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How to Write a Sixth-Grade Essay

How to Write a Fifth-Grade Essay

How to Write a Fifth-Grade Essay

Completing an essay for a sixth-grade writing assignment can be accomplished within only a few hours of your time. The five-paragraph format is commonly used in sixth grade. This format contains the introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. By writing an essay correctly during sixth grade, you will be preparing for more in-depth writing in years to come, as you continue your education through high school and even college.

Write an introductory paragraph for your essay, which will include a thesis statement and three to five sentences that support it. A thesis statement will describe the basic point that you are trying to get across in your paper. The remaining sentences should act as an outline for the rest of your paper.

Write out the next three paragraphs, which are the body of the essay paper. Make your strongest claim to support your thesis statement in the first body paragraph. The second should be the next strongest, and the third should be the final part of your argument. Be sure to use strong verbs in the supportive sentences to reinforce the thesis statement, for this is one of the capabilities you will be expected to exhibit in your sixth-grade writing development. Keeping a consistent voice within the body paragraphs, as well as the rest of the essay, is also another ability that sixth-grade teachers are going to be looking for when grading. Correct transitions between the paragraphs will also show your writing skills to your teacher as well. These paragraphs should also be three to five sentences each.

Finish your sixth-grade essay by writing the final paragraph, which is its conclusion. Summarize the statements made in the body paragraphs to reiterate the thesis statement made in the first one. Persuade the reader to see your view on the topic, based on the points made throughout the piece, and indicate that the essay is reaching its succession by making a closing statement.

  • Revise a draft of the essay to evaluate the word choices, substituting with vocabulary you have learned during your spelling exercises, before making a final copy that will be turned in to your teacher.
  • Comparing and editing drafts before writing the official version is a commonly taught part of the sixth-grade curriculum and will help make for a better final essay overall.
  • Sixth-grade students will also have to actively partake in peer reviews, so have another student read your drafts to ensure the essay has a natural flow. Another perspective may bring certain things to your attention that you may not notice on your own.

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Based in Florida, Robert Ceville has been writing electronics-based articles since 2009. He has experience as a professional electronic instrument technician and writes primarily online, focusing on topics in electronics, sound design and herbal alternatives to modern medicine. He is pursuing an Associate of Science in information technology from Florida State College of Jacksonville.

6th grade writing

by: Hank Pellissier | Updated: August 4, 2022

Print article

6th grader's writing under Common Core standards

This year, your sixth grader should learn to use precise language, the right pronouns, and high-quality sources for research. Public presentations are also a nerve-wracking but important skill highlighted this year. Read on to learn the key sixth grade writing skills your child should learn this year.

Introducing argument writing

Developmentally, sixth graders are entering a rebellious phase. Luckily, all this attitude has an academic outlet: argument writing . Your tween will write persuasive essays that promote their bold opinions with organized logic, backed by evidence from carefully researched, respectable sources. ( Wikipedia , The Onion , and National Enquirer won’t qualify, but Wikipedia does often link to sources at the bottom of their entries that may be acceptable.)

Your 11- or 12-year-old will also write formal essays that explain complicated topics with precise information. They’ll start with intriguing introductions, and then present their research in a clear, organized way. They will use quotes, facts, definitions, compare-and-contrast statements, cause-and-effect statements, graphics (e.g., charts, graphs), subject-specific vocabulary, and multimedia. It will all be formatted (e.g., using headings, subheadings, and bullet points), to make their points clear. They’ll end with concluding paragraphs that recap their main points.

“ To put it another way, Mommy, there is compelling evidence that I need another scoop of ice cream. ” This grown-up language sounds amusingly hoity-toity in squeaky voices, but don’t laugh when your child attempts it in daily conversation. Indeed, it is good practice for their writing.

Incredibly, what happened next was..

Storytelling is a fun part of sixth grade writing. This year, kids practice narrative writing in fiction and nonfiction papers. They learn effective ways to select their narrator, characters, setting, dialogue, descriptions, and conclusion. They work to make plot sequences seem natural. To really make their stories sing, kids should use specific details, precise language, and transition vocabulary (think: After nightfall or When she awoke ) that guides readers from one setting or plot point to another. Don’t be surprised if your shy bookworm starts writing a trilogy.

If at first you don’t succeed

Grit. Determination. Perseverance. Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page of one of his novels 39 times. Rewriting and editing both teach kids discipline and determination. They are required to plan before they write, and then plan some more as their draft develops. They’re encouraged to outline before they start writing. They draft and redraft. They will revise certain parts and maybe restructure their entire paper. Then they will edit, possibly rewrite, and re-edit. At every turn, they’re encouraged to try new approaches. This isn’t obsessive redundancy; it helps students practice thinking about what they’re really, truly trying to say and then use their writing skills to convey their thoughts clearly and exactly.

Command of the keyboard

Writing nowadays often means typing . Sixth graders accelerate their hand-eye coordination as they evolve from hunt-and-peck slowness to rat-tat-tat-tat-tatting at a furious pace. The goal is for sixth graders to be able to sit and type three pages in a single sitting. Additionally, kids are taught online interaction and collaboration (e.g., emailing their work to each other, sharing Google docs, and adding suggestions and comments to each other’s work).

My research reveals…

Sixth graders get writing assignments that require research. To answer questions like What famous historical character do you admire? What’s your favorite invention? What endangered species do you worry about the most? , your young detective will read thick reference books and print periodicals at the library and digital data online (yes, often via Google). Students learn to evaluate the credibility of sources . Is National Lampoon as legitimate as Encyclopedia Britannica ? No. Using evidence, they compile information to write reports. They’ll learn to paraphrase what they’ve read, synthesize new thoughts, and use quotations to share information without plagiarizing.

Novel approach

Is Harry Potter more emotionally conflicted than Katniss Everdeen? Sixth graders sharpen their critical thinking skills by doing literary analysis. They’ll analyze poems, stories, historical novels, and nonfiction books. Kids learn to compare and contrast topics and themes. They’ll do this, for example, by discussing the consequences of prejudice in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and in Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad or by explaining how nature directs the plots of The Secret Garden and The Island of the Blue Dolphin . In nonfiction, sixth graders learn to divide an author’s statements into facts supported by evidence versus opinions. For example, was the Great Houdini truly “the world’s greatest magician” or is this an opinion? After all, David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China.

Pronouns: not just me-me-me all the time

Grammar isn’t easy, especially for 11- and 12-year-olds. Pronoun usage can be particularly tough. Kids learn about proper pronoun case . What’s that? Subjective case refers to pronouns used as subjects (I, you, he, she, it, we, they). Objective case indicates pronouns used as objects (me, you, him, her, it, us, they). Possessive case conveys ownership (my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, their, theirs). Using pronouns incorrectly can leave the writer (or speaker) looking unintelligent. For example, Us and her carried apples over to yous big barn is neither proper nor pretty.

Mistakes in pronoun person are common among this age group. To correct this, your child needs to loyally stick with the “person” they started with. No switching from first person (I or me) to second person (you), or vice-versa: When I go to school, you should have your homework done, or When you go to school, a person should have his homework done . (Hint, that second example goes from second person to third person.) Both switches are incorrect and can create confusion.

Pronoun number is also crucial. If the subject indicates a plural quantity, the related possessive pronoun needs the identical number. Here’s an example of this common error: All of the school girls took her umbrella. (It should be their umbrellas) . Vague pronouns are also a no-no. Take the sentence: Alice put a vase with a red rose on the desk, and sold it. What was sold: the vase, the rose, or the desk? We don’t know because it, used here, is too vague.

Sentences, spelling, punctuation

Sixth grade writing raises the bar when it comes to sentence structure. Kids are expected to vary their sentences by alternating the length and structure to keep their writing interesting.

When it comes to spelling, many sixth graders know that spelling rules in English are finicky and have many exceptions. Kids learn to spell odd English words correctly, with silent letters ( island, crumb ) and bizarre combo consonants ( cough, pheasant ). As such, spelling is best learned through practice and, eventually, by memorizing. If your child gets frustrated spelling words like climb or plumbing , let them know that Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and a committee of concerned citizens tried to simplify English spelling more than a century ago — sadly, to no avail.

Finally, as their writing becomes more advanced, sixth graders tend to use commas, parentheses, and dashes to set apart phrases and clauses. You can help by reviewing these sentences and making sure the punctuation is placed correctly.

It’s all about presentations

In sixth grade, kids will read their writing aloud to classmates. As they read, they’ll be expected to make eye contact, pronounce their words clearly, and speak loudly enough to be heard by the entire class. They’ll share their arguments, research papers, projects, and literary efforts, which will often be accompanied by visual displays, music, audio, charts, and slides. Your child may be nervous before these presentations, but hopefully your child will be empowered by the experience.

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How Long is An Essay in 6th Grade?

In this article, we’ll go over how long an essay should be for sixth graders and how to format one.

6th grade is such a fun year. Laughable and hilariously odd. The writing abilities of students vary greatly. Students who are writing at a very elementary level will come to you for assistance with grammar and paragraph structure.

How long should an essay be in sixth grade? The average length of an academic essay in the American educational system is between 300 and 800 words , and they typically begin in middle school. Details on how long an essay should be in sixth grade are provided below. See How Long is An Essay in 7th Grade , and 8th Grade .

Table of Contents

In the sixth grade, an essay should be between 300 and 800 words in length, which is not too challenging.

You can finish writing an essay for your sixth-grade writing assignment in a matter of hours. Common in sixth grade is the five-paragraph essay format. The introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion are all included in this format. By writing an essay well in sixth grade, you will be able to write more in-depth essays later on in high school and even in college.

The thesis statement and three to five supporting sentences should be included in the introduction paragraph of your essay. The fundamental idea that you want to convey in your paper will be summarized in your thesis statement. The sentences that follow should serve as the paper’s outline.

My 6th grade essay from 1997 for "your favorite season and why". I think  they meant weather, but I picked Football Season because of the Packers.  RIP Reggie White. : r/GreenBayPackers

Peculiarities of the 6th-Grade Essay

  • Structure. A sixth-grade essay follows the traditional essay format and includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each written piece should have a clear thesis statement or argument in the introduction. It must also express a specific idea and be logically sound.
  • Topic. Middle-school students must be able to speak on the broad topics of any chosen academic discipline before tackling more specific issues like the global economy and market or climatic changes. Commonly, students write in English while discussing summer reading or giving their opinions on various topics without conducting additional in-depth research. In order to contribute something worthwhile to research papers for high school and college, it is essential for sixth-grade students to become well-rounded.
  • Style. Nobody waives the requirements for structuring and revising essays in sixth grade. On the contrary, they are constantly taught and assessed to help students avoid problems with academic writing in the future. Stay out of your teachers’ business because they are attempting to help you in the future when you will have to write numerous assignments.

The Length of Each Part in an Essay

The Length of Different Kinds of Essays

The Length of Essays in Different Grades

How to Write a Literary Essay in 6th Grade?

It shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete a literary essay in sixth grade because the process is fairly simple. Students typically use the five-paragraph essay format in middle school, which is comprised of an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Typically, the essay should be one to two pages long.

Write the Introduction Paragraph

How Long is An Essay in 6th Grade?

A thesis statement outlining the essay’s main idea should be included in the introduction, along with some evidence to back up the thesis. The final phase of the introduction should serve as a bridge into the body paragraphs.

Write the Body Paragraphs of the Essay

The most significant claim you intend to make about the literary work should be made in the first paragraph, and you should provide evidence to back up your claim. The second paragraph ought to include the second strongest argument, and the third paragraph ought to include the third strongest argument, both of which should be followed by details that support them. To provide a seamless transition, the first sentence of each paragraph should build on the conclusion of the previous paragraph.

Write the Conclusion Paragraph

In order to give the reader the impression that the argument is coming to a close, the conclusion should be written in a manner similar to the introduction. It should contain a restatement of the thesis in a new way as well as a succinct summary of the three key points raised in the body sentences. The final sentence should strongly support the thesis statement and signal that the essay is coming to a close.

Conclusion: How Long is An Essay in 6th Grade?

The average length of a 6th-grade essay is 300 to 800 words. When writing the sixth-grade essay, you should adhere to a standard essay structure. When it comes to writing, the purpose determines the style. You should use the proper words and phrases whether you’re describing, persuading, or narrating.

How Many Paragraphs is An Essay in 6th Grade?

The five-paragraph format is commonly used in sixth grade. This structure includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

How Long Should a 6th-Grade Paragraph?

A paragraph for the fifth grade must have a topic sentence, three body/support sentences, and one concluding sentence. 6th graders must have 6 sentences , while 7th and 8th graders must include at least 8 sentences.

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how long are 6th grade essays

  • Jul 8, 2019

My 6th Grade ELA Pacing Guide and What I Do Everyday

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

how long are 6th grade essays

My First Years

I remember being a new teacher and having NO CLUE what I was going to be teaching. My first year teaching, I was given a basic curriculum of major writing pieces that had to be accomplished and a basal reader (yuck) for reading. That’s it. So, I leaned on my colleagues for guidance and I am pretty sure they were very annoyed with me! This was pre-Pinterest, pre-Instagram, pre-Teachers Pay Teachers. I consistently asked my colleagues if I could see their lesson plans, borrow their packets, etc. In reflection, I regret doing that. Those teachers worked hard to develop their curriculum and I essentially expected them to hand it to me. In their eyes, they probably felt as if I was taking their hard work and using it, and I don’t blame them for animosity, if they had any. In all honestly, it was simply because I was clueless and had no confidence. (If they are reading this, I am sorry! You guys were amazingly patient with me and I hope you understand it wasn’t because I was lazy; I was learning).

Confidence was something I always struggled with, but I don’t think new teachers SHOULD go in overly confident. I’ve met some new teachers who think they know everything already, and that’s not a good. They need to ask their fellow teachers for guidance, but should not ask them to use their materials. This was a mistake I made, but when make mistakes happen, we learn from them.

Eventually, after that first year, I started gaining more confidence. I moved to new district. It still took me a couple more years to feel like I knew what I was doing. Now, I actually write curriculum for my district. I am solely responsible for what happens in my 6th grade classroom.

I use Reading and Writing Workshop in my classroom . I do not stick to it fully and over time, have added my own twists. I also do a reading unit fully, then a writing unit fully. With 81-minute blocks, I like to really use that time fully to focus on whatever skill we are doing that day.

This is the basic structure of each day:

Each day starts with 15 minutes of independent reading .

Then, I teach the mini-lesson/skill of focus . I use a mentor text and do whatever I expect the kids to do. This typically takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

Usually, students then go off to do the skill with a partner . This is about 10 minutes.

Following partner work, we meet back at the mat for a few minutes to regroup/reteach .

They then go off on their own to do the skill with their books or writing piece .

Lastly, I do some kind of grammar at the end of the block for about 15 minutes . In the past, I’ve done No Red Ink, Moby Max, and mentor sentences. This year, I am doing interactive notebooks from Teacher Thrive .

Where do all the books come from?

Since I do Reading Workshop, students are always reading in REAL books . I have a classroom library, but for book clubs, I require students to get books from the public library or I get a bunch of books on my card. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain in the neck, but it gets my students into book they WANT to read. If it means I have to go out of my way, I will.

how long are 6th grade essays

I work very closely with public libraries. A month before book clubs start, I give my students a list of books in the genre of study. They then choose what books they want in a Google Form. My lists are usually lengthy and I'm open to letting them choose others. Once I compile all the forms, I try to group students into books they want and do some negotiating. Then, I make a list of groups and the books they are going to read. I send this list to the librarian and she orders all the books for me. She keeps the books behind the desk. Students come in, ask her for the book, check out and walk out. As long as they have a card and can get to the library within a month before the unit, it’s easy. Yes, they have to return them at some point, and yes I get parents pushing back, but they need to learn responsibility. If it’s a true hardship, I just get or return the books for them.

My Pacing Guide

how long are 6th grade essays

A Deep Study of Character : This is a Lucy Calkins Unit of Study for middle school. This one, I follow pretty closely to the book. I spend time working on inferencing, point-of-view, perspective, empathy, and more.

Students are reading from any fiction book for this.

Click here for my digital character unit.

how long are 6th grade essays

Narrative Writing in Response to Fiction: This is my first writing unit. I originally did this unit to get kids state test ready because this was how they were supposed to respond narratively on the PARCC. I still like to do it because it gets the kids to think about their reading in a different light.

For about two weeks, we spend time writing continuation stories. They write new stories using story structure that could continue after a short story they read. Think of it as another chapter.

Then, I spend the rest of October doing point-of-view stories. They choose a short story to write from the perspective of another character in the story.

Within this unit, I focus a lot of mini-lessons on narrative writing skills and connecting their stories to originals.

Click here for my digital narrative unit.

how long are 6th grade essays

Social Issues Book Clubs : This is another Lucy Calkins unit that I follow closely. I give them a list of books under specific issues (Calkins’ unit has an extensive list or I hop onto my Facebook groups). I use the book Faceless as my mentor text.

I focus on similar skills from September, but really get into theme. They also do a lot of collaborative work on the issue their books focus on.

Click here for my digital social issues unit .

how long are 6th grade essays


Research, Research Essay, and Informational Book: This is a massive unit! I spend a good three weeks on research skills. This is a mash-up of Lucy Calkins units ( Tapping the Power of Non-Fiction and Research-Based Information Writing: Books, Websites, and Presentations ), but I’ve tweaked this over the years. A month before, I let students decide what topic they want to research. I give them about 5 topics to choose from based on the Calkins’ units. I group them and give them a list of books to choose from to get from the library. Again, they have a month to get the books.

I then spend up to Christmas break on non-fiction skills for research (main idea, text features, summarizing, text structure). Then, when they come back, they write an essay on their topic. Lastly, they spend half of January creating an eBook on the topic with their peers who have the same topic.

Click here for my digital research unit.

how long are 6th grade essays


Dystopian Book Clubs: Yet again, another Lucy Calkins Unit of Study . This unit tends to be geared toward upper middle, but I like to take the plunge with my 6th graders. I mostly focus on setting and power. I use Among the Hidden as my mentor text. It’s a great introduction to dystopian books. I do this for the second half of January and beginning of February.

Click her for my digital dystopian unit.

how long are 6th grade essays


Literary Analysis Essays: After our February break, I have the students write a comparative essay with their book club books, a dystopian short story, and the movie A Truman Show . I focus on theme (how do all sources show a specific theme).

Click her for my digital literary essay unit.

how long are 6th grade essays

Poetry : My focus is close reading. I’ve gathered a ton of poems into one digital notebook. We work on reading the poems several times and applying typical poetry skills (mostly figurative language). I also focus on song lyrics and let them write some poetry, too.

Click here for my digital poetry unit .

how long are 6th grade essays

Debate : I spend about two weeks on this. I use Newsela and Commonlit articles to prepare for debates. We spend a week discussing the ins and outs of debates, then a week prepping and performing a debate.

Click here for my digital debate unit .

Test Prep : I do about a week of this. That’s it.

Click here for some of my test prep.

how long are 6th grade essays

Graphic Novels: I let them choose any graphic novel they want, as long as it’s fantasy. My unit focuses on the complexity of graphic novels (because they’re not as easy as everyone thinks!). I then focus on fantasy components.

Click here for my digital graphic novel unit.

how long are 6th grade essays

Fantasy Writing: Last unit of the year! Students plan and write fantasy stories! I like to kick this off with showing them the movie Spirited Away to discuss the hero’s journey.

Click here for my digital fantasy writing unit.

Bottom line:

This can be overwhelming, for sure. I wrote this just to give you a snapshot of what one teacher does. The first thing you have to do is see what your district expects. It’s great when they give you freedom, like my district does. Sometimes, you are bound by a curriculum, but if you want to stray a little, this may give you some ideas.

Want an easy to read PDF of all of this? Click here!

If you're interested in all of these units, you can get them in my bundle below!

how long are 6th grade essays

7th Grade Pacing Guide

I taught a 7th grade section of ELA this year, and this blog post outlines what I did. It is not as detailed, as I am still working out the kinks, but it gives you an idea!

how long are 6th grade essays


Want a custom bundle from me click below.

how long are 6th grade essays

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Do you have an order that you teach grammar skills in?

Hi! Well, I do have the mentor sentences that I use (there is a blog post about that) and that's pretty structured...but lately I just do whatever I feel like doing randomly. I use No Red Ink a lot.

Thank you so much for this guide.

A ton! I’ll add it to my to-do list as a blog post.

Thanks for this pacing guide. It is definitely helpful for me. Was wondering, looking at the Graphic Novels Unit, what book titles do you use? Thanks.

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The Guide to 6th Grade: Reading and Writing

Review reading and writing curricula for 6th grade, including what to expect and resources to support learning..

In their first year of middle school, 6th graders embark on a new journey in their schooling, and with that comes new challenges and changes. In many ways, 6th grade is a year of significant transition for students as they use the skills they have previously learned and apply them to more complex and independent learning in deeper and more rigorous ways. 

While collaboration may still be an important part of the curriculum, students are often required to produce more extensive independent work, specifically in writing. This calls for greater independence and organizational skills, and it may certainly require some adjustment and practice in the beginning of the school year.

Read on to find out what to expect this year! You can shop all sixth grade books and activities at The Scholastic Store .

Sixth Grade Reading 

The ultimate goal of the 6th grade reading curriculum is for students to read increasingly complex texts over the course of the year, preparing them for high school, college, and careers beyond. Students read a variety of texts and different genres, including fiction, drama, poetry, and non-fiction.

There is a specific emphasis on and increase in the reading of nonfiction texts in order to prepare students to read, write, and research across subjects. As students read more complex texts, analyzing and understanding them in deeper ways, they strengthen their knowledge of all subjects.

In order to build reading skills, your 6th grader :

  • Uses evidence from the text in order to summarize the plot, make inferences about and analyze the text, and determine the central theme or themes in a text.
  • Understands and explains the point of view in a text; understands the significance of certain words and passages in a text.
  • Understands and relays the main thesis or claims of a non-fiction text and its supporting evidence.
  • Reads and compares different texts and genres that address the same topics.
  • Uses a variety of media and formats, including video and audio, to further enhance understanding of a topic or text.
  • Participates in class-wide and group discussions expressing the ideas and skills learned.
  • Practices a variety of vocabulary skills, including using the context in which a word is found to determine the meaning of words, recognizing roots of words, and using digital and physical reference materials (dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries).
  • Gains an understanding of and the ability to explain figurative language in a text.

6th Grade Writing 

In middle school, 6th graders are encouraged to push themselves further in their writing and write with increased complexity in terms of  length, subject matter, vocabulary, and general writing techniques. At the same time, 6th graders practice and refine many of the skills previously taught to them while enhancing them with the new skills and techniques they learn. 

In order to build writing skills, your 6th grader :

  • Writes using more complex vocabulary and about more complex content.
  • Writes over extended periods of time, such as when writing long-term research or expressive pieces that may take a week.
  • Writes for short amounts of times, such as in one sitting.
  • Writes a variety of genres for a variety of audiences.
  • Use supporting claims and evidence based on credible texts and resources.
  • Include an introduction, a conclusion, and transitions.
  • Integrate other forms of media and formats, such as graphs, charts, headings, audio, or video when appropriate.
  • Descriptive detail of characters, settings, and experiences.
  • A clear structure, with a logical order and flow, thought-out word choice, and a conclusion.
  • Plans, revises, and edits writing, with guidance from teachers and peers.
  • Writes pieces that display the reading skills achieved, including analysis of text, making comparisons and claims, and developing arguments using specific evidence.
  • Uses technology and the Internet to produce and publish writing, work with others, and type a minimum of three pages in one sitting. 

Shop the best resources for sixth grade below! You can find all books and activities at  The Scholastic Store . 

Explore other grade guides: 

  • Kindergarten
  • First Grade
  • Second Grade
  • Third Grade
  • Fourth Grade  
  • Fifth Grade
  • Seventh Grade
  • Eighth Grade

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How to Improve Writing in Sixth Grade

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Written by Dan

Sixth grade is a pivotal year for students as they transition from elementary to middle school. Writing is an essential skill that students need to develop to succeed in their academic career.

However, many students struggle with writing, which can significantly impact their grades and confidence. Therefore, providing students with the necessary tools and techniques to improve their writing skills is essential.

how long are 6th grade essays

Understanding the Basics of Writing is the first step towards improving writing skills. Students must have a solid grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure foundation to express their ideas effectively.

Types of Writing in Sixth Grade vary from narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository writing. Each type of writing requires a different set of skills and techniques. Therefore, it is essential to understand the purpose and audience of each type of writing to write effectively.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the basics of writing is crucial to improving writing skills.
  • Types of Writing in Sixth Grade require different skills and techniques.
  • Incorporating technology and practical writing exercises can enhance writing skills.

Understanding the Basics of Writing

Writing is an essential skill that students must develop as they progress through middle school , and sixth grade is no exception. To become a better writer, students need to understand the basics of writing, including grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word choice.

Grammar is the foundation of good writing. It involves understanding the rules that govern the structure of sentences, such as subject-verb agreement, proper use of pronouns, and correct use of tenses.

Students can improve their grammar skills by reviewing grammar rules , practicing sentence structure, and using grammar-checking tools.

Punctuation is another critical aspect of writing. It involves using punctuation marks such as periods, commas, and semicolons to clarify meaning and create a smooth flow of ideas.

Students can improve their punctuation skills by reviewing punctuation rules, practicing punctuating sentences, and proofreading their work for errors.

Capitalization is the use of capital letters at the beginning of sentences , proper nouns, and titles. Students must understand when and where to use capital letters to convey meaning accurately.

Word choice is also essential in writing. It involves selecting the most appropriate words to convey meaning and create a clear and concise message.

To improve their writing skills, sixth-grade students need to practice writing regularly, read widely, and seek feedback from their teachers and peers. They can also use online resources such as writing prompts, grammar games , and writing communities to enhance their skills and get inspiration.

In conclusion, understanding the basics of writing is crucial for sixth-grade students to become proficient writers. By mastering grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word choice, students can create clear and effective writing that conveys their ideas accurately.

Students can improve their writing skills and succeed in middle school and beyond with practice, feedback, and dedication.

Types of Writing in Sixth Grade

how long are 6th grade essays

In sixth grade, students are introduced to various types of writing that help them develop their skills and express their thoughts and ideas effectively. The three main types of writing in sixth grade are narrative writing, descriptive writing , and persuasive writing.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing involves telling a story or recounting an event or experience. This type of writing focuses on developing characters, setting, and plot.

Students learn to use descriptive language, dialogue, and sensory details to create a vivid and engaging story. They also learn to organize their ideas and thoughts in a logical sequence.

Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is all about creating a picture in the reader’s mind. It involves using sensory details to describe a person, place, object, or event.

Students learn to use figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, to make their writing more exciting and engaging. They also learn to use precise vocabulary and sentence structures to convey their ideas effectively.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing is all about convincing the reader to agree with the writer’s point of view. Students learn to identify an argument, provide supporting evidence, and write a conclusion summarising their main points.

They also learn to use persuasive techniques, such as rhetorical questions and emotional appeals, to make their writing more convincing.

In conclusion, sixth-grade students are introduced to various types of writing that help them develop their skills and express their thoughts and ideas effectively. By mastering narrative, descriptive, and persuasive writing, students can become confident and knowledgeable writers who can communicate their ideas clearly and effectively.

Improving Writing Skills

Writing is an essential skill that students must master to succeed academically and professionally. Sixth-grade students can improve their writing skills in various ways, including enhancing their vocabulary, effective editing and revising, and utilizing feedback.

Vocabulary Enhancement

One of the most effective ways to improve writing skills is by enhancing vocabulary.

Students can expand their vocabulary by reading widely and frequently, looking up unfamiliar words, and practicing using new words in their writing. Using a thesaurus can also help students find synonyms and antonyms to replace overused or repetitive words.

Effective Editing and Revising

Editing and revising are essential components of the writing process. Students should learn to edit and revise their work to check for spelling , grammar, punctuation, and clarity.

They can use online tools such as grammar checkers and spell checkers to help them identify errors in their writing. Additionally, students can read their work aloud to identify awkward phrasing and sentence structure.

Utilizing Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the writing process, as it helps students identify areas of improvement in their writing.

Teachers, peers, and parents can provide feedback on students’ writing, highlighting strengths and suggesting areas for improvement. Students should learn to accept feedback constructively and use it to improve their writing skills.

In conclusion, improving writing skills is a process that requires practice, patience, and perseverance. Sixth-grade students can enhance their writing skills by expanding their vocabulary, effective editing and revising, and utilizing feedback.

By following these tips, students can become confident and knowledgeable writers who can express their ideas clearly and effectively.

Incorporating Technology in Writing

Incorporating technology in writing can be a great way to engage sixth-grade students and improve their writing skills. With the rise of online and at-home learning, technology has become an integral part of the education system. Here are some ways to incorporate technology in writing:

1. Use Online Writing Tools

There are many online writing tools available that can help improve writing skills. These tools can help students with grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Some popular online writing tools include Grammarly, Hemingway, and ProWritingAid. These tools can help students identify their weaknesses and improve their writing skills.

2. Utilize Writing Apps

Writing apps can be a great way to encourage students to write more. Apps like Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Evernote can help students write and edit their work. These apps also allow students to collaborate with their peers and receive feedback on their writing.

3. Create Digital Portfolios

Digital portfolios can be a great way to showcase students’ writing skills. Students can create digital portfolios using platforms like Google Sites or WordPress.

These portfolios can include written work, images, and videos. Digital portfolios can help students reflect on their writing skills and track their progress over time.

Incorporating technology in writing can be a great way to engage sixth-grade students and improve their writing skills.

With the rise of online and at-home learning, technology has become an integral part of the education system. Students can improve their writing skills and become confident writers by using online writing tools, writing apps, and creating digital portfolios.

Practical Writing Exercises

Improving writing skills in sixth grade can be challenging, but students can make significant progress with the right tools and exercises. Here are some practical writing exercises that can help sixth-graders improve their writing skills.

Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be an excellent way to help sixth-graders develop their writing skills. Teachers can provide prompts that encourage students to think creatively and critically.

These prompts can be in the form of questions, statements, or scenarios. Students can respond to these prompts in various formats, including essays, narratives, and persuasive writing.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are crucial to effective writing. Sixth-graders can learn how to organize their writing by using graphic organizers, such as mind maps, flowcharts, and diagrams. These tools can help students to structure their writing and develop their ideas logically.

Outlining is another effective way to organize writing. Sixth-graders can benefit from learning how to create an outline before starting their writing. An outline can help students to organize their thoughts, develop their ideas, and create a structure for their writing.

Specific Details

Including specific details is essential to effective writing. Sixth-graders can learn how to include specific details by practicing descriptive writing. Teachers can provide prompts that encourage students to use their senses to describe a person, place, or thing.

Discipline is critical to effective writing. Sixth-graders can learn to be disciplined writers by setting goals, creating schedules, and sticking to deadlines. Teachers can help students to develop discipline by providing clear expectations and holding them accountable for their work.

Collaboration and Group Discussions

Collaboration and group discussions can be effective ways to improve writing skills. Sixth-graders can benefit from working with their peers to share ideas, provide feedback, and revise their writing. Teachers can facilitate these discussions by providing prompts, guiding, and feedback.

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About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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How to Write A 6th Grade Level Essay

Your child has started sixth grade, which may be the start of middle school for them. This is an exciting time for a lot of reasons, but they are also learning how to write much more sophisticated and interesting essays. This is also true for the writing prompts they are seeing. The prompts can be creative, informative, expository, persuasive, or a combination of the categories they’ve seen up until now. They will have to understand what kind of essay to write based on the prompt itself and how to answer it.

Here are examples of writing prompts they may see:

5th grade writting prompt

  • Write a short story about your favorite fictional character. This prompt can have a narrative or creative response, or both at the same time. The response should make sense for that character, for example, if they are writing about their favorite character that is a regular cat, having that cat fly to the moon wouldn’t be a good response.
  • What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you? This would be a good prompt for a narrative essay. Your child will have to give a lot of detail relating to what they saw, felt, heard, and did in a logical order. It doesn’t have to be a chronological story; by this point, they may be able to creatively tweak the timing of things to make it more interesting. For example, they may start their story with, “Waking up that morning, I had no idea that my day would end up so strange.” They are writing from the perspective of already experiencing the events, so this is appropriate.
  • Write a poem about your grandparents. This is a creative prompt that can be a lot of fun for your child. They should have been introduced to similes, metaphors, and other literary devices and they should use those when they can in their creative responses. Writing a poem gives them a chance to exercise these new skills and allows them to explore more emotions without having to worry about narrative structures.

If your child is struggling with their writing, it may be helpful to enroll them in Reading Genie. The program at Reading Genie is designed to help students not only catch up, but get ahead in their writing skills. They are given fun and engaging prompts that the teachers can help them with, and they get the practice they need.

It can also be helpful for you to do the writing prompts with your child. Even if you both don’t write anything, talking about these kinds of ideas or questions is a great way to help your child get their creative juices flowing, and they can apply those ideas to writing prompts later. It can be a lot of fun, too!

Check out the top-rated writing tutoring program in New Jersey . Held at our New Jersey tutoring centers , our middle school writing program is specifically designed to meet state standards and help prepare students for standardized testing. Learn more about our writing classes in East Brunswick , writing classes in Hillsborough , writing classes in Marlboro , writing classes in South Brunswick , writing classes in Plainsboro , and writing classes in South Plainfield .  


Topics: Essay , Writing Skills , paragraph writing , Sixth Grade , Writing Prompt

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Grade 6 Writing

Discover grade 6 writing standards.

how long are 6th grade essays

Sixth-grade writing is all about demonstrating complexity in original work. Learners at this grade level are expected to continue developing their English language arts skills to better articulate their thoughts effectively and showcase the writing skills they’ve acquired during their time in elementary school. In Grade 6, you child should write stronger arguments, more engaging stories, and present factual information with ease.

Similar to the lower grade levels, your child will continue to develop a strong understanding of the relationship between reading and writing, as they will now have to start analyzing information to determine the main points of a text in order to inform their writing.

Grade 6 Writing Goals:

  • I can write clear arguments and provide evidence to support my claims
  • I can maintain a formal or informal tone throughout my writing
  • I can write strong conclusions and story endings
  • I can use linking words and phrases to connect ideas and paragraphs
  • I can research and include facts in my reports
  • I can use dialogue and vary the pace in my narratives
  • I can use technology to produce and publish my writing
  • I can clearly write in different styles and text types
  • I can write with stamina for a sustained period of time

Grade 6 students will predominantly focus on three key writing approaches:

Opinion Writing

Informative writing, narrative writing.

The advice below will set up your child for sixth-grade writing success!

Argument and opinion writing are very important writing skills, as they allow learners to effectively voice their opinion and share different perspectives on the same piece. Once they master these skills, they’ll be able to state a clear point of view and support it with reason and evidence.

Arguments should be written in a formal style. Understanding the difference between formal and informal writing, and when each should be used is a skill children will learn in sixth grade.

Being able to use linking words is an important skill your child should have at this grade level. These words are the glue that stick claims and reasons, sentences and paragraphs, together. By sixth grade, children are expected to use a variety of linking words effectively when writing arguments.

Here are a few for you to practice with your children:

  • consequently, as a result, therefore, henceforth, moreover,
  • furthermore, similarly, additionally, equally, likewise,
  • nevertheless, even so, regardless, in contrast, despite, finally, immediately

When a child has crafted their argument by clearly stating their position, giving reasons, adding supporting details, and using linking words, they need to write a concluding statement. A concluding statement should wrap up the argument. It could summarize the main points from their argument, or rephrase their position, and it should end on a positive note.

Practice Tip

You can encourage your child to work on understanding the differences between formal and informal language by comparing two different texts and discussing their similarities and differences.

When writing informative texts, there are a variety of different strategies that children can use depending on the topic and purpose. Using definitions and cause/effect are examples of these.

Here are some top tips on how to plan an informative piece of writing:

  • Identify the main topic of the piece.
  • Create a list or discuss important points to mention.
  • Organize the points discussed by order of importance.
  • Offer a factual and neutral point of view - offering statistics if needed. Topics should be developed with facts, definitions, details, and quotations.
  • Be precise and clear on the points made. Use a variety of linking words to clarify the relationship between ideas and to help transition between sentences and paragraphs.

Informative writing pieces should be closed with a concluding section that summarizes the main points and leaves the reader thinking about the topic. This conclusion should offer recommendations on further reading for the audience, or leave the reader with questions relating to the future of the topic.

Work on informative writing by asking your child to write a weekly grocery shopping list, asking them to name all of the essential items which are used on a regular basis. Looking for more? Our reading & writing program for kids offers lots of lessons on how to incorporate factual information into a piece of informative writing!

Informative writing lesson series on

Technique, description, and a well-sequenced plot are all expected features of sixth grade level narratives. When working on narrative writing, some aspects to focus on include a clear focus on the topic, good descriptions of characters , settings and other imagery relevant to the narrative. Narratives may also include techniques such as dialogue.

These narrative techniques are very useful, as they allow the plot to move forward and help to develop well-rounded characters.

Young writers should utilize figurative language (including similes, metaphors, and personification) and a wide vocabulary to include precise words and phrases in their short stories. Narrative writing relies heavily on providing a high level of detail with the aim to allow the reader to clearly visualize the actions, characters and settings present in the story. For example, adverbials of time and place are linking words we often use to sequence paragraphs. They show shifts in time and place that help readers follow the sequence of a narrative.

Concluding a piece of narrative writing may sometimes be challenging, as there are many techniques to choose from. We really encourage writers to try out different endings to their narrative pieces, including cliffhangers, unexpected plot twists or a classic happy ending!

The narrative lesson series on our program is a great way to help your young writer to explore narrative techniques such as pacing, description, and dialogue to move the plot forward and develop characters and events.

Narrative lesson series on

How Night Zookeeper can help

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Night Zookeeper is a language arts program created to support sixth grade students as they prepare for middle school. Our gamified approach to teaching writing puts an educational twist on video games to help students to stay focused, engaged and entertained as they learn!

Our program hosts a wealth of award-winning sixth-grade writing content, including challenges, writing assignments, interactive lesson series, creative writing prompts, printable resources, and much more!

With the regular feedback provided by our tutors to children, our program helps learners to develop good habits in regards to drafting and redrafting their writing.

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How to Write a Literary Essay in 6th Grade

Writing a literary essay in the sixth grade is a fairly straightforward process that should take only a few hours to complete. In middle school, students traditionally use the five-paragraph essay format, which is organized as follows: an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. The essay should normally be between one and two pages in length.

Write the introduction paragraph. The introduction should include a thesis statement of the main idea of the essay and should give a few details supporting the thesis. The last sentence of the introduction should provide a transition into the body paragraphs.

Write the body paragraphs of the essay. The first paragraph should contain the most important point that you plan to make about the literary work and should give details to support the claim. The second paragraph should contain the second strongest argument and the third paragraph should contain the third strongest argument, each followed by supporting details. The first sentence of each paragraph should play off the last sentence of the previous paragraph to give a smooth transition.

Write the conclusion paragraph. The conclusion should be written in a similar style to the introduction to give the reader the sense that the argument is concluding. It should include the thesis restated in a different way and a brief summary of the three main points made in the body paragraphs. The last sentence should be persuasive to the main point and should indicate that the essay is coming to an end.

Common Core State Standards Initiative

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Introduction for 6-12

The following standards for grades 6-12 offer a focus for instruction each year to help ensure that students gain adequate mastery of a range of skills and applications. Each year in their writing, students should demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use, from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas, and they should address increasingly demanding content and sources. Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-specific standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades. The expected growth in student writing ability is reflected both in the standards themselves and in the collection of annotated student writing samples in Appendix C.

  • Key Design Consideration
  • Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, & Language
  • How to Read the Standards
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language
  • Introduction for K-5
  • Kindergarten
  • Introduction for 6-12
  • Grade 11-12
  • Introduction
  • Language Progressive Skills
  • Measuring Text Complexity: Three Factors
  • Range of Text Types for K-5
  • Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading K-5
  • Staying on Topic Within a Grade & Across Grades
  • Range of Text Types for 6-12
  • Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, & Range of Student Reading 6-12
  • English Language Arts Appendix A
  • English Language Arts Appendix B
  • English Language Arts Appendix C

50 Engaging 6th Grade Writing Prompts for Thoughtful Essays

Sixth grade marks a big transition in students’ lives. They’re no longer little kids, but they’re not quite teens either–that’s what middle school is all about. To help your students bridge this transition with ease, it’s important to give them plenty of opportunities to practice their writing skills since they’ll be doing a lot of writing in high school and beyond.

Over and above that, writing can be the perfect way for kids to express themselves and explore the world around them. That will only happen if you give them the space to do so, though, so here are 50 engaging 6th-grade writing prompts to help your students get their creative juices flowing.

Narrative Writing Prompts

notepad and pen image

Narrative writing revolves around telling a story with a plot that has rising action, a climax, and a resolution. These narrative writing prompts will give your 6th-grade students plenty to think about–and write about.

Story Starters

teenage girl writing and using a laptop

Students will often struggle with where to start their stories. These story starters will help them get past that initial hurdle by giving them some ideas to get their narratives going.

1. I had the biggest fight with my best friend yesterday. It all started when…

2. My first trip to the beach wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be…

3. I’ll never forget the time when I was lost in the city. It was…

4. I had the biggest surprise of my life when…

5. My family went on the craziest road trip last summer. We started out by…

As you guide your students through their writing journey, make sure to encourage them to be creative and have fun with it – but still have them include the essential elements of a story, like rising action, a climax, and a resolution, so that their stories are well-rounded and engaging.

Personal Narrative Prompts

boy giving gift to a girl classmate

Personal narratives are all about giving students the opportunity to tell their own stories in descriptive ways. Here are writing prompts to get them started.

6. What’s the best (or worst) birthday you’ve ever had? Why was it so great (or terrible)?

7. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? What made you do it?

8. Think about your future self–where do you see yourself in 1 year? Write about it.

9. Think about the best day you’ve ever had. What made it so special?

10. Describe a time when the weather was really extreme. Describe it.

Reflective Writing Prompts

girl thinking of bright ideas

Reflective writing is a lot like journaling–it gives students the opportunity to process their thoughts and feelings on a given topic. These reflective writing prompts/journal prompts will encourage thoughtful reflection in your students while giving them some fun.

11. Make a list of your favorite things about yourself.

12. Take a walk in nature and describe what you see. What emotions does it evoke in you?

13. Describe your sports or extracurricular activities. What have you learned from them all?

14. Make a list of all the emotions you experience throughout the day.

15. Make a record of your daily objectives. Consider which one was the most simple to accomplish.

Journal prompts are usually effective because they make you think about a certain topic in a different, more introspective way, and so students should be encouraged to approach these writing prompts with open minds and hearts.

Informational Writing Prompts

students writing essays in school class

Informational writing is an essential skill for middle-schoolers, especially as they head into high school and college, where they’ll be expected to write long-form essays rather than fiction. These informational writing prompts will give your students plenty of practice with this type of writing.

Expository Prompts

two students talking and laughing

Expository writing is a type of nonfiction writing that requires students to investigate an idea, assess evidence, expand on the idea, and present an argument concerning that idea in a clear and concise manner. These prompts will help your students hone their expository writing skills.

16. Compare and contrast two of your friends.

17. Choose a challenge at your school. What’s the ideal solution for it?

18. Discuss a problem in a movie you enjoy. What was the outcome of the situation?

19. What was the cause of a recent argument you had? What was the effect?

20. Find an interesting story/narrative in your local newspaper and tell it in your own words.

Research Prompts

students writing in front of a laptop

Next, research writing prompts will help students practice their research skills by investigating a given topic and finding credible sources to support their claims. These research writing prompts will allow your students to conduct investigative research and write about what they’ve found in detail.

21. How long can fish survive without water?

22. What animals are on the verge of extinction?

23. What’s the history of your favorite sport, and how did it develop?

24. What are people’s civil rights, and who has fought for them?

25. Explore your dream career. What skills would you need to succeed in it?

This may be a good time to introduce your students they could use to reference their information and give credit where it’s due. Inform them that not all sources are created equal, and brainstorm some tips for evaluating the credibility of a website.

Procedural Prompts

girl studying at home with headphone and laptop

As their name suggests, procedural writing prompts provide students with the opportunity to write clear and concise instructions on a given topic. These prompts will help your sixth graders learn the essentials of procedural writing.

26. Make a user guide for anything you use frequently (e.g., your computer, smartphone, video game console).

27. Write a set of instructions for cleaning your room.

28. Teach a younger reader how to do homework without wasting time.

29. What’s the quickest way for you to go to the library if you’re in your classroom now?

30. Describe the steps involved in tying a shoe.

Argument Writing Prompts

students writing classroom activity

The next type of writing prompt is argument writing. Argumentative writing is a type of nonfiction writing that requires students to investigate a topic, collect evidence, and assess their findings to defend a point of view while also considering the perspectives of others.

These argumentative writing prompts will give your young writers practice with this type of persuasive writing.

Argumentative Essay Prompts

teacher helping students in class

The most common type of essay prompt on standardized tests is the argumentative essay question since it’s intellectually challenging. In these questions, students will be given a prompt and they’ll be asked to take a position on an issue or topic.

They’ll then need to provide satisfactory evidence from their research to support their position. Here are some prompts to get them started.

31. Should school uniforms be required in all schools?

32. Is it ever okay to break the law?

33. Do you think people should be required to vote? Why or why not?

34. Is Monday through Friday the best school schedule?

35. Is it important to learn science?

Persuasive Prompts

teacher and students in a class discussion

Emotional appeals can be a powerful tool in persuasive writing. In these prompts, students will need to use their powers of persuasion and other rhetorical strategies to convince their readers to see their point of view. Here are persuasive prompts to put your students’ powers of persuasion to the test.

36. Make a case for or against year-round schooling.

37. Should there be a limit on the amount of homework students can receive?

38. Persuade your parents to let you choose your own bedtime.

39. What’s the best way to deal with bullies in schools?

40. Who’s the greatest sports athlete of all time?

Poetry Prompts

poetry text word image

Poetry prompts are a great way to get your students to write creatively. These prompts will help your students tap into their imaginations and write poems that are both beautiful and moving. Whether in free verse or strict meter, your students will be sure to impress you with their poetic prowess.

41. Write about how you’re feeling right now in a  haiku .

42. Create a poem in memory of a book, TV, or film character who has died.

43. Choose an onomatopoeia and use it five times in a poem.

44. Consider a metaphor for the current school year and create a poem about it.

45. Write a friendship poem in which every line includes a  rhyme for “friend.”

Creative Writing Prompts

student with notebook and laptop picture

Last but not least, creative writing is all about using imagination to create a piece of writing that’s unlike anything else. This creative writing prompts will help your students tap into their imaginations and write some truly unique pieces revolving around self-expression.

46. If I could have any superpower, it would be…

47. Write about a day in the life of your favorite cartoon character.

48. If you could be a historical figure for a day, who would you choose to be?

49. Write a family story from the perspective of your pet.

50. Invent a new holiday and describe how it’s celebrated.

Jump In : Better prepare your 6th graders for this activity by improving their reading comprehension first! Proceed to read my list of fun comprehension exercises here —  11 Fun 6th Grade Reading Comprehension Activities (& Games) .

Dust Off Those Pencils and Get Ready to Write! 

While many students lose motivation as their first middle school year goes on, these 50 6th grade writing prompts will help keep them excited about writing all year long. With tons of different genres and modes of writing to choose from, there’s something here for everyone! So get those pencils sharpened and those minds thinking—it’s time to start writing!

Last Updated on July 24, 2022 by Emily

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how long are 6th grade essays

When I look back to my first experience teaching five paragraph essays to fifth graders, I can remember how terribly unprepared I felt.

I knew that the five paragraph essay format was what my students needed to help them pass our state’s writing assessment but I had no idea where to start.

I researched the few grade-appropriate essays I could find online (these were the days before Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers) and determined that there was a structure to follow.

Every essay followed the same basic structure. I taught the structure to my students and they did well.

I have been teaching five paragraph essay structure and everything that goes with it for several years now. I hope that after you read this blog post, you will have a good understanding of how to teach and grade five paragraph essays.

Once you’ve learned all about teaching basic essay structure, you’ll be ready to grow your writers from “blah” to brilliant! 

Teaching five paragraph essays is just one part of teaching 5th grade writing. Click here to find out exactly how I teach writing to my 5th graders! 

Five paragraph essays - Start with simple paragraphs!

Start with Simple Paragraphs

We always start with simple paragraphs.

Yes, this is basic, but if your students cannot write excellent paragraphs, their five paragraph essays will be train wrecks. Trust me!

We spend a while cementing paragraph structure:

Topic Sentence

Closing Sentence

I give students topics, they come up with their own topics, we write together, they write with a partner or independently, the more variety, the better.

We have fun with simple paragraphs. Then, it’s time to move on to body paragraphs.

Five paragraph essays - organize and write body paragraphs

Organize and Write Body Paragraphs

Please refer to my five paragraph essay organizer below.

The three body paragraphs are absolutely crucial to the success of the five paragraph essay.

Some teachers have trouble teaching the structure of five paragraph essays because they start with the introduction paragraph.

Always teach the body paragraphs first!

how long are 6th grade essays

I had a teacher say to me once, “What’s the point of just writing parts of the essay? They need to write the entire five paragraphs to get all of the practice they need.”

I understand that point. However, think of it as building a house. Should you test out the foundation and make sure it’s sound and sturdy before building on top of it? Absolutely! That’s what we’re doing here.

The three body paragraphs are the foundation of the essay.

Ask students to write out their three body paragraphs just like they have practiced…Topic sentence…Detail 1…Detail 2…Detail 3…Closing Sentence.

I “ooooh and aaaah” over their three paragraphs. Students are on their way to five paragraph essays, so be sure to build their confidence.

Five paragraph essays - introduction paragraphs

Teach the Introduction Paragraph

I have to say, this is my favorite paragraph to teach. The introduction paragraph is what draws readers into the essay and makes them want to read more.

We start with what I call a “hook.” The hook captures the readers’ attention and can come in many forms: asking a question, making a bold statement, sharing a memory, etc.

After the hook, I ask students to add a sentence or two of applicable commentary about the hook or about the prompt in general.

Finally, we add the thesis sentence. The thesis sentence always follows the same formula: Restate the prompt, topic 1, topic 2, and topic 3.

That’s all you need to write an excellent introduction paragraph!

I do suggest having students write the introduction paragraph plus body paragraphs a couple of times before teaching the closing paragraph.

Five paragraph essays - teach the closing paragraph

Teach the Closing Paragraph

In the conclusion paragraph, we mainly focus on restating the thesis and including an engaging closing thought.

With my students, I use the analogy of a gift.

The introduction paragraph and body paragraphs are the gift and the conclusion paragraph is the ribbon that ties everything together and finishes the package.

When you talk about restating the thesis sentence, tell students that they need to make it sound different enough from their original thesis sentence to save their readers from boredom.

Who wants to read the same thing twice? No one!

Students can change up the format and wording a bit to make it fresh.

I enjoy teaching the closing thought because it’s so open to however students want to create it.

Ways to write the closing thought: ask a question, personal statement, call to action, or even a quote. 

I especially like reading the essays in which a quote is used as a closing thought or a powerful statement is used.

Example of a Five paragraph essays

Example of a full five paragraph essay

how long are 6th grade essays

Let’s Talk About Color-Coding!

Who doesn’t like to color? This is coloring with a purpose!

Training your students to color-code their paragraphs and essays will make grading so much easier and will provide reminders and reinforcements for students.

When students color-code their writing, they must think about the parts of their paragraphs, like topic sentences, details, and the closing sentence.

They will be able to see if they are missing something or if they’ve written something out of order.

Color-coding is a wonderful help for the teacher because you can skim to ensure that all parts of your students’ paragraphs and essays are present.

Also, when you are grading, you can quickly scan the paragraphs and essays. Trust me, you will develop a quick essay-grading ability.

I start color-coding with my students at the very beginning when they are working on simple paragraphs. I add the additional elements of the color-code as we progress through our five paragraph essays.

This is the code that I use:

how long are 6th grade essays

Let’s Talk About Grading Five Paragraph Essays!

Imagine a lonely, stressed teacher grading five paragraph essays on the couch while her husband is working the night shift.

That was me!

Seriously, guys, I would spend about ten minutes per essay. I marked every little error, I made notes for improvement and notes of encouragement. I reworked their incorrect structure.

Those papers were full of marks.

On Monday, I proudly brought back the essays and asked students to look over them and learn what they needed to fix for next time.

You can guess what happened… there were lots of graded essays in the trashcan at the end of the day.

Make grading five paragraph essays easier!

I decided that my grading practices had to change. I needed my weekends back and my students needed to find their own errors!

This is my best advice:

STOP correcting every error!

Your students are not benefiting from marks all over their writing. They need to find those errors themselves so that they will remember their mistakes and change their writing habits.

Do a quick scan of each student’s writing as soon as it’s turned in to you.

If there are major problems with a student’s writing, call him/her over individually and show him/her what needs to be fixed or put the student with a competent peer editor who will help them fix mistakes.

If you have several students who are struggling with a skill, like closing sentences, do a mini-lesson on this topic.

You can do a mini-lesson with a small group. However, I prefer doing mini-lessons with the entire class. The kids who need help will get it and the rest of your class will receive a refresher.

It’s OK if there are some small spelling/grammar mistakes!

If the errors are few and they don’t take away from the meaning/flow of the essay, I don’t worry about them.

Our students are still learning.

Even your brightest star writer will have a few spelling/grammar mistakes from time to time.

Don’t discourage students from writing because of small errors.

Students who receive papers back with markings all over them don’t think, “Oh boy, my teacher has made it so easy for me to make all of these corrections.” They are thinking, “What’s the point in writing? I must be a terrible writer. Look at all of these mistakes.”

If your students are taking a standardized writing assessment, the structure and flow of their essays will be worth much more than perfect spelling.

Need more help?

I created this five paragraph essay instructional unit for teachers who are new to teaching five paragraph essays OR just need all of the materials in one place.

“Teacher Talk” pages will guide you through the unit and this unit contains all materials needed to help students plan, organize, and write amazing five paragraph essays! Click here to check it out:

how long are 6th grade essays

I have a freebie for you! Enter your first name and email address below. You’ll receive three original prompts with five paragraph essay organizers AND two lined final draft pages!

Once your students are good essay writers…

These task cards will help your students stay sharp on their five paragraph essay knowledge. Students will review hooks (attention-getters), thesis sentences, body paragraphs, topic sentences, closings, and more. Each card contains a unique writing example!

I suggest using these task cards as a quiz/test, scoot game, individual review, or cooperative group activity.

Click on the image to view these task cards:

how long are 6th grade essays

To save this post for later, simply pin this image to your teacher Pinterest board!


Wow! I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve always stressed over the thought of teaching writing, but your blog makes me think I can do it successfully. Putting your writing packet on my TPT wish list!

Thank you, Shannon! I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I am so glad that my blog post was helpful to you!

Thanks for the tips! When I taught 6th grade I taught this same subject matter, but struggled to get started. I wish I had this then!

I appreciate your comment! Teaching was much different before Pinterest, wasn’t it?!?

This helped me so much!🙂 thanks a lot, I imagined being one student of yours. I’d be so smart and good at essays! Would’ve been so much easier in person❤️❤️❤️

Thank you so much, Aizlyn!

Thank you so much for this! May I ask where I can see the rubric for scoring the compositions?

You are so welcome! Click on the resource link. Then, you will see the rubric in the preview!

Thank you so much,I am a parent and this really helped me be clear how to guide my son. God bless you always.,

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

you are welcome!!!

This looks great! Looking forward to using your tips and freebies with my 6th graders. 🙂 THANK YOU.

You are so welcome! Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

Can’t wait to use this with my class tomorrow! Thanks a bunch for sharing!!

You are so welcome, Amy!

Thank you for making it easy to teach an essay with clarity.

You are very welcome, Yamuna! Thanks for taking the time to leave feedback 🙂

I am so happy I discovered your blog. I just started teaching grade 5 in September I have been searching for a simple method to hel me in guiding them in writing. I will be putting your method into practice in the coming week.

That’s wonderful, Cherry! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Welcome to fifth grade 🙂

Beautiful lesson well explained! Thank you so very much .

Thank you so much, Cheryl!

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How Long Is an Essay? The Ultimate Essay Length Guide

It’s safe to say that most students struggle with the word limit within an essay. Sometimes, it’s hard to find ideas for a text and meet the word requirement for every part of the paper. With so many factors influencing essay length, it’s easy to get confused.

Our specialists will write a custom essay specially for you!

The picture enumerates the factors influencing essay length.

Luckily, our custom-writing team has your back. In this article, our custom-writing experts will answer all your questions regarding essay length. We will also help you write papers with an ideal number of words!

📜 Is Essay Length Important?

📏 essay parts: recommended length.

  • 🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer
  • 📑 Essay Length & Formatting
  • ❓ Different Academic Levels FAQ
  • 📚 Essay Length: Different Types
  • ⭐ Other Aspects
  • 📝 Essay Examples

🔍 References

Often, the phrase “word limit” causes panic among students. After all, if an essay is too long or too short, your grade will be lowered. However, in reality, there’s nothing to worry about. When it comes to words, limitations are beneficial for both the students and the professors.

Let’s see what exactly it means.

Many people believe that the longer an essay is, the better. However, according to Frontiers, research shows that it’s a bias that couldn’t be further from the truth. A perfect-length paper is one that allows students to express their ideas and showcase their knowledge fully while keeping it clean and simple.

What Influences Essay Length

Various factors determine the length of an essay. Here are the most important ones:

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Let’s start with the essentials. Usually, assignment length is given as a number of words rather than pages. Unless your supervisor or instructor mentions any specific limitations, it’s acceptable to be 10% below or above the word limit.

It’s also worth knowing the 80/20 rule . According to it, the body should constitute 80% of the text, while the intro and the conclusion take up the remaining 20%.

Keep reading to learn more about the recommended length of each essay part. The main numbers are shown in the table below:

How Long Should an Introduction Be?

An introduction is the first section and the face of your essay. For that reason, it needs to be compelling and well-thought-out. Usually, it consists of 3 to 5 sentences or 50 to 80 words .

An introduction must have a hook, some background information, and a thesis statement. While the attention grabber and the thesis are usually brief, you may need 2 to 3 sentences for the background. To avoid going overboard, try to stay on topic and don’t add any filler.

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How Long Is a Body Paragraph in an Essay?

The length of a body paragraph may vary. Sometimes, it can be limited to a single sentence. In other cases, it may take up a whole page. Usually, it’s recommended to have between 80 and 200 words (5-8 sentences) per body paragraph.

Since the paper’s body contains the most information, it’s necessary to explain and support your ideas properly. That’s why it’s no big deal if your body paragraphs go slightly over the word limit.

How Many Body Paragraphs Should Be in an Essay?

Like the word count, the number of paragraphs is determined by the type of paper and its topic. The minimum is 1. Generally, however, the body consists of 3-5 paragraphs , 1 for each argument.

To improve your paper’s structure, ensure that there are as many paragraphs as there are points in your thesis statement. Each one should have a purpose and support your arguments. If there’s any fluff, it’s better to get rid of it.

How Long Should a Conclusion Be?

Like the introduction, the conclusion consists of 50-80 words . It’s essential to keep it simple and only mention the central ideas. A weak concluding sentence may affect the reader’s understanding of the topic and spoil the overall impression of your paper.

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🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer: Best Tips

Undoubtedly the essay’s content is more important than the number of words you use. But there are times when students go more than 10-15% below or over the limit. Is there a solution to this problem?

Yes, there is! In this section, we will share the most useful tips to help you stay on point with your paper’s word count.

How to Make Essays Longer

Since having enough words is essential for a good grade, we’ve collected the best tips that can help you lengthen your essay without teachers noticing:

  • Use relevant quotations.  You don’t need to litter your essay with citations, but using them whenever appropriate is a great idea. For instance, if you’re working on a book analysis, referencing a couple of direct quotes from the source text will make your essay more credible and increase the word count.
  • Give examples.  Go through the claims in your paper and provide additional evidence where possible. It will make your essay longer and more informative.
  • Use transitional expressions.  Adding transition words and phrases is a natural way of increasing the number of words. It will also improve your essay’s readability. 
  • Add more references.  Providing references is always a good idea when writing a formal essay. That way, you will increase the number of words and make your paper more credible.
  • Work on your descriptions.  If you struggle to develop new ideas, go over what you’ve already written and consider adding some descriptive words. It’s a great idea for creative essays to include more imagery. 

How to Shorten an Essay

Another struggle of academic writing is cutting down the number of words in your essay to meet a set limit. We are here to tell you that it’s not that hard. Writing straightforwardly and keeping your sentences short is a key to concise content. Here are several strategies you may use to tighten a lengthy essay:

  • Choose the active voice.  It takes up less space than passive voice. Using it also makes your writing more professional and compelling.
  • Remove needless transitions.  Transitions can indeed maintain the flow of the paper. But some transitional phrases can be easily removed.
  • Get rid of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.  Some students tend to overuse adjectives and adverbs. It adds wordiness to their writing.
  • Avoid running starts.  Some students like to start their sentences with long phrases like: “there are,” “it is believed,” or “the fact that.” Getting rid of them makes texts much more concise.
  • Delete “that.”  In most cases, the word “that” can often be easily removed from texts.

Another cool trick is to use our summarizing tool as essay shortener. Try it out!

📑 How Long Is an Essay Depending on Formatting?

As we mentioned earlier, the essay’s length is usually limited by the number of words. But sometimes, a teacher may ask you to write a specific number of pages. This is trickier because the amount of text you can place on the page depends on the formatting. By using the font size and spacing properly, it’s possible to make the paper visually longer or shorter. Let’s discuss it in more detail.

The picture describes how formatting affects essay length.

Essay Spacing: How Does It Affect the Length?

  • Adjusting the spacing between lines.  Try to make the changes as slight as possible. For instance, if you were asked to double-space the paper, use 2.1 or 2.2 spacing instead. Another option is to slightly extend spaces between paragraphs.
  • Extending the margin size.  You can increase the right and bottom margins by a quarter to make very subtle changes in length. For example, if the margins are 1 inch , you can set them at 1.25 inches instead. 
  • Increasing the spacing between characters.  It is less noticeable than the line spacing. Still, try not to overdo it and keep the numbers between 1.2 and 1.5 . 
  • Adjusting the footer.  Add a footer with page numbers to stretch the bottom margin even further.
  • Lengthening the header.  You can extend your header by adding your name, e-mail address, or other relevant information. Another option is double-spacing it.

Length of an Essay: Font and Size

  • Using the right type of font.  If your instructor didn’t specify which font you should use, go for the bigger ones. We suggest Arial, Bangla Sangam MN, Cambria, or Quicksand. They will make your text look longer without being too on the nose.  
  • Using a bigger font size.  This is another technique that can come in handy. However, be careful and don’t increase your font by more than 0.1-0.5 pt.  
  • Increasing the size of periods and commas.   This is one of the less noticeable tricks you can use. For instance, if your paper’s font is 12 pt. , increase it to 14 pt. only for punctuation marks. Italicizing periods and commas will also add several lines of length to your essay. 

What to Do if There Are No Length Guidelines

Sometimes a teacher sets no word limit for a written work. What to do in that case? Well, first, you can ask your professor to confirm if they have simply forgotten to mention it. But if that’s not the case, here are a couple of helpful solutions:

  • Think of the paragraph number.  Sometimes, you may be given the number of paragraphs instead of words. In that case, you can decide on the number of words depending on how many paragraphs you have. 
  • Think about the topic’s complexity.  The length of your paper is also directly dependent on the theme. If the topic is simple, 4-5 paragraphs will be enough. A more complex issue may require an in-depth explanation, so your essay can be 6-8 paragraphs long.

❓ Essay Length for Different Academic Levels FAQ

The length of the elementary school essay is usually short. Usually, a paper needs to have around 3-5 paragraphs, with 4-5 sentences per paragraph. Primary school essays can be 1-2 paragraphs long.

The word limit for a middle school essay is usually between 300 to 1000 words. The most common essay length is 500 words, which is about 5 paragraphs. However, it may differ from school to school.

The length of the high school essay may differ depending on the school and the complexity of the task itself. Usually, however, a paper can be between 300 to 1000 words long.

The length of the undergraduate college essay often falls within the range of 1500 to 2100 words. It translates into roughly 5-7 pages. 5 pages is the most common essay length at this level.

When it comes to the graduate school admission essay, the word limit is usually between 500 and 1000 words. It’s possible to go slightly over or below the set limit; however, it’s best to stick to the requirements as close as possible.

📚 How Long Should an Essay Be: Different Types

Now, let’s talk about different types of essays. How long should they be? Keep reading to learn about the length of college essays, short and extended ones, scholarship essays, and research papers.

How Long Is a College Essay?

When it comes to a college essay, it’s more important to stick to the word limit than with any other paper. Some teachers may refuse to read it unless it meets all the requirements.

The shortest limit for a college essay is about 250 words which is the shortest length of a Common App personal statement. It’s also rare to see a good college essay with over 650 words . So, an average piece usually has between 150 and 650 words ; you can go over or below the limit by 50.

How Long Is a Paragraph in College Essays?

A college essay usually consists of 4-5 paragraphs . One paragraph takes about 1/3 of the page, which is roughly 5 sentences . Each sentence corresponds with one of the following components:

  • Topic sentence.
  • Explanation.
  • Transitions.

College Essay Length Requirements: Top 5 Schools

To understand the requirements for a college application essay even better, take a look at the table below. It showcases the top 5 schools and their length criteria for personal statements. Keep it in mind when writing your college essay:

How Long Is a Short Essay?

A short essay is usually 500 words long. Using 12pt Times New Roman font with standard margins and double spacing should result in about 2 pages of text.

Extended Essay Length

An extended essay is different from a short or a standard one. It requires extensive research and thorough explanation. That’s why the upper limit for this kind of essay is 4000 words . In this case, a typical essay length is 3500 words or 18 paragraphs .

Scholarship Essay Length

Generally, scholarship papers have a limit of 500 words , which is 1 page in length. Most scholarship programs provide additional requirements that indicate the minimum number of words or pages. If there are no set limitations, you can stick to the limit.

How Long Is a Research Paper?

Typically, a research paper is between 4000 and 6000 words long. Sometimes, there are shorter papers, which have around 2000 words, or in-depth ones with over 10000 words.

⭐ Other Aspects of Essay Length

When it comes to essay length, many different aspects come into play. Here, we’ve gathered all the essential information regarding an essay’s number of pages, paragraphs, words, and references.

How Many Paragraphs Are in an Essay?

Sometimes, it is more convenient to count paragraphs rather than words. Let’s now figure out how many paragraphs are in essays of different lengths. You may also check out the examples to see what such an essay looks like:

How to Count Paragraphs in an Essay Based on Word Count

You can also count the number of body paragraphs for your essay using the formula below:

Number of body paragraphs (average) = (TWC – TWC*0.16)/100

  • TWC – total word count
  • 0.16 – an average percentage of total word count for introduction and conclusion
  • 100 – an average number of words per paragraph

How Many Pages Are in an Essay?

The number of pages in your essay may vary from subject to subject. But it’s still possible to determine the number of pages based on word count. Check out the numbers below to see the conversions with bonus examples:

You can also use a specialized calculator such as Word Counter to determine a number of pages in your essay.

What Does an Essay Look Like when Typed?

You might be wondering: what do essays of different lengths look like when typed? Well, here’s the table where you can find out the metrics for single- and double-spaced papers.

How Many Pages Are in a Handwritten Essay?

In case you need to turn in a handwritten paper, you should check out the table below.

Counting Words in a Handwritten Essay

If you don’t have enough time to count the words in your handwritten essay one by one, here’s what you can do:

  • Count how many words there are in one line. Take the first and last lines and a line in the middle of a page. Let’s say there are 15, 14, and 15 words in them. Then, the average number of words per line is 15.
  • Next, count how many lines there are on one page. Let’s say there are 17 lines on a page.
  • Take the number of words per line and multiply it by the number of lines per page. In our case, we multiply 15 by 17. So, there are 255 words per page on average.
  • Finally, multiply the number of words per page by the number of pages. If your essay has 3 pages, it is approximately 765 words long.

How Long Does it Take to Write an Essay?

It is crucial to know how long writing will take you, especially if you are working on an exam essay or just short on time. Note that you need to consider the time for typing and researching necessary to complete a piece. Research time may vary. Usually, it’s 1-2 hours for 200-250 words .

The picture shows the fact about the average speed of writing.

Below, we’ve gathered the average writing time for average and slower writing speed:

And here are the results in pages:

How Many References Does an Essay Need?

Another essential part of any composition is the reference list. Different academic levels require different references. You’ll find out how many of them should be in your paper in the table below!

📝 Essay Examples: Different Length

Finally, we’ve gathered some excellent sample essays of different lengths. Make sure to check them out!

We also recommend you check out our free essay samples sorted by pages:

  • 1-Page Essay Examples
  • 2-Page Essay Examples
  • 3-Page Essay Examples
  • 4-Page Essay Examples
  • 5-Page Essay Examples
  • 10-Page Essay Examples
  • 20-Page Essay Examples
  • 30-Page Essay Examples
  • 40-Page Essay Examples
  • 50-Page Essay Examples

Now you know all about essay length, word limits, and ways to lengthen or shorten your text. If you know other interesting tricks, make sure to share them in a comment! Good luck with your writing assignments!

You may also like:

  • How to Write a Process Analysis Essay: Examples & Outline
  • How to Write a Precis: Definition, Guide, & Examples 
  • How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay: Examples & Guide
  • How to Write a Narrative Essay Outline: Template & Examples
  • How to Write a Formal Essay: Format, Rules, & Example
  • Word Limits and Assignment Length: Massey University
  • The Paragraph in the College Essay: California State University, Long Beach
  • Introductions & Conclusions: The University of Arizona Global Campus
  • How Long Should a Paragraph Be?: Daily Writing Tips
  • Paragraphing (Length Consistency): Purdue University
  • Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admission Essay:
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What is the Ideal Length?: College Vine
  • Writing Personal Statements Online: Issues of Length and Form: Penn State University
  • Pen Admissions: Essays: University of Pennsylvania
  • Essay Questions: University of Michigan
  • Essay Structure: Harvard University
  • Components of a Good Essay: University of Evansville
  • Write Your Essay: UNSW Sydney
  • College Writing: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 21 Helpful and Easy Tips to Make an Essay Longer: Seventeen
  • How to Make a College Paper Longer: ThoughtCo
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how long are 6th grade essays

Among a flurry of surreal images capturing the dazzling auroras is one taken by Benjamin Williamson of a lighthouse in Portland, Maine.

"It's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen, the awe and wonder," Williamson told CNN.

He said he used a long-exposure technique to snap the shot, but did not edit it.

Watch the full interview with Williamson here .

Things could be about to ramp up

If you still haven't seen the aurora, hold on for another 30 minutes to an hour, according to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

The next wave of coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, which cause the aurora, is about to arrive, he said.

"Just wait a minute because things are going to start to ramp up here," he said, adding that the increase could arrive "anytime now." "When it comes, get outside, get ready, put your coat on."

For those who are too busy to witness the phenomenon tonight, Myers said the aurora is expected to last three nights.

Why does the aurora last for a weekend?

By CNN's Chris Lau

The northern lights can be seen from Eaton Rapids, Michigan, on May 10.

Generally, it takes just eight minutes for light to travel 93 million miles to the Earth from the sun, but astrophysicist Janna Levin said the energized particles causing the current wave of aurora travel a lot slower, causing the phenomenon to last for the weekend.

"Some of these mass ejections are trillions of kilograms," she said. "They're slower. So they're taking longer, but still hours, maybe tens of hours."

Here's how the solar storm looks in the South and on the East Coast

The aurora was visible across the East Coast and in the South Friday.

Here's how it looked in Chester, South Carolina.

Down in Florida, waves of color swam through the sky.

Up north in New Jersey, a purple-ish haze could be seen in the sky.

Will solar storms get more intense and risky in the future?

The answer is probably not in the short term, according to astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi.

He said scientists study what is constantly happening on the surface of the sun and have found a pattern.

“Geological data shows us that in the past the sun was way more active than it is today. It has cycles where it goes very quiet ... and you have events that show that the solar activity was much, much greater,” he told CNN. “So there's no evidence that we're going to see those big maxima this cycle." 

But the astrophysicist also spoke of a caveat - the limitations of modern science.

“Even though it's predictable in the short term, we still don't quite understand what creates the magnetic fields in the sun,” he said, adding: “That's why NASA has so many satellites looking at the sun.”

In Pictures: Auroras light the sky during rare solar storm

From CNN Digital's Photo Team

The northern lights glow in the night sky in Brandenburg, Germany, on May 10.

A series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun are creating dazzling auroras across the globe .

The rare solar storm may also disrupt communications. The last time a solar storm of this magnitude reached Earth was in October 2003, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

See more photos of the aurora from tonight.

Behind dazzling aurora could lie “real danger,” Bill Nye the Science Guy says

Bill Nye the Science Guy speaks to CNN on Friday, May 10.

The massive solar storm could present “a real danger,” especially with the modern world relying so much on electricity, according to Bill Nye the Science Guy , a science educator and engineer.

Scientists are warning an increase in solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun have the potential to disrupt communication on Earth into the weekend. Solar flares can affect communications and GPS almost immediately because they disrupt Earth’s ionosphere, or part of the upper atmosphere. Energetic particles released by the sun can also disrupt electronics on spacecraft and affect astronauts without proper protection within 20 minutes to several hours.

In comparison to tonight's event, Nye drew comparisons with another incident in 1859, known as the Carrington Event, when telegraph communications were severely affected.

“The other thing, everybody, that is a real danger to our technological society, different from 1859, is how much we depend on electricity and our electronics and so on,” Nye said. "None of us really in the developed world could go very long without electricity."

He noted that there are systems in place to minimize the impact, but “stuff might go wrong,” stressing that not all transformers are equipped to withstand such a solar event.

“It depends on the strength of the event and it depends on how much of our infrastructures are prepared for this the sort of thing,” he said.

Bill Nye breaks down significance of the solar storm | CNN

Bill Nye breaks down significance of the solar storm | CNN

This post has been updated with more details on solar flares' impact on electronics.

Here's where clouds will block the view of the northern lights in the US

From CNN's Angela Fritz

An infrared satellite image taken around 10:30 p.m. ET.

After an incredibly stormy week, most of the Lower 48 has clear skies to see the northern lights. But there are some areas where clouds and rainy weather are spoiling the view.

A deck of clouds is blocking the sky in the Northeast, from parts of Virginia into Maine, as an area of low pressure spins off the East Coast.

In the Midwest, the aurora will be hard to see through thick clouds in parts of Wisconsin, Michigan — including the Upper Peninsula — and Illinois.

A stripe of clouds is tracking across Texas, including Dallas-Forth Worth, and into Louisiana.

And in the Southwest, patchy clouds across the the Four Corners region could make the northern lights difficult to spot.

Aurora seen at least as far south as Georgia

Barely visible to the naked eye, the aurora can be seen in Atlanta in the 10 p.m. ET hour. 

It is easier to see through photographs using a long exposure. The photos below, taken by CNN's Eric Zerkel and Emily Smith, used 3- and 10-second exposures.

Aurora seen in Atlanta around 10:15 p.m. ET.

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"Extreme" G5 geomagnetic storm reaches Earth, NOAA says, following "unusual" solar event

By Li Cohen

Updated on: May 11, 2024 / 8:32 PM EDT / CBS News

An "extreme" G5 geomagnetic storm reached Earth on Friday, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said , after issuing a watch earlier in the day warning of the potential for a severe impact. 

The watch followed days of solar activity that sent several explosions of plasma and magnetic fields toward Earth. 

G5 is the strongest level of geomagnetic storm , on a scale from G1 to G5. 

"Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur," NOAA warns. "Some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage." 

Radio transmissions and satellite navigation may also be disrupted.

The last G5 geomagnetic storm, in October 2003, caused power outages in Sweden and damaged transformers in South Africa.

A geomagnetic storm also means aurora borealis , otherwise known as the northern lights , could be seen as far south as Alabama and in Northern California. 

Map shows the aurora borealis (northern lights) forecast for May 10-12, 2024.

Earlier, NOAA had issued its first watch for a potential G4-level geomagnetic storm in almost 20 years. "If geomagnetic storms were hurricanes, 'severe' would be category 4," says. 

In a press release on Thursday, NOAA said the most recent series of solar events started on May 8, when a large cluster of sunspots produced "several moderate to strong solar flares." Solar flares are bursts of radiation known to be the solar system's largest explosive events, according to NASA. The area where the flares are occurring is 16 times the diameter of Earth, the NOAA said, and more solar activity is expected. 

That sunspot is so big you may be able to see it with your own eyes  — with your solar eclipse glasses. The spot is known as AR3664 , and it was responsible for most of the geomagnetic activity Friday, the NOAA reported. According to, it measures about 124,000 miles across and is one of the "largest and most active sunspots seen this solar cycle." 

The NOAA reported that a strong solar flare was observed peaking from AR3664 at 9:23 p.m. Eastern Time Friday. 

"Flares of this magnitude are not frequent," the prediction center said . 

Still have your solar eclipse glasses? There's currently a sunspot so large you will be able to "spot" it while wearing them 15x wider than the earth! — Eric Fisher (@ericfisher) May 9, 2024

There has also been a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are explosions of plasma  and magnetic fields that come out of the sun's corona, the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere. At least five CMEs appear directed toward Earth and could arrive as early as midday on Friday and persist through Sunday, the agency said. 

"This is an unusual event," NOAA said.

In a call with reporters on Friday, Shawn Dahl, service coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center, said that some CMEs "are catching up with other ones." He said officials are expecting a "big shock arrival" when they hit Earth. Dahl said at the time that while officials weren't predicting a G5 storm — the strongest of geomagnetic storms — they couldn't discount a "low-end G5 event."

"We're really buckling down here," Brent Gordon, chief of the space weather services branch, also said on the call.


G4 conditions were detected by Friday afternoon, marking a "major disturbance in Earth's magnetic field," NOAA said, adding that "the public should stay properly informed of storm progression."  

In a forecast discussion at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center said that solar activity is expected to continue at "high to very high levels" through the weekend, with additional solar flares expected, including X-class flares , the most powerful class of solar flares.

As of Friday afternoon, NOAA said it had observed a moderate solar radiation storm that could expose people in high-flying aircraft to "elevated radiation risk" and cause infrequent issues with satellite operations. 

Radio blackouts have also been detected with an R3 designation, meaning that the blackouts were "strong" on a scale from R1 (minor) to R5 (extreme). At this level, wide blackouts of HF radio communication is expected, as well as loss of radio contact, for about an hour on the sunlit side of Earth, as low-frequency navigation signals decline for roughly an hour. 

"Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth's surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations," NOAA said. "[The Space Weather Prediction Center] has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action."

Dahl agreed Friday that the event is "pretty extraordinary" and said that it could impact infrastructure, including high-voltage transmission lines of the power grid. Dahl said that infrastructure operators have been notified to adequately prepare. 

This is the first time a storm watch has been issued for a G4 since January 2005. There is an average of 100 severe geomagnetic storms every solar cycle, but so far, there have only been three observed in the most recent cycle that began in December 2019. The most recent occurred on March 23. 

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Li Cohen is a social media producer and trending content writer for CBS News.

More from CBS News

Sun emits its largest X-class flare of the solar cycle

Solar storms can affect electronics and the power grid – an expert explains

Huge billboard toppled by storm kills more than a dozen people in India

Mixed-breed dog wins Westminster's agility competition for first time

how long are 6th grade essays

Gemini Advanced vs ChatGPT Plus: Which is better?

  • Gemini Advanced costs $20 monthly with constantly updated training data, making it better at answering current event questions.
  • ChatGPT Plus is $20 too and creates better graphic designs but has limitations like poor text quality.
  • Gemini Advanced is faster at generating results and provides clearer, more concise written content than ChatGPT.

Listen long enough to the buzz about artificial intelligence, and the names ChatGPT and Gemini will stand out from the noise. The AI chatbots from OpenAI and Google are some of the biggest players in the space. However, asking both the same question may yield wildly different answers due to their use of different training datasets.

Both Google's Gemini Advanced and ChatGPT Plus subscriptions cost around $20 every month for access to the full list of features. (Notably, ChatGPT does not have a free trial, while Gemini offers two months free). However, the two chatbots use different training datasets, which can significantly influence the responses they generate. GPT-4's dataset was trained on approximately 570 GB of data, but this knowledge extends only through April 2023, requiring the integrated Bing browsing tool to find facts about recent events that occurred after that cutoff.

Google's Gemini Advanced does not use a static training database; it is constantly being updated, which means the chatbot is better at answering questions about current events.

However, that's not the only way the two platforms differ. I posed the same questions to ChatGPT Plus and Google Gemini Advanced, with topics and tasks ranging across art, politics, math, and ethics. The chatbots often churned out wildly different answers -- and those responses offer a clear indication of which platform to try.

I tried ChatGPT Plus. Here's everything it can do

Image test: chatgpt plus produces more art, gemini advanced has paused image generation of people.

First, I asked both platforms to create a watercolor image of a woman holding flowers . ChatGPT Plus delivered two different options with soft, flowing brushstrokes , which helped obliterate the details in the face and hands that image generators aren't great at yet.

Gemini Advanced declined to produce anything. Google temporarily removed the option to generate images of people in February 2024 after complaints that it made historical depictions of the Founding Fathers inaccurate by depicting multiple races. Racism is an issue among many artificial intelligence platforms. Google explains that Gemini Advanced was programmed to represent a wide range of people but admitted that diversity-focused programming created issues when requesting images of someone of a specific demographic.

Since Gemini Advanced couldn't create a person, I tried just asking for watercolor paintings of spring flowers. Both did a pretty good job, but Gemini Advanced produced three paintings faster than ChatGPT Plus created one option. Frustratingly, however, Gemini Advanced seemed to only produce square images, even when I specifically requested a different aspect ratio.

I next switched from paintings to graphic design and quickly realized that Gemini Advanced wouldn't actually design anything. Instead, Gemini made a list of suggestions for how to design it, wrote the content, and even suggested software and places to hire a freelance graphic designer.

ChatGPT Plus, on the other hand, will create graphic designs but often probably shouldn't. I asked it to create an infographic about what to wear and what not to wear to a family photo shoot. The graphics looked quite good, but much of the text was gibberish. The inability to create text in graphics is a known shortcoming for AI generators. I then asked it to remove the text entirely. While the resulting graphic was good, it included both the dos and don'ts in the graphic without differentiating which was which. I then asked it to create a postcard advertising my photography , but the results were straight out of a horror film. The faces were so wrong they looked like decaying corpses. One groom was holding the hands of two brides, one of whom had an arm coming straight out of her bosom.

ChatGPT Plus will produce more types of graphics . However, the types of images that Gemini Advanced refuses to produce are the same types that the other AI failed miserably at creating.

What is Gemini? Google's AI model and GPT-4 alternative explained

Writing test: gemini advanced gets right to the point, chatgpt plus tends to be more long-winded.

I asked both programs to write me a 500-word short story about a haunted house. Both followed the instructions well. However, neither came up with anything beyond the usual haunted house tropes, as AI is more a remix of ideas than a creator of something entirely new. ChatGPT Plus's story felt clichéd and was littered with passive voice, while Gemini Advanced did a better job showing the details rather than offering a bland retelling of the story.

Transitioning from creative to professional writing, I then asked both platforms to write a sample cover letter for a software engineer looking for a job. Both produced a rather bland template but included spots to insert specific details. Gemini's letter was shorter, more to the point, and followed up with tips for writing a cover letter. ChatGPT's output was longer and redundant -- I would have cut out at least a paragraph from what was generated. I then asked both programs to write a letter of resignation and a professional email, and the results were similar, with ChatGPT Plus being a bit longer (if the prompt isn't limited to a specific word count) and Gemini Advanced getting right to the point .

While both platforms can handle mundane tasks like writing emails, I preferred Gemini Advanced's results . The Google-owned AI was straight to the point for business writing, while the short story it generated also felt more refined, whereas ChatGPT's felt more like a first draft.

How to use Google's Gemini AI from the web or your phone

Advice test: gemini advanced answers with linked resources, but chatgpt plus is sometimes less frustrating.

I then asked both platforms a range of different questions. First, I asked for advice on avoiding bears during a hike . Both offered some of the same advice, but Gemini Advanced linked to sources where I could find out why exactly bear bells don't work. ChatGPT Plus sometimes has links at the end but did not for that specific question.

I then asked them to solve one of my fifth grader's math problems . (I hated learning fractions the first time around, and the second time isn't any more enjoyable.) Both platforms got the correct answer, but ChatGPT Plus said simplifying 10/3 to 3 1/3 was optional, while Gemini Advanced called it an improper fraction and explained that you should simplify it. Both initially wrote the answer as a decimal until I specifically asked for an answer written as a fraction.

Gemini's explanation of how to solve the math problem was only three steps long; ChatGPT's was six. Just like with the writing tasks, ChatGPT Plus was unnecessarily wordy, and I thought Gemini's shorter description was easier to follow.

I then asked questions about current events -- which actually took multiple tries to find a question that both platforms would attempt to answer. Gemini Advanced wouldn't answer questions about politics , while ChatGPT Plus didn't know that the prime minister of Haiti had resigned. This was somewhat expected as ChatGPT is trained on older data, but it did not even attempt to use the Bing search plugin to verify if the answer was current.

I finally found a question about current events that both platforms would answe r-- sort of. I asked about moon landings , looking specifically for the February 2024 landing that happened after ChatGPT's training data was updated. ChatGPT Plus answered immediately with a number followed by an explanation, including the latest Odysseus mission. Gemini erred on the side of caution and told me that there were six crewed and multiple uncrewed landings. I asked again, and Gemini said that the question was "a bit complex to answer definitively." I never did get a number -- though I did get several links -- but when I finally adjusted my question to "successful uncrewed soft landings," the most recent February 2024 landing was included, which is what I was looking for.

6 Google Gemini prompts to try for the best results

Speed test: gemini advanced is faster, chatgpt plus / gpt-4 is limited to 40 messages every 3 hours.

One of the main purposes of generative AI is to handle tasks that we don't want to deal with -- such as fifth-grade math -- or to accelerate more mundane processes. With the latter in mind, I submitted several prompts simultaneously to see which platform would generate a result first. Gemini Advanced consistently responded first , even creating three watercolor paintings before ChatGPT Plus had completed one. Gemini Advanced was also noticeably quicker at solving math questions.

The results are unsurprising once you delve into the data. GPT-4 is limited to 40 messages every three hours, whereas Gemini Advanced can handle up to 60 requests per minute.

One of the main purposes of generative AI is to handle tasks that we don't want to handle -- like 5th-grade math -- or to speed up the more mundane processes. With the latter in mind, I sent across many of the prompts at the same time, looking to see which platform generated a result first. Gemini Advanced answered first nearly every time, including creating three watercolor paintings before ChatGPT Plus had finished with one. Gemini Advanced was also noticeably faster at answering math questions.

10 ChatGPT extensions to try and what exactly they can do

Ethics test: chatgpt plus refuses to copy artists' style, and gemini advanced won't talk about politics.

Ethics should be a key consideration when comparing different AI platforms. If you refuse to use an AI that scrapes training data from the web without the owner's permission, then you're still out of luck here. Both are also capable of answering questions incorrectly, so factual data should always be double-checked when working with any AI chatbot. But what about ethics and how each chatbot answers key questions?

When prompted, Gemini Advanced created a landscape painting in the style of Picasso. ChatGPT Plus, on the other hand, responded that requesting a specific artist's style violated content policies. It then suggested creating a painting "inspired by early 20th-century art movements that emphasize geometric shapes, fragmented forms, and vibrant colors." The result was similar to Gemini Advanced's, but the prompt was not connected to the artist's name. That courtesy seems to be limited to visual arts. Neither one refused when I asked them to write in the style of Stephen King.

Overall, Gemini's approach is to disable options that aren't quite right. It won't respond to questions about politics and has disabled generative images of people until some diversity issues can be remedied. However, ChatGPT Plus won't produce results in a specific visual artist's style .

How to master GPT-4 in ChatGPT: Prompts, tips, and tricks

Privacy test: chatgpt lets you delete more data, gemini will keep data for up to three years.

Another consideration is how your data is used. Both platforms retain data for later training. Some Gemini prompts will be viewed by human staff, so users should not share personal data on the platform. Gemini Advanced can keep the data for up to three years, though it is not associated with your account that far out. In comparison, ChatGPT allows you to turn off chat history , which means you will not be able to go back to previous chats, but the company has less of your data. With this setting, ChatGPT deletes your conversations once every 30 days . Your data is still used for training, but not for the long term.

Google launches Gemini AI, its answer to GPT-4, and you can try it now

Extra features test: gemini advanced has more, but chatgpt plus does have a wealth of plugins.

As part of the Google family, Gemini Advanced can be found in more than just the web browser chat window. Gemini can assist you with writing or proofreading in Gmail, as well as in apps like Google Docs. integrated into Pixel devices , though iOS users can still access the AI inside the Google app. The $20-a-month subscription also includes 2TB of cloud storage with Google One .

ChatGPT Plus doesn't offer the same integrations, but with a longer history, it boasts a more extensive list of different custom GPTs for users to explore. In the Explore GPTs tab , you can discover anything from tutors to coding to coloring book pages. You can find custom GPTs from companies like Kayak, Canva, Khan Academy, and more. With ChatGPT web browser extensions , you can also access a range of tools that work directly inside a web browser. GPT-4 also supports the uploading of JPGs and PDFs, whereas Gemini Advanced is limited to image uploads. ChatGPT has both a web application and a dedicated app that, like Gemini, can also use voice.

Verdict: Which is AI chatbot subscription is best?

I prefer gemini, but chatgpt is needed for ai image generation.

Google's Gemini Advanced produced clearer, more concise written content. I preferred the written results of Gemini Advanced over ChatGPT. The Google-owned chatbot also had the fastest performance out of the two. The fact that it comes from a large tech company also gives it clear benefits like 2 TB of cloud storage included in the price and integration into Google Docs and other apps.

While I preferred the results from Gemini Advanced a majority of the time, ChatGPT Plus was capable of more tasks. It can, for example, produce graphic designs that Gemini refused. It's worth noting, however, that the types of images Gemini won't create are also the types of images that ChatGPT struggles to produce acceptable results with, including images of people and graphics that contain text. However, ChatGPT also allows users to delete their data every 30 days, while Google keeps it for up to three years. ChatGPT's longer history also means that it offers a lot of different custom plug-ins that are tailored for a specific task.

Overall, Google's Gemini Advanced is the subscription that I would pick if I wanted an AI to help type out emails or decipher math homework. ChatGPT Plus would be my choice for generating images using DALL-E, using specific plug-ins, or for greater control over what happens to your data.

Q: What is Gemini Advanced and ChatGPT Plus?

Gemini is Google's AI chatbot that's integrated with Google products, and Advanced is the AI's paid subscription tier. ChatGPT Plus, on the other hand, is a paid subscription to OpenAI's ChatGPT. Like Advanced, it's more powerful and has more features and capabilities.

Q: How much do Gemini Advanced and ChatGPT Plus cost each?

Here's the current pricing information:

  • Gemini Advanced: Included in the Google One AI Premium Plan at $19.99 per month. This plan also offers other Google AI benefits and increased Google One storage.
  • ChatGPT Plus: Costs $20 per month. This plan offers access to DALL-E image generation and the GPT store.

This article may contain affiliate links that Microsoft and/or the publisher may receive a commission from if you buy a product or service through those links.

Gemini Advanced vs ChatGPT Plus: Which is better?

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Guest Essay

In Medicine, the Morally Unthinkable Too Easily Comes to Seem Normal

A photograph of two forceps, placed handle to tip against each other.

By Carl Elliott

Dr. Elliott teaches medical ethics at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Occasional Human Sacrifice: Medical Experimentation and the Price of Saying No,” from which this essay is adapted.

Here is the way I remember it: The year is 1985, and a few medical students are gathered around an operating table where an anesthetized woman has been prepared for surgery. The attending physician, a gynecologist, asks the group: “Has everyone felt a cervix? Here’s your chance.” One after another, we take turns inserting two gloved fingers into the unconscious woman’s vagina.

Had the woman consented to a pelvic exam? Did she understand that when the lights went dim she would be treated like a clinical practice dummy, her genitalia palpated by a succession of untrained hands? I don’t know. Like most medical students, I just did as I was told.

Last month the Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance requiring written informed consent for pelvic exams and other intimate procedures performed under anesthesia. Much of the force behind the new requirement came from distressed medical students who saw these pelvic exams as wrong and summoned the courage to speak out.

Whether the guidance will actually change clinical practice I don’t know. Medical traditions are notoriously difficult to uproot, and academic medicine does not easily tolerate ethical dissent. I doubt the medical profession can be trusted to reform itself.

What is it that leads a rare individual to say no to practices that are deceptive, exploitative or harmful when everyone else thinks they are fine? For a long time I assumed that saying no was mainly an issue of moral courage. The relevant question was: If you are a witness to wrongdoing, will you be brave enough to speak out?

But then I started talking to insiders who had blown the whistle on abusive medical research. Soon I realized that I had overlooked the importance of moral perception. Before you decide to speak out about wrongdoing, you have to recognize it for what it is.

This is not as simple as it seems. Part of what makes medical training so unsettling is how often you are thrust into situations in which you don’t really know how to behave. Nothing in your life up to that point has prepared you to dissect a cadaver, perform a rectal exam or deliver a baby. Never before have you seen a psychotic patient involuntarily sedated and strapped to a bed or a brain-dead body wheeled out of a hospital room to have its organs harvested for transplantation. Your initial reaction is often a combination of revulsion, anxiety and self-consciousness.

To embark on a career in medicine is like moving to a foreign country where you do not understand the customs, rituals, manners or language. Your main concern on arrival is how to fit in and avoid causing offense. This is true even if the local customs seem backward or cruel. What’s more, this particular country has an authoritarian government and a rigid status hierarchy where dissent is not just discouraged but also punished. Living happily in this country requires convincing yourself that whatever discomfort you feel comes from your own ignorance and lack of experience. Over time, you learn how to assimilate. You may even come to laugh at how naïve you were when you first arrived.

A rare few people hang onto that discomfort and learn from it. When Michael Wilkins and William Bronston started working at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island as young doctors in the early 1970s, they found thousands of mentally disabled children condemned to the most horrific conditions imaginable: naked children rocking and moaning on concrete floors in puddles of their own urine; an overpowering stench of illness and filth; a research unit where children were deliberately infected with hepatitis A and B.

“It was truly an American concentration camp,” Dr. Bronston told me. Yet when he and Dr. Wilkins tried to enlist Willowbrook doctors and nurses to reform the institution, they were met with indifference or hostility. It seemed as if no one else on the medical staff could see what they saw. It was only when Dr. Wilkins went to a reporter and showed the world what was happening behind the Willowbrook walls that anything began to change.

When I asked Dr. Bronston how it was possible for doctors and nurses to work at Willowbrook without seeing it as a crime scene, he told me it began with the way the institution was structured and organized. “Medically secured, medically managed, doctor-validated,” he said. Medical professionals just accommodated themselves to the status quo. “You get with the program because that’s what you’re being hired to do,” he said.

One of the great mysteries of human behavior is how institutions create social worlds where unthinkable practices come to seem normal. This is as true of academic medical centers as it is of prisons and military units. When we are told about a horrific medical research scandal, we assume that we would see it just as the whistle-blower Peter Buxtun saw the Tuskegee syphilis study : an abuse so shocking that only a sociopath could fail to perceive it.

Yet it rarely happens this way. It took Mr. Buxtun seven years to convince others to see the abuses for what they were. It has taken other whistle-blowers even longer. Even when the outside world condemns a practice, medical institutions typically insist that the outsiders don’t really understand.

According to Irving Janis, a Yale psychologist who popularized the notion of groupthink, the forces of social conformity are especially powerful in organizations that are driven by a deep sense of moral purpose. If the aims of the organization are righteous, its members feel, it is wrong to put barriers in the way.

This observation helps explain why academic medicine not only defends researchers accused of wrongdoing but also sometimes rewards them. Many of the researchers responsible for the most notorious abuses in recent medical history — the Tuskegee syphilis study, the Willowbrook hepatitis studies, the Cincinnati radiation studies , the Holmesburg prison studies — were celebrated with professional accolades even after the abuses were first called out.

The culture of medicine is notoriously resistant to change. During the 1970s, it was thought that the solution to medical misconduct was formal education in ethics. Major academic medical centers began establishing bioethics centers and programs throughout the 1980s and ’90s, and today virtually every medical school in the country requires ethics training.

Yet it is debatable whether that training has had any effect. Many of the most egregious ethical abuses in recent decades have taken place in medical centers with prominent bioethics programs, such as the University of Pennsylvania , Duke University , Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University , as well as my own institution, the University of Minnesota .

One could be forgiven for concluding that the only way the culture of medicine will change is if changes are forced on it from the outside — by oversight bodies, legislators or litigators. For example, many states have responded to the controversy over pelvic exams by passing laws banning the practice unless the patient has explicitly given consent.

You may find it hard to understand how pelvic exams on unconscious women without their consent could seem like anything but a terrible invasion. Yet a central aim of medical training is to transform your sensibility. You are taught to steel yourself against your natural emotional reactions to death and disfigurement; to set aside your customary views about privacy and shame; to see the human body as a thing to be examined, tested and studied.

One danger of this transformation is that you will see your colleagues and superiors do horrible things and be afraid to speak up. But the more subtle danger is that you will no longer see what they are doing as horrible. You will just think: This is the way it is done.

Carl Elliott ( @FearLoathingBTX ) teaches medical ethics at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Occasional Human Sacrifice: Medical Experimentation and the Price of Saying No,” from which this essay is adapted.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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