During our break from writing essays, my students and I took time to list our trials and errors when writing conclusions and laughed a lot about our desperate attempts to wrap things up! Our what NOT to do list included:
- Using the phrases like: “In conclusion,” “Now I have shown you,” “This is why…” “Surely you can see that…” and “The end”
- Introducing a new idea
- Pleading (“Please save the whales!”)
The common mishap I’ve experienced when students write endings, is repetition. Because they’re exhausted and they don’t know what to do, students repeat what they’ve already done. We determined that the purpose of a conclusion is not to end, but to help ideas linger and make the reader feel. Similar to the ending of a movie, the end of a written text can make us feel happy and hopeful, sad and troubled, confused and filled with questions, or ready to take action. And so the purpose of the conclusions to our research-based argument essays, we determined, is to inspire change. Here are the strategies my students used to construct strong conclusions.
Several students, like Nina (see Part I), used their beginnings to create their conclusions. The vivid image they created when they began is contrasted with what they argued for throughout the essay. Here’s Nina’s ending:
If audience members could go backstage at the circus, they would see animals stored in cages, pacing back and forth, and waiting to go on stage. They would see animals being whipped because they didn’t reach their trainers expectations. Animals aren’t supposed to be showcased and confined to cages and behind metal bars. They’re supposed to be living free, not performing under bright lights and having hundreds of people waiting and watching for them to do tricks. They’re supposed to be living in the wild with tons of animals of their kind.
Call to action
Some students decided that making a specific request of their readers would be the most powerful way for them to conclude, like Jason:
By keeping whales in captivity and keeping them from their families, we are telling ourselves that we don’t care about their well-being. To help free captive whales stop going to places such as SeaWorld. Also buy from places that donate part of your dollars toward freeing whales from captivity such as http://www.pacificwhale.org/store. Lastly if you want to free the whales donate to https://give.bornfree.org.uk/donate/.
After spending so much time researching their topics, some students had what I like to call, “golden nuggets” left in their notebooks and on their graphic organizers. These unused gems became the perfect way to wrap up their essays in a fresh new way while still capturing the points they’d made throughout the essay. Here’s Aaron’s:
Keeping orcas in the ocean is the right choice. Dr. Naomi Rose of the Humane Society says, “Any tank is too small for an orca.” Whales should be treated like whales, not prisoners.
During the writing of their essays, many students were doing what I labeled “ranting and raving.” They’d write things like: “It’s just not fair!” “Those poor, sweet animals!” “How would you like it if this happened to you!!” We discovered ways to take these passionate sentiments and rework them in ways that are effective in an essay, such as thinking about morals and values. Below is Olivia’s conclusion that uses the word humanity – a word she learned reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.
Keeping animals out of captivity is beneficial for many animals and society. Captivity is not saving animals; it is destroying their populations. Animals are not meant to live within the confines of steel bars or perform for audiences. Animals are not meant to be prisoners. Animals are meant to live in the wild with other animals. Animals should be able to roam free and chose what they want to do. Making this possible for all animals is the greatest demonstration of our humanity.
My students now feel that they have several powerful tools in their toolboxes to reach for whenever they write essays. And to me, their burgeoning confidence is the most important measure of successful.
I have to admit, after reflecting so much on conclusions, I had some trouble figuring out how to conclude this post! But then I remembered one of the strategies. So here it goes. Virginia Woolf once said, “When a subject is highly controversial…one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.” I can only hope that this post, forthright, yet flawed, might provide some insight into my experiences teaching students to write conclusions and that it offers something useful to its audience. In the end, you’ll be the judge!