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How to prepare your students for the Extended Essay

The Extended Essay is a challenge for every student. How can you make sure they feel prepared rather than panicked?

extended essayIt’s the culmination of years of effort, a signature of the IB Diploma Programme and the perfect preparation for life beyond the classroom. In fact, IB Diploma Programme alumni said the Extended Essay prepared them the most for the rigours of university life – they felt ahead of their peers in terms of the skills required for undertaking independent research.

But the self-directed Extended Essay is also a source of dread for many students, who fear its rigour, complexity and sheer length. The task puts their self-management skills to the test too. IB World spoke to experienced educators to find out how teachers can play a vital role in both academic and attitudinal preparation.

Start them young

The concept of writing an essay would draw a blank look from most four-year-olds. But that’s no reason why the basic building blocks of academic rigour can’t be put in place as soon as children begin school. The American International School in Cyprus (AISC), which offers the IB Diploma Programme, begins indirect preparation for the Extended Essay in its elementary grades, with research writing a key component of its Library Media Skills programme.

Four-year-olds extract information from non-fiction texts and answer ‘mini-research’ questions. “It encourages young minds to start to think about research, and early forms of research terminologies and methodologies they can build on for later grade levels,” says Sarah Washburne, IB history teacher and communications officer at the AISC.

‘Formal Research Writing’ classes commence in middle school and students are encouraged to choose a topic from those in the Extended Essay guide. In each subsequent year, students learn about different research methodologies and aspects of writing, and undertake research projects.

“Research and writing skills are scaffolded so that by the time the students begin the IB Diploma Programme, they have the skills to write a meaningful, analytical and evaluative Extended Essay,” says Washburne.

Even if students do not continue on to the IB Diploma Programme, the writing classes offer a firm foundation for their senior year final project. AISC says it has received positive feedback from parents and students about how the Formal Research Writing classes fit into the middle school curriculum.

Offer a guiding hand

Jonathan Newell, Director of college music and tutor at Brasenose College, UK, believes a formal programme of support is the best preparation for the Extended Essay. He says the school, librarian and supervisor should form a triumvirate of guiding hands. “The school needs to provide a framework that allows the necessary time for the Extended Essay process to happen, and supports the student by providing the necessary skills to complete this well,” explains Newell.

Aynsley O’Carroll, Grade 12 leader and IB English teacher at the Anglo American School of Moscow, adds such support is crucial: “Making time, offering guidance and designing calendars with the end in mind helps give students a manageable framework for completing their research and writing process.”

O’Carroll believes mentors should take on no more than six students. “Some students need much more guidance than others. Time should be made for conversations as this will help students clarify their thinking and find focus,” she adds.

Stay on track

Corinna Mansfield, library media specialist and IB Extended Essay coordinator at AISC, meets with students individually on a regular basis to track their progress and help them stay focused. What I have found is that students are usually more worried about the formatting guidelines and word count than about writing the content of their Extended Essay,” she says.

“Through the research writing classes at AISC, we alleviate some of that fear by making things like formatted citations and formal research writing part of their skill sets before they get to 11th grade.”

And what about students who just can’t get motivated or organized to face the task? “The most effective and meaningful way to help students see the importance of the Extended Essay is to celebrate and make the inquiry visible,” answers O’Carroll. “In so doing, students are more apt to feel inspired and excited about the process – it becomes transparent, interesting and valued.”


Let us know how you prepare your students for the extended essay – email [email protected]


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