Types of Essays for High School Students and Teachers

I recently received a letter from a former student. I’ll reprint it here without his permission, but I’m sure he won’t mind.

Dear former teacher:

You were one of my six favorite teachers my freshman year of high school. I remember the first day of school when you told us we’d be writing lots of essays. I wanted to drop out. Luckily you taught us the different types of essays and how to plan for each one. Of course, nobody writes essays anymore, but whatever. At least I can use those skills in other forms of writing.

So thanks, I guess.

Sincerely, one of your 43 favorite students in your 6th period English class in 2001.

As you might imagine, I was touched by this grateful former student and decided to include a brief description of the types of essays high school students and teachers should be familiar with in this delightful post.


You’re gonna get lots of handy information on this page to help you teach or write the different types of essays common in high school, enough information to get you started. But what about those who are busy, who don’t have time to create notes, rubrics, graphic organizers and all that other stuff that goes into making an essay writing lesson useful to students, and let’s not even get into grading all those essays?

Fortunately, I’ve distilled nearly two decades of teaching essays into the Types of Essays Teaching Guide.



Five Types of Essays for High School

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good one.

Persuasive Essay. As the name implies, a persuasive essay attempts to persuade. Here are a few rules for persuasive essays.

  1. The first rule of persuasion.

    You must take a stand on a topic you know something about and for which there can be a reasonable difference of opinion.

  2. You must know your audience. Knowing who your audience is will dictate what actions you want them to take and how strong you want the language to be.
  3. You should use other types of writing within the essay with the purpose of persuading the audience.

Teaching Tip: Make sure you emphasize rule #1. I’ll repeat it: You must take a stand on a topic you know something about and for which there can be a reasonable difference of opinion. This stand should be clearly stated in the essay’s thesis statement. Don’t let students write anything until they have the thesis statement written.

Cause and Effect Essay. With a cause and effect essay, you’re either examining what has caused something or what something will cause in the future. Here are a few rules for a cause and effect essay.

  1. You can mention a cause in your thesis statement and write about the effects of it.
  2. Or you can mention an effect in your thesis statement and write about what caused it.
  3. Your cause and effect analysis should have a purpose. Are you using the comparison to persuade, inform, or entertain?

Teaching Tip. Organization is the key to cause and effect writing. Determine whether you’re going to focus on the effects a particular incident caused or the causes of a particular effect. This determination will ultimately determine the structure of your essay. Other organizational considerations include ordering your causes or effects based on importance.

Problem/Solution Essay. Everyone has problems. Successful people have solutions. Get students in the habit of solving problems and they’ll be successful. Here are a few rules to follow.

  1. Identify a problem in the introduction of the essay and lead the reader into your solution in the thesis statement.
  2. Examine multiple solutions to the problem. You may treat each solution equally or examine why a particular solution is better than the others.
  3. Conclude with a call to action. What that call to action is depends on your audience.

Teaching Tip. As with cause and effect, problem/solution organization is critical to conveying a clear solution to a problem. Determining an order of importance or whether or not there’s a sequence to the solution will determine the organization.

Comparison Essay. Everybody’s always comparing. Might as well channel that desire to produce good writing. Here are a few rules for writing a comparison essay.

  1. Organize the essay with the block method or point-by-point method.
  2. The thesis statement should make a statement about the things being compared and not just state there’s a comparison taking place.
  3. The comparison should have a purpose. Is it to inform, persuade, or entertain?

Teaching Tip. Organization is key. Explain that the block method involves a holistic comparison, treating the entire object being compared as a whole. The point-by-point method of comparison involves analyzing specific aspects of the objects being compared.

Definition Essay. This is more than just looking a word up in a dictionary. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to write an entire essay about it. Here are some suggestions for writing a definition essay.

  1. There must be an inciting scenario that causes a need for a concept to be defined.
  2. The essay must provide criteria for the concept definition to be fulfilled.
  3. The essay must provide examples and non-examples of incidents that meet or do not meet the definition criteria.

Teaching Tip. The key here is finding a compelling scenario that brings about a need to define specific terms or concepts.

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