Train Essays and Pie Paragraphs

Seeing is Believing

Sometimes, when students SEE how essays work, they can write their own with more confidence and competence. One thing that has worked for me is using colors, metaphors, and formulae.


If you can locate colored pencils or highlighters in different colors, enough for three colors per student, you can try this. Three colors combos: yellow, blue and green.  Or blue, red and purple.  Or work on line using different color fonts.

Some of the students know that blue and yellow make green and that blue and red make purple.

Have students download a sample essay or us photocopied sample essay.  Then using the blue, yellow and green colors, (pencils or font options) ask students to mark the thesis statement in green, topic sentences in blue, and supporting sentences in yellow to illustrate ways that the topic and supporting sentences blend to explain, explore or expand on the thesis.

THEN, have them write their own essays, and BEFORE turning in the draft, show in colors the parts of their own essays.  (I sometimes have partners work together and highlight the elements for their partners.)  When students SEE what their writing looks like, they often understand the value of organization and development needed to make their message clear and engaging, insightful and inspiring.


Another graphic image that has worked is the metaphor of the train.

Train engine

The engine is the introduction,


The cargo cars are the body paragraphs


and the caboose is the closing paragraph.

See link to PIE and TRAIN Structure for slides to illustrate this strategy.



P: State your POSITION on the topic

I: Illustrate the position with examples from LITERATURE, from LESSONS learned in other courses, from LIFE that you’ve experienced or observed.  (Using transition words to connect illustrations to position statement.  (Provide students with chart of transition words. Could post the chart where students can see it whenever they’re writing in class.  OR point out the page of transitions in their textbook).

E: Explain how the illustrations relate to the POSITION statement.

POSITION.  For example (illustration).This shows…(explanation).  Furthermore (another illustration).  This shows..(explanation).  Moreover (another illustration)  So you see..(explanation)  (See the P.I.E. link to a more expanded explanation)

See link to PIE and TRAIN Structure for slides to illustrate this strategy.

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