Before I began homeschooling I taught college level music appreciation and history courses at a local college. I loved it.
I loved preparing the lectures, I loved watching the students get excited about history in context, and I loved trying to make the subject matter come alive.
What I didn’t love however was grading research papers, there was no amount of coffee that could keep me awake sometimes when I sat down to grade.
I’d find myself thinking over and over again, “Get to your point,” while I read through page after page of poorly constructed information. Some of my students were good writers but many just rambled.
It wasn’t that the papers weren’t well researched, most were. The problem was most of the essays I graded were more like fact sheets. Don’t get me wrong, facts are great. But as a history teacher I was far more concerned about my students synthesizing said facts and drawing their own conclusions.
If a well written essay is difficult for college level students, where should we begin in teaching elementary, middle school, and high school students, especially in a homeschool setting?
In high school I was taught to write PEA (point/example/analysis) essays or research papers. I’ve also heard them called PAX essays or PEE essays.
In some ways it is incredibly formulaic. When forced to write with this method I sometimes felt like it boxed me in, but in the long run my writing became much better when following it.
The PEA Formula
- Every paper/essay must have a Main Point.
- Every paragraph must have a Point that is supports the main point.
- And each paragraph must have Examples and an Analysis that connects the examples back to the main point of the paragraph/paper.
Here’s a basic example of a PEA paragraph:
Dogs are great pets to own, they also require a lot of work. (Point) I love playing with my dog in the yard, but before we do that I need to brush him and feed him. (Example) In addition I’m also responsible for cleaning his messes in the yard, or the house if he has an accident. (Example) Even though I don’t always enjoy what goes along with taking care of my dog, playing with him and seeing his tail wag are reward enough. (Analysis)
Point, Example, Analysis, PEA – if it doesn’t fall under one of those categories, then it shouldn’t be included (transitions and introductions excluded). If one of those categories is missing in any paragraph, it needs to be added.
If you are just beginning to teach writing, or your student (at any level, including college) is struggling with essay construction the PEA method of writing is a great place to start.
I can honestly say I went through most of High School and College using the PEA method exclusively for written assignments. And for the most part, except when some assignments were a teensy bit late, received A’s on said written assignments.
The PEA format can be a great tool to focus any writing project. It may feel like an over-simplification to students who are used to being flowery in their writing, but in most cases fluff only weighs down academic writing, rather than making it better.
I’d love to know what you think.