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WE 165 Writing Explanatory Essays

Teacher Tips and Answers


Learning Log
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

Page 165

Writing Explanatory Essays

Have you ever watched fish swim in a bowl? You see their colors, how they move, what they eat, and where they hide. That’s enough for an explanatory paragraph!

To write an explanatory essay, though, you need to take a deeper dive. Put on a diving suit and go where the fish live. See them in nature. Swim with them, eat with them, discover what it’s like to be a fish!

In this chapter, you’ll read an essay that explores the world of Jack Russell Terriers. You’ll learn what it’s like to have one and to be one.

Afterward, you’ll take your own deep dive into an essay topic of your choosing!

What’s Ahead

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Sample Explanatory Essay

The following explanatory essay was written by Mila Medrano. She chose “pets” as her general subject, and then narrowed her topic to the Jack Russell Terrier—a hunting dog. Notice how each new paragraph explains something different about her topic. (You can also see other explanatory essays.)

Jack Russell Terriers
Mila Medrano

The first paragraph introduces the topic and leads to the focus statement.
There are all sorts of dog breeds in the world, but one of the most recognizable ones is the Jack Russell Terrier. Although they may be small, they are packed with personality. Jack Russell Terriers were bred for hunting, but their intelligence, loyalty, and friendliness make them perfect pets.

This paragraph explains the origin of the breed.
The breed was originally created by Reverend John “Jack” Russell, who was a passionate fox hunter. He wanted a small, fast, and feisty dog for his profession, so Russell was determined to make one. The resulting dog became the Jack Russell Terrier. They were created in England in the 1800s but were eventually perfected in Australia. The name became the Parson Terrier and the Russell Terrier, but the most well known and original version is the Jack Russell Terrier.

Next the writer focuses on the appearance of the breed. The standard Jack Russell Terrier may be short but is muscular and built solid. They have coarse straight hair that can range to shaggy or stiff. The purebred Jack Russell Terrier is rather straight haired. They were actually first bred brown but then were changed to white to be seen better in the hunt. Jack Russell Terriers have the iconic white stripe on their head running down between their eyes. They have wide eyes, floppy but mobile ears, and a little nub of a tail.

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The writer explains the Jack Russell’s personality. This friendly dog’s overall temperament is upbeat, eager, and confident. The Jack Russell Terrier is usually an active dog and will need an immense amount of exercise to burn off all their energy. They are also very playful, love sports, and enjoy being outdoors with people. Jack Russell Terriers make great family pets but do require some discipline and strong training. Once you finish training, you’ll have a loyal lifelong pet. They can be expected to live for 12 to 14 years.

This paragraph focuses on the way that hunting shapes the behavior of the breed. As a hunting dog, the Jack Russell Terrier is a hard worker with a strong prey drive. Don’t be surprised if yours comes into the house with a small animal like a mouse. They love hunting due to the way they were bred for fox hunting. They may also start digging holes in your backyard.

The last paragraph sums up the explanation and provides a final thought.
Overall, Jack Russell Terriers make incredible pets and are magnificent companions. These cute little guys have a lot of personality and love to be with people or other animals. If you have a Jack Russell Terrier, just know that you now have a wonderful, loyal best friend.

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Learning Log
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

Building an Essay

The outline below will give you a good picture of how the sample essay “Jack Russell Terriers” was built. Each paragraph introduces a new idea, but all of the ideas explain the focus statement.

You’ll also see that Mila uses key words and transitions to signal the main point in each paragraph: originally created . . . short but is muscular . . . overall temperament . . . As a hunting dog. . . . When you link your paragraphs together in this way, readers can easily follow along—which makes your essay better.


Jack Russell Terriers were bred for hunting, but their intelligence and friendliness make them perfect pets.


The breed was originally created by Reverend John “Jack” Russell, who was a passionate fox hunter.

The standard Jack Russell Terrier may be short but is muscular and built solid.

This friendly dog’s overall temperament is upbeat, eager, and confident.

As a hunting dog, the Jack Russell Terrier is a hard worker with a strong prey drive.


Overall, Jack Russell Terriers make incredible pets and are magnificent companions.

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Writing an Explanatory Essay

Now that you understand the “big picture” of how an essay works, you need to look more closely at each step in the process.

Prewriting Planning Your Essay

Subject 🟪 First, choose a general subject that interests you—let’s say it’s pets. (You can also consider other explanatory topics.) You then need to narrow your subject to a more specific topic, such as Jack Russell Terriers.

Audience 🟪 You also need to ask yourself who will be reading your essay: your classmates, a friend online, your family, or someone else?

Voice 🟪 Next, think about your voice. In almost all cases, you will want to sound serious—but interesting. Your voice should match your subject and purpose (to explain).

Prewriting Gathering Details

Explore Your Topic 🟪 Begin gathering details by listing everything you already know about the subject. Then search books, magazines, and websites for additional details.

Focus Your Ideas 🟪 Examine all your details and decide which part of your topic you want to focus on. Then write a focus statement that tells exactly what you are going to be writing about. (This is sometimes called a thesis statement.) Your focus statement should state the main point of your essay. You can use the following formula to write this statement:

Specific Topic + Main Point or Idea =

Jack Russell Terriers + hunting dogs and perfect pets =

Effective Focus Statement

Jack Russell Terriers were bred for hunting, but their intelligence, loyalty, and friendliness make them perfect pets.

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Prewriting Organizing Your Details

Make a List 🟪 Before you write your essay, identify the details that support your focus and put them in the right order. You can do so by making a numbered list.

1. Origin as hunting dog from Reverend Jack Russell; different names over time

2. Appearance—including size, coloring, shape, features

3. Personality of breed—including energy, friendliness, and loyalty

4. Traits that come from hunting, such as bringing home animals and digging holes

Make an Outline 🟪 Your teacher may ask you to use an outline instead of a list. In that case, you need to decide which details will be going in the first paragraph, the second paragraph, and so on. See the sample below.

I. Created by Reverend John “Jack” Russell

    A. Fox hunting breed in 1800s England

    B. Small, fast, feisty

    C. Perfected in Australia as Parson Terrier

II. Small but tough for hunting

    A.Muscular body, short wiry hair

    B. Brown at first, then white for visibility

    C. Big eyes, floppy ears, stub tail

II. Positive and energetic temperament

    A. Upbeat, eager, and confident

    B. Energetic, playful, outdoorsy

    C. Need training and discipline

IV. Jack Russells as hunting dogs

    A. Hard workers with a strong prey instinct

    B. Offer small animals to their owners

    C. Dig up backyards (looking for fox dens)

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Writing Developing Your First Draft

After you have organized all your details, you’re ready to write your essay. Use your list or outline and follow the suggestions below.

Beginning 🟪 To get the readers involved, your first paragraph should say something interesting or surprising about your subject. It should also include a focus statement that names the main idea of your essay.

Middle 🟪 The middle paragraphs should include lots of facts, figures, and examples that support your focus sentence. Each paragraph should develop a key supporting detail about the topic. Consider adding a drawing or photograph if that would make part of your explanation easier to follow.

Ending 🟪 The final paragraph should summarize the main points covered in the essay. It should also remind the readers of the importance of the topic and help them understand it better.

Revising and Editing Improving Your Essay

Answer the following questions to help you improve your first draft. (You can also use the checklist on page 66 to help you edit and proofread your essay.)

_____ Does the beginning hook the reader?

_____ Does the focus statement make the main idea clear?

_____ Do details in the middle explain the focus statement?

_____ Does the voice sound interested and knowledgeable?

_____ Does the ending remind readers of the importance of the topic?

Publishing Sharing Your Essay

When you’ve finished all your revising and editing, write a final copy to share—one that looks good and is free of errors.

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Possible Writing Topics

Explanatory writing gives information in an interesting way. You can write explanatory essays about all kinds of amazing things. Here are some ideas to get you going.

Animals 🟪 Write about your favorite type of pet. Write about the kind of wild animal you most admire. Explain how animals like horses and oxen work for people. Describe a favorite breed of cat. Explain how ants or bees work together.

Machines 🟪 Write about the different kinds of motorcycles. Explain how a steam locomotive works. Name and explain the parts of a light bulb. Explain how a simple machine like a lever or pulley works. Draw and describe how a catapult flings giant stones.

Games 🟪 Explain the rules of your favorite party game. Explain how to play different types of board games. Give specific strategies for beating someone in your favorite video game. Write about a game played by ancient Egyptians or Romans. Describe a jump-rope game.

Places 🟪 Name a country you would like to visit and explain why it is so interesting. Describe your favorite places in your town or city. Write about an important location in your school, such as the cafeteria, the music room, or the gymnasium.

Holidays 🟪 Describe the parts of a perfect birthday celebration. Explain a special festival in your town or city. Tell about the different types of things you see in a parade. Explain to a person from another country how we celebrate a specific holiday.

Writing Ideas

Think about anything you need to live—energy, friends, education, art, science, water, food, clothing. . . . Each of these is a general subject that you can use as a starting point to find a specific topic to explain.

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