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Stoplight Essay Writing

Keep your readers engaged in your essay writing

If you're writing an essay, you want to get a good grade, or at least to make your reader understand what you are trying to say. When essay writing, try to think about your paper from your reader's point of view. Imagine your reader as a tourist, setting out on a journey, traveling down your written page.

Give the reader direction in your term paper

From the outset, he or she will want a roadmap. What lies ahead? In the first paragraph of your essay, you'll need to give Dear Reader a summary look at where she is going. That's the only way she's going to feel safe and secure about making her way through the verbal landscape of your term paper.

Just a few sentences or a thesis statement will do; consider the following example: "The aardvark and its sleeping habits, its diet, and its play will be discussed, with examples from species found on the African continent."

Keep your reader on track with traffic signals

Once your essay's road map is set, the reader is going to expect traffic signals along the way. Capital letters mean a green light; periods or full stops mean a red light. Without them, Dear Reader will speed along, crashing into your term paper's carefully constructed sentences. If you string together a few sentences without signals to indicate stop and go, expect to encounter a traffic jam or two along the way in your essay writing.

Gently steer your reader through transitions in your term paper

Another signal you need to consider in your essay writing is to give your reader adequate notice before the road branches off to somewhere else. In other words, when you're starting a new paragraph in your essay, give your reader some warning. Dear Reader doesn't like abrupt surprises. We liken this to one of those road signs with an arrow pointing backward and another one pointing ahead.

A sentence like, "Not only does the aardvark sleep upside down (that's the sign pointing backwards to the discussion you've just had about its sleeping habits), but it prefers to eat its meals in this position too (that's the road sign pointing to the discussion ahead)." If you put one of these clever two-way road signs at the beginning of a new paragraph in your term paper, your reader will purr right through the transition, secure in where she's been and where she is about to go.

State the obvious

It always helps to point out the obvious to the reader/traveler, just like those road signs that say "twenty kilometers" to your destination, and then a few minutes later, "ten kilometers" to your destination. Wherever you can in your essay, enumerate things and organize neat categories—your reader will appreciate it.

If we continue with our aardvark example, we would include sentences such as: "There are three things aardvarks like to eat: bugs, roots, and leaves. Bugs are found in the.... Roots are plentiful..." and so on. This information will help the reader keep all of the mileage signs clearly in view.

End your essay with a quick synopsis

Finally, if Dear Reader makes it through your prose, she'll want to stop at the end of the trip and savor where she's been. That's the time to give a synopsis, a look back over the road, and maybe a suggestion for a new travel direction.

We would thus conclude our essay on aardvarks by saying: "It is clear that the aardvark has peculiar sleeping habits, subsists on a diet of bugs, roots, and leaves, and likes to play hide and seek with others of its species. What is not known, and may merit further research, is why the aardvark spells its name with two As."

Does your essay lead readers astray? Then submit it to one of our essay editing services today and let a trained professional help you get it back on track.

Image source: WikimediaImages/

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This post originally appeared on the blog Coffman’s Creative Classroom.

Developing good writers in your classroom takes time.It’s something you have to be mindful of when you’re planning your instruction. Your students are at various levels, and writing skills vary. Finding a way for all students to feel successful is our main goal. Writing using a traffic light has been so beneficial for many students, including mine. It’s a simple way for students to understand the writing process.Starting with the planning process, you help your students understand the topic they are writing about. It’s important to create prior knowledge for our students. As you all know, some students don’t have the prior knowledge important to write what you are asking them to write. Brainstorm together as a large group. Ask questions and spark student-led discussions. You’ll notice they will gain interest in the topic being discussed. Have a notebook handy for your students to keep their ideas. Have a visual for them on an anchor chart or white board. Making sure to set your students up for success from the very beginning is very important. They need to have all the knowledge before we ask them to start writing.

The traffic light paragraph is a guide for your student authors to help them through the writing process. It gives them a clear outline for their writing. Always start with the green light. This is where you teach them about the topic sentence. Choose a topic as an example and start building prior knowledge with discussion and questioning. This is a part of the planning process.

Move to the yellow light, which is the meat and potatoes of their writing, the supporting details. This is a difficult step for most students because they have to come up with details about a topic they may not know a lot about. This is why planning and discussion beforehand is so important. You may need to do more questioning for students to encourage writing. Again, doing a large group writing example is a great idea. Start with an easy topic like recess and have them help you write supporting details.

Once your students have solid supporting details, they can move to the red light. This is where your students will conclude their writing with a concluding sentence. This is where they need to bring their writing back to the main idea. Give them examples on how you would conclude your writing about recess. Make sure they have the tools and knowledge to come up with a sentence on their own. 

Publishing is an important step in the writing process. This is what your students have been waiting for the entire time! You can have them develop a pop-up book, poster, interactive piece, or simply write on a colored piece of paper. This step is so important. It shows your students their writing matters and is important.

Cut long strips of green, yellow, and red paper. Use a large piece of construction paper to display their writing. (It does not matter what color.) Have them write their topic sentence on green, details on yellow, and their concluding sentence on red. Have them add art work if there’s time, and there you go! Your students will have a writing piece they can be proud of and will be encouraged to keep writing!

*Disclaimer: Be prepared for your students to want you to cut colored strips for every writing piece they ever do from that point on!  

Make sure to check out my Writing a Paragraph Using a Traffic Light resource. Thank you!


Jill Coffman lives in South Bend, Indiana with her husband, Jason, and two boys Jaxon (5) Cadon (3). She has taught for seven years in 3rd grade. She is passionate about making learning engaging for all students. She designs curriculum, chases after her boys, and enjoys family time. If you’re looking for tips or resources, you can reach her at her blog Coffman’s Creative Classroom, Facebook, and her TpT store!

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