What is the hamburger essay and why is it a great main course when serving up ESL writing lessons?
With over 700 million people speaking English as a second language, along with the status of English as the international lingua franca, there are many reasons students flock to English. So, what in particular does the essay form have to offer all these students?
As economic reasons are a prime motivator for many ESL students, essays can be a great format for delving into non-fiction topics and can offer an opportunity to develop coveted skills, such as organizing factual information, undertaking research and coherently presenting one’s own opinions. Essays afford the student-writer a format in which these aims can be achieved.
In this article we will offer some useful guidelines for helping your students to structure their essays using the hamburger model, as well as some handy hints and useful exercises to get your students started on the road to essay excellence!
ESL Essay Writing: The 5 Ingredients of the Classic Hamburger Essay
1. Top Topic Tips for Teachers and Students
This is a great opportunity to really engage your students. You need to give tips from the get-go, though, so your students do not end up totally overwhelmed.
Essay writing can place great challenges on the ESL student, as they work through the research, drafting and editing stages of essay production, so it is important to get them engaged right from the start. Fortunately, the essay form handily lends itself to the idiosyncrasies of each student.
Here are some tips for you and your students to get off on the right foot with essay writing:
- Encourage students to select topics that really interest them. This is important to sustain their interest throughout the process.
- Remember, the focus is on acquiring essay writing skills. Do not be afraid to suggest some off-the-wall topics to students struggling to find something of interest. A well-structured essay on the merits of Indonesian Gamelan music is better than a disorganized one in more traditional ESL territory.
- Get an angle. Ensure your students do not pick a topic that is too unwieldy. If they do, help them find some perspective on it by narrowing the focus. For example, an essay with the topic of “video games” lacks direction. However, an essay on the benefits of video games in the modern age may offer the necessary refining to focus the student on the task at hand.
- As essays convey opinion it is often helpful to set the topic in a quasi-debate style. For example, keeping with the topic of video games, the title might be something like, “Video games often have a bad reputation, despite offering some very tangible benefits. Do you agree with this statement? Give reasons for your answer.”
- With topic firmly in hand, have students brainstorm ideas and write them down. Their best ideas will form the basis of their research, where they will gather data, facts, statistics and more information, as appropriate, to illustrate their ideas.
The Main Course
In writing, regardless of the genre, structure is crucial. Here we will look at essay writing in terms of the hamburger model, which offers a very clear structure with which to approach writing an essay.
2. The Introductory Paragraph
It is time to lay out your essay’s main purpose and get the ball rolling! As with most writing genre, the introduction serves a number of purposes:
- It orientates your reader to the central premise of the piece.
- It briefly outlines the points the body paragraphs will address.
Top tip: The “hook” or “grabber” is important in securing your reader’s attention from the outset. Some examples of successful grabbers include:
- Opening with a relevant quotation from a relevant source. Tons of quotation collections are available online providing inspirational quotes for any imaginable essay topic. A well-chosen quotation can secure the attention of even the most fickle of readers.
- Stating an interesting and surprising fact can intrigue readers into wishing to find out more. Can the students’ research reveal one?
- A joke. Dependent on the topic, a joke may be an appropriate way to grab the reader’s attention. The student needs to weigh up whether the tone of the essay is suitable.
3. The Body Paragraphs
If the essay is a hamburger, then these are the beef patties—and it is a triple-decker! As stated above, the main points should be briefly outlined in the introduction.
Each of the three body paragraphs will explore a single point. In structuring each paragraph the somewhat unfortunate acronym P.E.E. proves useful.
Point: Each paragraph begins with making a point in support of the central thesis. Students should endeavor to state each point in strong, clear language.
Explain: A good rule of thumb here is that the simpler the point, the more complex the sentence structure that can be employed. A more complex point can be expressed with greater clarity by employing several shorter sentences which break it down into more digestible, bite-sized chunks.
Evidence: Ensure every point is supported by evidence. Remind the students there are many types of evidence. From quoting from authorities on the subject to book references, statistics and anecdotes, convincing evidence is dependent upon effective research in the pre-writing stage.
4. The Conclusion
Hard to eat a burger without the bottom bun. You would need a knife and fork and, well, that is not how a burger is meant to be devoured. The conclusion is where you seal in all that delicious flavor. A students should strive to give a reminder of the main flavors of the essay. A chance for the student to drive those main points home one last time.
It is important to remember that at this stage of the essay no new points should be introduced. The student can, however, revisit a point with an added insight or two to leave the lingering taste in the reader’s mind. A good essay will leave a thought or two to chew over!
So, there we have it. Well-fed students. We’ve given them a mouthwatering appetizer and a filling main course, but where would we be without the icing on the cake, the dessert?
Essay writing is as much about craft as it is about inspiration. And as with an apprentice baker’s first soufflé, first attempts are likely to be a little flat. So what should the ESL writer be looking to tweak in their final draft?
5. Revisions and Polishing
- As any writer worth their ink will tell you, sometimes you just need to step away from the pen. After the traumatic struggle of midwifing an infant essay, give baby a chance to breathe before taking stock of fingers and toes. A fresh perspective can often only be attained after a good night’s sleep or two.
- It is time for a spellcheck and a grammar check. Fortunately, if word-processed, technology will be there to help, but it is important to encourage students to employ their own critical faculties. Peer review is a good technique to encourage this, and it encourages students to benefit from each others’ strengths.
- Next, it is time to check the essay for its structural integrity. Have the students refer again to the criteria as listed above. you may wish to provide them with a checklist with which they can go through their work to identify missing elements or weak areas.
And there it is. The hamburger essay, quick, convenient and filling. Like its namesake, more complex versions can be built according to the refinement of the appetite.
With plenty of practice and encouragement, your students will be building gourmet versions in no time!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked these tips, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.
Bring English immersion to your classroom!
The only way to get better at anything is to do it—over and over again. In addition to practicing your English conversational skills, you should also practice your writing skills on a regular basis.
The good news is that writing in English doesn’t need to be a painful experience. By choosing topics that you’re passionate about or focusing on prompts that will put different grammar lessons into practice, you can ensure that writing is an engaging and enjoyable experience.
Here are twenty-two potential essay topics to get you started, but don’t be afraid to branch out and come up with your own topics, as well.
- Describe your favorite place in as much detail as possible.
- What do you do outside of school and work? Describe any hobbies you have, sports you participate in, or other activities you regularly enjoy.
- If you could invite five people to a dinner party, who would they be? What is each guest like?
- Describe your favorite fictional character in as much detail as possible.
- If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Describe it and explain why you’d choose it.
- Give directions for getting from one point to another. Explain what landmarks someone might see along the way.
- Explain how to entertain guests who unexpectedly arrive at your home.
Verb tense practice
- What’s one thing you could never live without and why?
- Describe your ideal town or city, why you would want to live there, and what you would do there.
- Write about a time in the past when you had to make a difficult decision, and explain what you did.
- Talk about five specific goals you want to accomplish this year, and explain how you are going to accomplish them.
- Imagine you’re babysitting a child who breaks the kitchen table. Explain to the child how they could have avoided doing this if they had behaved differently.
Practical vocabulary practice
- Write a review of a new restaurant (either fictional or real) in your area.
- Describe the best party or large-scale event you’ve ever attended.
- If you could get one gift for everyone in your family, regardless of the cost, what would you get them and why?
- Choose a form of transportation (such as cars, trains, boats, planes, or subways) and explain how it has changed people’s lives.
- Write a pitch for a new blockbuster movie. Explain what will happen in the movie and why it will draw crowds to the theater.
Persuasive writing practice
- Do you think our society is too dependent on technology like smartphones? Why or why not?
- Imagine that a big new department store is being built in your hometown. Do you support this development or not?
- Do you think it’s better for students to have a long summer break or be in a year-round school system with more breaks throughout the year? Explain your position.
- Should employers set aside time during the day for their employees to exercise? What might be some of the advantages or disadvantages of this?
- What is your favorite book or movie, and why should people read or watch it?
What are some great ESL essay topics you've encountered? Let us know in the comments.