Dissecting essay-based questions to improve writing skills

Shaun Allison

Shaun Allison is Deputy Head at Durrington High School, a large and successful comprehensive school on the south coast of England. He leads on teaching and learning, CPD and the use of data across the school.

Follow @shaun_allison

Website: classteaching.wordpress.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As some exam questions become more long-winded and essay based, it is crucial that students understand the specific subject matter towards which it is centred, by identifying and being able to differentiate between the main command word, any other key words and any clues the question provides as to what the answer should include. This four-part method helps students to understand the usual types of essay questions by dissecting it into parts.

Our science department have been developing ways in which they can support students with their extended writing – particularly in response to the new style exam questions.

They have had some excellent support from Karen Parks (@betterscience1) who must also be credited for some of the resources and ideas here.

Step 1 – Understanding command words

Show students an image like the one to the right. Ask them to then do the following to the mugs, one at a time:

1. Describe the mugs

2. Explain the differences in the mugs

3. Compare the similarities and differences between the mugs

4. Evaluate the mugs

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