Essays Made Easy

By admin  

My daughters 1996

My daughters 1996

“Daddy, we want essays made easy,” my daughters said back in 1996.

I replied, “I’ll have to think about that for a while. I’ll get back to you shortly.”

At the time, my girls were enrolled in 6th and 9th grades at Carolina Friends School. Their teachers were assigning essays to write on a wide variety of topics. Both girls suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and one was dyslexic. Making essays easy would be very challenging.

When I was in 10th grade at South Kent School in Connecticut, I had the good fortune of having Sidney Guberman as my English teacher. Sidney had recently graduated from Princeton, where he had been a star goalie on the Varsity Hockey team. Since he taught English at South Kent for only one year, I suspect he was marking time, while deciding what he really wanted to do with his life. Ironically, this may have contributed to making him such a great teacher. This vibrant young man lit up the classroom with his enthusiasm. He projected tremendous optimism, encouraging each of us to believe that we were destined for great achievements. He hadn’t been teaching long enough to become pedantic. We were in awe of him.

We read Shakespeare and other “classic” high school literature, but Mr. Guberman also assigned John Fowles’ coming-of-age novel, A Separate Peace, about boys at a prep school. We could relate to the story. We’d read a few chapters each night; then the next day, we’d discuss motivations of the characters and themes explored in the book. At the end of class, Mr. Guberman would pose a question and have us write 350-word essays in response overnight. At first, I moaned and groaned (under my breath); I couldn’t believe we had so much more homework in 10th grade English than in 9th grade. My early submissions were pretty lame, not because I didn’t comprehend the themes in the novel, but rather because my essays were so disorganized. Mr. Guberman attacked this issue head on:

“Answer the question, Mr. Strong. Your first sentence always should answer the question and then state your reasons in the sentences that follow.”

Mr. Guberman didn’t focus on the content of my answers; he just insisted on seeing them in the first sentence of every paper. That may not sound important, but in fact it was a great revelation – from then on, I always knew where to start every essay. “Answer the question, Mr. Strong.”

There were 15 of us in Mr. Guberman’s English class. That meant he had to read and grade 15 papers three or four nights each week. It didn’t take long for him to develop “Pet Peeve #2:”

“Stop skipping around so much. Reading your papers makes me dizzy. Look, it’s real simple: Answer the question in the first sentence. Then back it up with some reasons. State each reason in a separate sentence. That’s your first paragraph. Next, provide some details about your first reason in a short second paragraph. Do the same for reason #2 in your third paragraph, etc. But for heaven’s sake, DON’T mix details about reason #1 with the details supporting reason #2 in your third paragraph. That’s very confusing and it drives me crazy! Stay in sequence.”

Mr. Guberman was expressing his frustration at how difficult we made it for him to read our papers. In essence, he was saying, “Give me a break.” Because we admired him and wanted to please him, we tried our best to follow his guidelines for organizing our papers. And that’s how Sidney Guberman taught us to present our ideas systematically when writing an essay. He never mentioned the word “format.” Yet by voicing his complaint, he inadvertently provided us with a road map to follow for thinking logically about an issue and then writing a properly structured essay. I never saw Sidney Guberman again after that year, but I always have been grateful that he made writing essays and research papers so much easier.

While I learned the secret that made writing essays easy almost by accident,  I hear college professors complain constantly that despite three years of High School English classes, many of their students still can’t write good papers. They have never been taught how to present their ideas in a logical sequence. Yet being able to communicate clearly in writing is an essential tool for students to be competitive in a global economy. I knew my daughters needed to master this skill.

Telling my daughters “The Sidney Guberman Story” was not an option. I tend to be long-winded. With their short attention spans, they’d tune me out had I tried to relate his advice verbally. Preparing a long list of steps to follow to write a well-organized essay wouldn’t work either. My dyslexic daughter would resent having to slog through all that information.

I had to find a faster way to convey the basic concept. What I needed was a visual method for showing them the format of a properly organized essay. This led me to devise The ColorCode Essay Writing System, initially comprised of a color-coded Sample Essay. A week later, I added an Owner’s Manual, explaining how the colors could serve as a guide to make writing a good essay easy.

Sentences were shaded with different colors in the first paragraph of the Sample Essay. They appeared in the same sequence in later paragraphs. The pattern of the colors created a visual representation of the essay’s “format.” This enabled my daughters to grasp the concept almost immediately. We discussed what each color symbolized and why it was assigned to a particular sentence. Together, the colors created a format, which could be followed again and again for every essay, regardless of its topic. In less than 30 minutes, the girls understood how to use The ColorCode System. Each new essay became easier to write. They began writing better essays and started getting better grades.

Click on the links in the left-hand margin to reach other pages of my website for more information about The ColorCode System. You can download and learn to use my essay writing system in less than 30 minutes. Start getting better grades today. Tell your friends about

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  1. By on March 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm

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