Consider this my public apology to all the students I shortchanged over the years. Writing an essay conclusion—a genuinely good one—is a struggle. But for an embarrassingly long time and for many reasons (overzealous pacing, undervaluing the skill, and yes, grading exhaustion), I gave short shrift to teaching students how to write a skillful and satisfying conclusion.
I guess I wasn’t expecting much from 6th graders in the way of brilliant endings. So, when a true “drop the mic” conclusion crossed my desk one day, it was an eye-opener. Maybe middle schoolers were capable of more than even the scale-score 10 released writing exemplars might lead one to believe.
The essay in question was an argument for allowing gum in schools. It was engaging, used sound arguments and spot-on evidence. The conclusion recapped key points and wove them into a convincing body of reason. But it was the final line—just three creatively conceived and artfully applied words—that rocked my teaching world. It ended “Chew on that!”
This cheeky challenge haunted me and ultimately inspired me to revamp my writing instruction. Yes, a conclusion should begin with a transition that signals completion. But those transitions should go beyond the boilerplates “In conclusion” and “In summary.” Yes, a conclusion needs to restate the writer’s thesis, but it should do that in a fresh, pithy, cut-to-the-chase way. A conclusion shouldn’t just summarize key points—it should meld them into one cohesive and purposeful concept. And that final line… well, a moment of brilliance here is like the striking of a church bell. It’s clear, it’s commanding, and it resonates for a long time afterward.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting more detailed ideas for teaching essay conclusions. While it can be daunting for students, there are many techniques you can use to help them demonstrate a deep understanding of their topic and its broader implications. There are also tricks for coaxing out those clever endings.
Middle school writers can move beyond mediocre—with a teacher who expects and encourages more. Expert-level conclusions are tough because they demand critical and creative thinking. They require writers to identify the essence and the importance of their message. In truth, that’s what makes writing conclusions one of the most valuable skills we’ll ever teach. In a frantic world, the ability to get to the heart of the matter is a super-power. Consider the power of my student’s admonition to “Chew on that”—a brief turn of phrase that turned my writing instruction on its head.