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Preparing for the Surprise Prompt

Preparing for the Surprise Prompt

By Miss Marm

Is there anything worse than doing badly in a class, and not knowing how to fix your grade? It's a terrible feeling, especially when you have a test coming up. A Sparkler writes:

im a high school student in 10th grade.. im in Honors English 10. and i am doing badly in that class right now because my essay skills really sucks, i just don't know how to write good essays. and i have another upcoming In-Class essay this friday about the outside reading book that i read, The Tempest by Shakespeare. and the theme is "quest for power". i dont know the prompt til that day. its a suprise prompt.

and i would just like to know how i should prepare for in-class essays. and what i should do to write a good paper.

Aaaaahh, the good old surprise prompt. Well, at least your teacher is kind enough to throw you a bone in the form of a vague theme. You know you'll be writing on a quest for power. That's something. To prepare, I'd come up with three or four specific theses that would fit that theme, and jot down a sentence for each supporting paragraph. For example, you might write:

Prospero, a malevolent playwright, uses storytelling to stamp out Ariel's tiny yearnings for power.

1 - tells the story of Sycorax once a month

2 - uses Ariel as a ventriloquist in III.iii

3 - makes Ariel the stage manager of his little play

As you can see, the point is not to write a fully fleshed-out essay, or even fully-fleshed out sentences. The point is to come with a few theses that might come in useful during the test.

What if, you ask, the surprise prompt doesn't allow you to use any of the theses you've prepared? That's okay. You might be able to tweak one of the theses and get it to work with the prompt. But even if you can't, the thesis-creation exercise has not been in vain. You've sat with the play for long enough to create three or four strong ideas about it, which means you're well positioned to come up with a brand-new thesis on the fly.

As for what makes a good paper, I'll get into this in more detail in subsequent posts, but essentially, you need:

1. A specific, opinionated thesis

2. Three supporting paragraphs, each of which makes ONE point, and each of which opens with a compelling topic sentence

3. A serviceable concluding paragraph

4. A firm command of grammar and style

5. And here's my secret: write your paper to entertain your teacher. I'm not saying you should crack jokes (although a little humor never killed anyone, even in Honors English), but as you write, do remember that one person will be reading your essay—one person who has car payments, and a favorite sweater, and a slight hangover. Don't pander, but don't write as if some God of 5-Paragraph Essays will be reading your paper in the clouds. Write as one human to another.

I hope that helps! Good luck with your preparations.

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Topics: theses, the tempest, in-class essays, prompts

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