Does this happen to you?
You have to write an essay but your mind is blank. You look at the computer monitor or white piece of paper. There are no words. You start to panic. You ask yourself, “How can I write this essay?” This is how many students start to write an essay. When the words don’t come out, writing can be difficult and a little scary.
How to start an essay
In this lesson, you will learn how to start an essay – quickly – by using a paragraph format. A format tells you what sentences you need and how to write your ideas. I call this the 1-2-3 Paragraph Format. This format is useful for writing projects where you have to say why you like one thing more than another thing. This is called expressing a preference. The 1-2-3 Paragraph Format has three benefits for you:
- It gives you a starting point. So, you will always know how to begin a new writing project.
- It’s flexible. You change the words the way you like them. Make your story and make it great.
- You don’t copy my ideas, you learn how to create. The 1-2-3 Paragraph Format teaches you the structure of the first paragraph.
1-2-3 Paragraph Format
Here is the first paragraph of an essay using the 1-2-3 Paragraph Format.
In my country, there is a long and serious debate about the best place to grow up as a kid. Some people say it is better for children to grow up in the countryside because rural areas provide safe streets to play and a clean environment. Other people argue that the city is a better place to raise a family because urban centers have more choices for entertainment and education. Both places have advantages and disadvantages to be sure. In my opinion, the city is a better place to raise a child because of personal, academic and professional reasons.
The paragraph has three parts.
- Part 1: The first sentence tells the reader the topic. This sentence says there are two different opinions about the best place to raise children.
- Part 2: The second and third sentences briefly explain the two different points of view. There is no detail. It’s just a summary.
- Part 3: This is the last sentence of the paragraph. This sentence explains your opinion. This is your thesis.
Now you try
Download the worksheet here and practice writing paragraphs using this format. The worksheet has three topic questions. I have also included three samples that show you how the 1-2-3- Paragraph Format can be changed to answer all kinds of questions. Your answers may be different from mine. That’s good. Good luck.
The only way to get better at anything is to do it—over and over again. In addition to practicing your English conversational skills, you should also practice your writing skills on a regular basis.
The good news is that writing in English doesn’t need to be a painful experience. By choosing topics that you’re passionate about or focusing on prompts that will put different grammar lessons into practice, you can ensure that writing is an engaging and enjoyable experience.
Here are twenty-two potential essay topics to get you started, but don’t be afraid to branch out and come up with your own topics, as well.
- Describe your favorite place in as much detail as possible.
- What do you do outside of school and work? Describe any hobbies you have, sports you participate in, or other activities you regularly enjoy.
- If you could invite five people to a dinner party, who would they be? What is each guest like?
- Describe your favorite fictional character in as much detail as possible.
- If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Describe it and explain why you’d choose it.
- Give directions for getting from one point to another. Explain what landmarks someone might see along the way.
- Explain how to entertain guests who unexpectedly arrive at your home.
Verb tense practice
- What’s one thing you could never live without and why?
- Describe your ideal town or city, why you would want to live there, and what you would do there.
- Write about a time in the past when you had to make a difficult decision, and explain what you did.
- Talk about five specific goals you want to accomplish this year, and explain how you are going to accomplish them.
- Imagine you’re babysitting a child who breaks the kitchen table. Explain to the child how they could have avoided doing this if they had behaved differently.
Practical vocabulary practice
- Write a review of a new restaurant (either fictional or real) in your area.
- Describe the best party or large-scale event you’ve ever attended.
- If you could get one gift for everyone in your family, regardless of the cost, what would you get them and why?
- Choose a form of transportation (such as cars, trains, boats, planes, or subways) and explain how it has changed people’s lives.
- Write a pitch for a new blockbuster movie. Explain what will happen in the movie and why it will draw crowds to the theater.
Persuasive writing practice
- Do you think our society is too dependent on technology like smartphones? Why or why not?
- Imagine that a big new department store is being built in your hometown. Do you support this development or not?
- Do you think it’s better for students to have a long summer break or be in a year-round school system with more breaks throughout the year? Explain your position.
- Should employers set aside time during the day for their employees to exercise? What might be some of the advantages or disadvantages of this?
- What is your favorite book or movie, and why should people read or watch it?
What are some great ESL essay topics you've encountered? Let us know in the comments.