In this, Part 2 of how to teach your students to write a clear and organized essay, Harry Witchel looks at chunking in the context of a 2000 word essay. Read Part 1 hereThis post takes chunking to the next level, and explains how students can use it to organize a longer assignment. This is especially important in biology, medicine and the allied health sciences, where there is a tradition of dividing up information in a way that makes it easier for the reader to find what they are looking for: these are the headings Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion (IMRaD).
Once your students have mastered chunking a paragraph, then they are ready for the big jump to chunking an essay. This is where chunking becomes really important. Chunking is when you organize ideas into bite-size chunks where little ideas fit inside bigger ideas. When you are first thinking about what to include in an essay (during the idea generation or mind mapping phase), you may have 15 to 20 different ideas. Not all ideas are equally important, and so you need to organize the ideas into bigger and littler chunks. For the reader's benefit, chunking must start with between two to seven big chunk ideas because psychologically that is what readers find approachable. You should explain to your students that the best ideas to be biggest chunks should be based on their own sense of what is important. These are the ideas that are critical for their argument.
When students are writing essays, they invariably will have a word count or guidance on the length. As a teacher, as soon as your students are confident with chunking, you should introduce the method of breaking apart the word count based upon how important each chunk is. So if they have a 2000 word assignment on 'What is metabolism AND give some examples of metabolic poisons', you would show them that right away they can break up the essay arbitrarily like this:
- Introduction - 200 words
- What is metabolism - 800 words
- Examples of metabolic poisons - 800 words
- Conclusions - 200 words
Exercise 2:10 minutes of student time plus time for feedback
Write an outline or plan showing how you would chunk your ideas for a 2000-word essay
'Explain how different forms of transportation contribute to greenhouse gases and CO2 in the environment'
Among the examples, consider: Cars, trucks, rail, boats, airplanes, horse
To break apart the ideas into chunks, consider: By land, sea, air, or by speed
'Explain the activities of the muscles of the arm that contribute to generating the forces for lifting a glass of water in order to take a drink'
Ask the students to consider how to break apart the essay into large chunks:
Early vs late phase
Muscles that control upper arm vs forearm vs hand
Describe how insulin controls the level of blood sugar and explain how diabetes mellitus results from loss of insulin regulation'
Remind students how you have to split apart the word count for 'And' essays