Approaching Essay Topics

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Area of Study 1: reading and responding
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You need to demonstrate your understanding
of:
the ideas, characters and themes constructed
by the author and presented in the text
the way the author uses structures, features
and conventions to construct meaning.
How to prepare, construct and support a
response to a text in an essay form
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You need to be able to use:
appropriate textual evidence to support your
response.
Appropriate metalanguage to discuss the
textual features in your response
Expressive, fluent and coherent writing
including the conventions of spelling,
punctuation and syntax of Standard
Australian English.
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Understanding an essay topic is crucial to
developing a relevant response.
There are five aspects to consider when
looking at a topic:
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Common Topic format
Common Instruction Terminology
Key Words and Phrases
Rewriting the topic
The Scope of the Topic
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COMMON TOPIC FORMATS
There are three common topic formats:
A statement on the text followed by a task
instruction. For example:
◦ ‘In a totalitarian world, conformity is necessary for
survival’. Discuss
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A direct quote followed by a task instruction or
question. For example:
◦ ‘The past was erased … the lie became the truth.’ Why is
the refusal to record the past accurately so important in
the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four?
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A direct question on an aspect of the text:
◦ Are Julia and Winston really in love? Is love really
possible in Nineteen Eighty Four?
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Instruction Terminology – Understand Instructions.
Discuss – what does this require?
◦ Debate, question or explain a topic, giving evidence, reasons
and explanations for and/or against the topic.
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Do you agree?
◦ Present your own interpretation of the topic, giving evidence,
reasons and explanations etc.
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How?
◦ Explain, outline or describe the ways in which the text
illustrated the topic by drawing on textual evidence,
structures and features and metalanguage.
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Why?:
◦ Explain reasons to support the idea represented in the topic.
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Key words and phrases –definitions and
synonyms
Identify key words, phrases, terminology and
concepts in the topic.
Use a dictionary to clarify your understanding of
these terms.
Come up with a list of synonyms for the key
words and phrases (this will help you avoid
constantly repeating the same words)
Quotes – identify the context of a quote if it is in
the topic and consider what the significance is.
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Rewriting the Topic - Paraphrasing
Write a simple paraphrase of the topic by
directly substituting key words and phrases
with your own vocabulary or list of synonyms.
Write a paraphrase of the topic by reversing the
statement and using your own words.
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Scope of the Topic – identifying the focus
Ask yourself: “In order to answer this topic
what do I have to think and write about?”
Your answer should consider the following:
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Character/s – development and/or relationships
Themes or issues
The author’s views and values
The social, historical or political context
The use of structures, features and/or conventions
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A contention is your point of view, stance,
position or argument in response to a topic.
Generally there are four positions you can take:
Yes: complete agreement
Yes, however...: partial agreement, presentation
of other considerations in relation to the topic.
No: complete disagreement, presentation of
alternative view on the topic.
No, however...: part disagreement with the
topic; presentation of other considerations in
relation to the topic.
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“Fence sitting” is discouraged as it gives the
impression of uncertainty, lack of knowledge
and lack of focus.
Once you have considered what the question
is asking, form your overall opinion of the
topic.
Your contention should be clearly expressed
in one sentence.
Use different vocabulary to the words in the
essay topic.
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For the following topics identify:
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I witness the ones who are left behind... they have punctured
hearts.”- Death.
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Topic format
Instruction Terminology
Key Words and Phrases
Rewrite the topic
Consider the Scope of the topic
The Book Thief shows that death and war are often
more difficult for those who survive. Discuss.
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“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans
at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty,
and I wonder how the same thing can be both”.
The Book Thief explores how beauty can exist in the
midst of brutality. Discuss.
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Now establish your position on one of the topics
below and write your contention in one sentence.
I witness the ones who are left behind... they have punctured
hearts.”- Death.
The Book Thief shows that death and war are often
more difficult for those who survive. Discuss.
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“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans
at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty,
and I wonder how the same thing can be both”.
The Book Thief explores how beauty can exist in the
midst of brutality. Discuss.
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After you have understood the topic and
formed your contention, you have to plan
your knowledge into a well structured and
detailed text response essay.
The essay plan is your first draft or “roadmap”
to writing an effective, focused text response
essay under pressure.
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What an essay plan should include:
◦ Statement of contention
◦ Outline main points or reasons for contention
◦ Ideas should be organised in sequential, logical
order, indicating paragraphs.
◦ Brief description of key evidence for each main
point.
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You should aim to have 3 to 5 main points,
one per body paragraph.
Example Written Plan:
 Write your contention
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◦ Brief outline of first reason/point
 Evidence 1 to support first reason
 Evidence 2 to support first reason
◦ Brief outline of second reason/point
 Evidence 1 to support second reason
 Evidence 2 to support second reason
◦ Etc...
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Example Visual Plan:
Introduction
Main Points
Evidence
Contention
Reason 1:
Evidence
1
Evidence
2
Reason 2:
Evidence
1
Evidence
2
Reason 3:
Evidence
1
Evidence
2
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Let’s plan the essays we’ve begun.
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“I witness the ones who are left behind... they have punctured
hearts.”- Death.
The Book Thief shows that death and war are
often more difficult for those who survive.
Discuss.
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“The consequence of this is that I’m always finding
humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and
their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be
both”.
The Book Thief explores how beauty can exist in
the midst of brutality. Discuss.
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The introduction must be relevant, focused
and convincing.
The basic introduction should immediately
establish the contention and the main points
that will be presented (in order)
There are a number of features that you can
include in your introduction, though not all
will be appropriate for every essay.
Features of an introduction:
1. A sentence introducing the author and text in
relation to the topic.
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◦ In the novel, The Book Thief, Markus Zusak explores...
[outline key theme/idea]
2.
A clear sentence stating your contention in
relation to the topic.
◦ At the centre of the text is the idea that [contention].
3.
An outline of the main points
◦ This is revealed through [first point]. Additionally
[second point]. Finally [third point] also supports
[contention]
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Information contextualising the text in relation
to the topic.
◦ Zusak’s novel acts to alert his readers to the dangers of
war...etc
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Contextualising a quote that is part of the topic.
◦ Through the narrator, Death, Zusak expresses his own
view that [quote from topic]
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In the introduction you could make use of: key
words, phrases, synonyms, metalanguage
sophisticated explanation of key terms and
concepts (NOT dictionary definitions)
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How easily can you write an introduction for
the question you’ve begun?
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The body is the meat in your sandwich. It is where
you show the extent of your knowledge of the text
in relation to the topic.
The body should develop the central contention
from beginning to end.
Overall, you should aim for 500 words for this
section – 3 body paragraphs (possibly 4).
USE TEEEEL: especially the T
◦ Topic Sentence: state an idea that relates to the essay
topic, do not describe a character or scene from the text.
◦ Evidence: quotes, paraphrases, brief descriptions
◦ Explanation: elaborate on how the evidence relates to the
topic and the main point of the paragraph.
◦ Link: Concluding sentence to the paragraph, making sure
that everything you’ve written relations to the TS and the
overall contention.
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Also relate each new paragraph to the previous
idea (see list of sentence starters.
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The conclusion is essentially a restatement of
your contention and summary of the main
points.
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Make sure you use different wording to your essay
Make sure you link to the topic and contention
No new ideas.
Don’t ask rhetorical questions
Finish with a quote or a make a statement about the
relevance of the text to the wider world.
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Using Quotes
Quotes must be relevant to the point, and clearly
punctuated with quotation marks
Incorporate short quotes within sentences.
◦ E.g. Zusak describes Death as comforting because “even death
has a heart”.
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If a quote doesn’t flow fluently in a sentence, it
should be introduced by a colon.
◦ Michael Holztapfel cannot bear to live in the knowledge that
he has survived and his brother has not: “He killed himself for
wanting to live”.
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Use an ellipse (3 dots) if you are omitting a word or
phrase from a lengthy quote.
◦ Death assures his readers that he is “not violent... not
malicious”.
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Style
Title of the Text: Use capitals for each word and
underline. Do this consistently throughout: The
Book Thief
Use the author/director’s full name in your first
reference to them, then their surname. NEVER
their first name.
Use a formal style and tone. Avoid colloquial
language (basically this means...; pretty much;
sort of like), slang (heaps good, epic failure) and
clichés (up a creek without a paddle)
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Write in the present tense when referring to the
text.
Do not self-reference (‘I’ or ‘me’). Use ‘one’.
Do not refer to the reader as ‘you’ (e.g. This
makes you feel like...) use ‘the reader’.
Write fluent sentences by using linking words,
commas, semicolons or colons accurately.
Avoid overusing key terms, descriptive or
linking words.
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The more essays you plan, the more ideas you
have explored and the more quickly you’ll be
able to respond to exam and essay topics.
Try these:
◦ The characters in the end of The Book Thief have
changed from who they were at the beginning of the
novel. Discuss.
◦ How does having Death as narrator changes the
readers’ response to the novel?
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