring essay writing to life in this new book.

     In Essay Writing, Mackenzie breaks down the process of teaching essays into manageable segments for the classroom teacher. The text does not provide separate lessons for each step of essay writing but rather provides many ideas and strategies for each step that teachers can easily adapt in order to suit the needs of their classes. Mackenzie begins the book with some very creative and engaging ways to introduce essay writing for students, including dramatizing the essay structure as well as creating what Mackenzie calls essay “pictures.” Essay Writing also includes other activities to use before beginning essay writing: for example, introducing the idea of informal vs. formal writing and illustrating how to narrow a topic in order to write an essay. Mackenzie then discusses different methods to assess and evaluate essay writing and also includes a reproducible marking scheme for teachers to use.

     In order to help students successfully write their essays, Mackenzie begins with pre-writing activities such as making scattergrams and essay outlines, as well as creating thesis statements. In Essay Writing, Mackenzie suggests that students write the body of the essay first, before writing the introduction and conclusion. Essay Writing reviews how to write good paragraphs with topic sentences and to develop paragraphs using Mackenzie’s acronym FREQOES (facts and statistics, reasons, examples, quotes, opinions, experiences, and senses). To encourage creativity and variety, several ideas and examples are also given on how to write introductions and conclusions. The editing and revision of essay writing can also be very difficult to implement with a class; however, Mackenzie provides and explains several different practical and relatively easy teaching strategies to teach this critical step in essay writing. 

     Mackenzie concludes the book with a chapter on the different types of essays as well as a final note on the importance of celebrating students’ essay writing. I would suggest that teachers read the chapter about the different types of essays first as it is important to know the type of essay students will be writing before planning a unit on essay writing.

     Essay Writing: Teaching the Basics from the Ground Up is, indeed, a valuable and practical tool for anyone teaching the art of essay writing. There are many aspects of Mackenzie’s book that set it apart from other teacher reference texts about essays. Firstly, Mackenzie writes the book in the first person, and his years as an experienced classroom teacher shine throughout the book. Unlike many teaching books, Essay Writing does not present teaching through rose-coloured glasses: the ideal classroom with ideal students and teacher. Mackenzie candidly discusses his successes and failures when teaching essay writing, as well as offering helpful ideas and suggestions from his teaching colleagues. Personal anecdotes, suggestions, and comments are noted in the margins throughout the book and demonstrate Mackenzie’s knowledge and teaching experience in real classrooms. Another strength of the book is the reproducible masters which are included immediately after they are referenced for easy access for copying. These masters, which include student notes as well as activity masters for lessons, are very clear and age appropriate for students just beginning to learn essay writing and will also save the classroom teacher hours of time and preparation. Finally, the book is an excellent read. Mackenzie writes clearly in a fluid, highly-readable style free of jargon. Teachers are very busy, yet this book is succinct (94 pages), enjoyable, and provides many practical and useful strategies for teaching essays. As an experienced teacher, I found myself relating to the book, nodding my head in agreement while reading, and frequently thinking, “What a great idea –that really would work with intermediate students!”

     I would like to say that my last three years saw a number of other celebrations for the essay. They didn’t. Even when it was a priority, and even when I reduced my teaching load so that I could enjoy my final year with a prep period each and every day, I was still unable to accomplish all that I wanted. Welcome to teaching.

       This book is clearly written for teachers by a teacher. Mackenzie’s Essay Writing: Teaching the Basics from the Ground Up would be an asset and would appeal to classroom teachers of Language Arts and English, as well as content area teachers who are integrating language across the curriculum from grade 6 to grade 10.

Highly Recommended.

Kristen Ferguson teaches Language Arts at the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University and is a doctoral student in Education at York University.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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