English 111 (Vavra)
Pennsylvania College of Technology

Writing In-Class Essays:

TOW: Think, Organize, Write

For More on In-Class Essays, Including Samples and Grades, Click Here

     Most students hate in-class writing assignments, and English teachers argue about their value. We will be doing them for five reasons:

    1. I want samples of your writing under controlled conditions.
    2. You will have to write in-class essays and essay exams in other courses, so you need the practice.
    3. Once you do a few, you may be surprised both at how well you do and at how much easier it will be to write major papers.
    4. There are a few things about them that I may be able to teach you.
    5. Some of the teachers who are arguing, particularly those who teach part-time and hold other jobs, have noted that "in the real world," people do not have the time to brainstorm, outline, draft, revise, and edit. Real writing, they claim, is often much more like the writing of in-class essays.
Whenever you are asked or required to write something, you should think about why you are being asked to do it. This is particularly true in the case of in-class writing, whether it be a separate essay or an essay question in a longer exam. In college, in-class essays and essay quesitons on exams are usually meant to give you the opportunity to show how well you have understood the material you have been studying. In most cases, two things are being questioned: 1) Do you know what topics (or parts) are relevant to the question? 2) How many of the relevant facts, examples, etc. can you remember? To write a good response, you need to mentally review what you studied that applies to the question. The odds are that there are at least two or three "points" that are relevant. These "points" may be such things as causes of X, methods of X, types of X, etc. In mentally reviewing them, you are preparing to make a brief outline of your answer. Then, as you write your essay, you show the most relevant facts, examples, etc. that you can remember (or think of) for each point. What you should do, in a word, is TOW.
      TOW is an acronym for "Think, Organize, Write." Many students have told me that writing TOW at the top of the page helps them handle in-class writing, not just in my class, but also in many others. The idea is to Think first (Brainstorm), then Organize (Outline), then Write (Draft). Organized drafts are what is expected in in-class writing. If you have time, you should go back and revise, crossing-out and/or inserting words or sentences. Use arrows to show sentences or paragraphs that you want to move. If you still have time, you should attempt to edit. Doing so shows that you care. 


1. Read the question carefully.
2. Look for all the things it asks you to do.


1. Does the question imply an organization to the answer? Explain the causes of the Civil War. (Organization = list of causes.)
2. Make a list of two or three points you intend to cover.


1. Turn the question into a thesis. "There were four major causes of the Civil War."
2. Write a brief introduction which ends with your thesis statement.
3. Write a paragraph about each point.
4. Write something as an ending. 

One Last Suggestion:
Remember KISS

     A few students outsmart themselves by writing in-class essays that are too complex, too sophisticated. Particularly in the case of in-class writing, it is important to remember to KEEP IT SIMPLE BECAUSE THE INSTRUCTOR IS STUPID! Consider what happens to your essays. The instructor takes them home. Instructors have lives. They have homes, families, hobbies. They also now have a set of in-class essays to read and grade. I have suggested above what the instructors are probably going to be looking for when they read those essays. They are going to read those essays as quickly as possible. If you get fancy, by hiding your thesis, by going off on tangents, by getting creative and sophisticated, the instructor may well miss what you are doing. They simply do not expect such things and are not looking for them. Psychologists have shown that we (humans) see what we are looking for. If the instructor misses what you are doing, who will suffer? Do yourself a favor, KISS.

An additional link on Writing In-Class Essays:
(These are optional)

Professor Brian Jukes, Yuba Community College