Here's a link to the lesson I discuss in this article.
Here's a link to the structure itself in case you'd like to add it to your own collection of templates or even modify it.
Turns out, necessity really is the mother of invention.
I needed a specialized template for my students' personal statements for college, so I built one with essaypop's customizable templates. The personal statement that kids write to get into college is a tricky fellow. Part narrative. Part essay. So how does one structure this piece?
If you look at the Common App prompts, they're all quite similar, and somewhat dull if you want to know the truth. They mostly ask the essayist to discuss a memory, a challenge, or an event that somehow became an aspiration. Their objective is to elicit a response that reveals the passions and true character of the applicant. Unfortunately, many students finished papers end up as trite and predictable laundry lists of small victories and accomplishments that often ending up shedding any real light on the author
Admissions officers I've interviewed admitted that they dread plowing through personal statements because they all end up reading the same. A big part of the reason for this is the way the prompts are written which, as I have said, are quite unadventurous and predictable, and tend to lull students into the mistaken notion that their responses should be the same, which sadly causes one of the key elements of their admissions package to be tossed into a pile labeled "uninspired".
I have long taught my students that they should treat their personal statements like short films, filled with imagery and tension. Give the reader memorable impressions and delightful beats, and present these using a basic three-act structure in which the protagonist (or the essayist in this case) is presented with a problem that they endeavor to solve and finally do (or don't), leading to lessons learned and a new normal. I tell my juniors and seniors, "Entertain the reader with a script from a short piece of your life. They'll appreciate it, trust me!"
I looked for, but couldn't really find, a structure in essaypop to approach writing in this way. They do have a built-in, narrative storytelling template, but it's really more suited to short story writing. Fortunately, essaypop now has customizable templates, so teachers can now build their own structures. I basically modified their multiple-paragraph essay structure and came up with something I like to call the sectional free form template. With this structuring device, students can easily take a three-act approach to their personal statements. My students love it, and it shows in their final essays. What's more, this sectional structure is very flexible and can be used for any writing that progresses either sequentially or chronologically, including lab reports, process papers, and journalistic pieces.
Here's my initial brainstorming sheet for this template
As you can see the sections move from left to right and each main section is fleshed out by color-coded, vertically-oriented subsections. I designated the top, blue frame as a "labeling frame" so students might keep track of or subtitle each section.
Now let's take a look at the templates it appears in essaypop
Each section begins with just two writing frames. The blue frame is there just to jot down a quick description or note. This section may very well be eliminated before the final draft is submitted, or it could be a perfect place for a subtitle. The red frame (subsection A) is where the first bit of writing will go. The student can then add and rearrange sub-sections as the writing progresses.
Students can be left alone with this structure or the teacher can direct what happens in each subsection. That's exactly what I did to coax my students to proceed through the three-act structure. Not only did I have them add three sections representing three main acts, but I also had them add specific subsections, each one containing directional notes for how each part of the writing would proceed.
Here are the directional notes I provided for my students. We took ten minutes to set up the subsections and added the notes as a class (over Zoom, of course).
I could have pre-set the subsections and the directional notes as part of the customization, but I wanted to keep the template clean and useful for other sectional compositions. Plus, it was very instructional to discuss with my students how each subsection would contribute to the overall personal statement.
Another thing to bear in mind is that this structure, while very useful to most students, isn't for everybody. I had to work with several students to reimagine the approach. Some adapted the sections to create a montage effect. Others went the more traditional essay route. But most stuck with the three-act structure with a strong reflection at the end.
As always, the writing is viewable in the Hive in real-time as an MLA formatted document, and the sections remain color-coded so that they receive specific feedback on each section of their writing.
Creating customized templates of your own
You can easily create templates of your own using essaypop's customization feature. These articles show you how.