Essay Writing: The Cake Analogy

This week, I am working on essay structure with my post-intro students.  After 22 years of teaching essay structure in various forms, I am, as you can imagine, sick of it.  But then I came across this little analogy: how to bake your essay like a cake!  It’s cute.  It’s tasty.  There are things here they might actually remember.

This got me thinking.  A lot of you out there must have analogies that you use over and over in your classroom, because they work.  Or maybe a teacher gave you an analogy years ago that you’ve never forgotten.  Could you please share some of them here?  That way, the rest of us can learn, steal, or just admire your ingenuity and  that of the teachers you’ve known.

Image by Jonathan Fletcher

43 responses

  1. You probably know the hamburger- bun, condiments, layers of fillings.
    Ice cream sundaes also good. Food always great.
    I used a “frame” with shapes and colors that I don’t really know how to describe but I could email it to you. For basic story writing (our state tests had speculative prompts using photographs for a while)- I drew a simple rocket ship shape on the board and wrote SPACE down the left side.
    Setting, people, action, conversation, ending/emotion.. something like that.
    Might be good to ask students to create their own and share w/ others, vote on the best few.

  2. Neat! I’ve always thought of writing using a similar analogy, but with soup instead of cake. After all ingredients are added,the writer simmers the soup. (That’s the revision process.) As it reaches a boil it appears to get bigger. (The writer adds in stuff she forgot.) Then as it simmers for a while, some water boils away but the soup’s flavor becomes more intense. (The language is now more concise, redundancy has been eliminated, and the paper is better–tastier.)

  3. I always explain a thesis statement in terms of a road map. It tells the reader where we’re going, but it takes description in the body paragraphs to explain how we’re going to get there.

  4. I also use the hamburger analogy for paragraph structure, talking about how the lack of a bottom bun–which on the surface looks exactly the same as the top bun, but on closer inspection is slightly different–turns your perfect burger into a sloppy mess. Seems to work well.

    And I like the road map analogy as well for talking them through an essay outline. This cake one is new to me, though it functions in a similar manner.

      • I often use the “funnel form” and the inverted pyramid.

        Mrs. Templin kindly introduced me to the “funnel form paper” as she called it:
        The introduction is like a funnel, taking the reader from a broad generalization or broad statement that most people will agree with or connect with in some way (“Everybody is looking for a superhero.”) (questions, stories, scenarios can all count as a broad item that catches the reader’s attention; even a shocking statement can create an agreement, even though it may be in the negative!). Then the introduction narrows the topic by working its way from the general statement at the beginning to the thesis at the end of the introduction (“When we read _Beowulf_, we are getting to know the Anglo-Saxon Superman.”). We are funneling the reader into our argument, and now we are ready to prove what we have to say in the body of the paper. The conclusion works like an upside-down funnel, starting with a restatement of the thesis (“In spite of the fact that he was, ultimately, more vulnerable than Superman, Beowulf clearly matches up to the high ideals that humanity holds for its heroes.”) and moving to a more general application or extension at the end of the conclusion (“Make room in your imagination–and catalogue of inspirational heroes–for one of the original superheroes.”) [now, when I tell them that the conclusion is an extension of the idea, I do have to be careful that they are not trying to prove new points in the conclusion. I still have trouble communicating this concept sometimes!].

        The pyramid and inverted pyramid are analogies I use for teaching the difference between inductive paragraphs and deductive paragraphs. The pyramid is a deductive paper. You state the point at the beginning, and throughout the paper, you provide the basis for that point. Or, stated another way, you broaden the reader’s understanding of that point. Inductive papers are the opposite because the writer starts with the information and narrows it all down to one main point by the end.
        Again, this difference is still rather abstract for the students, especially because it looks like it makes sense on paper, but being able to tell the difference in their writing . . . or in someone else’s . . . is a different matter.

        I’m going to try my hand at this cake analogy you’ve shared =)

        • Pretty close to what ATWB just said, though I do switch it up a little by comparing the writing of an essay to crime scene investigation (still allows for funnel method usage)…Yes, I do have the students watch CSI. Grissom et al start out with a general view (photographs) and then they gradually pare the crime scene down into its main component parts in order to make an argument. There’s all sorts of great metaphors that can be used–the reliance on tiny DNA bits of evidence is like relying on wee bits of the text that prove SO MUCH. Also, it’s not good enough to simply throw your evidence out on a table (i.e. litter your paragraphs with quotations)–you must explain how the evidence proves your point. The folks on CSI make this very clear. And, best of all, the students are limited to the crime scene (i.e. the text in question). They can’t go outside the crime scene just like they can’t go outside the text. They have to figure out how to work with what is there to make an argument.
          Ah, TV. Is there anything it can’t do?

          • What a great analogy! I can see how the comparison would really help the students to understand a whole host of writing and literature-related concepts (some they may not even realized until much later in their education . . . if ever!)
            Thanks for passing that along!

  5. I teach the Elements and Principles of design with the analogy of a recipe. The elements are the “ingredients”. The principles are “how” you use them, or the directions to the recipe. Has always worked well, especially since this class is for non-design majors, who do not like anything to do with art. But, who can’t relate to a recipe of chocolate chip cookies? LOL!

  6. I used a fishing analogy for writing introductions. We have a lively and spirited eighth-grader kind of discussion (especially with my boys) about how best to bait a hook when fishing for trout or large-mouth bass. Each child with fishing experience chimes in and eventually, we move the discussion back with the question, “Now, how is writing a great introduction like fishing?” We discuss how the engaging lead or hook is like the bait and hook size/type (use the right type to catch different fish); the audience is the fish swimming in the pond, lake or ocean; the context of writing is like the pond or background of where you fish–essentially the details which surround the topic; and the controlling idea is like setting the hook–where all the elements of a great introduction come together and the reader has decided to read your essay past the first paragraph.

    • Oh man. If only I believed that more than one student in each class of forty had fishing experience (especially as I am teaching Child Studies courses this semester, which means that each of my classes consists of 35-39 very urban girls and 1-5 very urban boys.) This is a great analogy!

    • That’s my co-teacher right there! And the analogy was fantastic! It is transferable to math concepts as well (distributive property comes to mind).

      Another analogy activity we use is not so much for larger writing but summarizing techniques. At the beginning of the week we make a four square chart and solicit noun submissions (elephant, house, willow tree, Mrs. Schyck’s ink pen that leaks all the time). We post them and at various times during a closing we will have students summarize using one of the nouns we posted. It is sometimes hard, but when a student comes up with “Writing introductions is like Mrs. Schyck’s pen because it is messy but all those blotches make us rewrite them more engaging!” – priceless!

  7. I often used the trip analogy suggested by the road map above–the trip gives the overall plan, the road map is the thesis but the plans come through in how many stops, what to bring, etc. But my favorite is bulding a house. You need blueprints, a strong foundation, if it’s a comnplicated structure you need transitions like stairs, each room needs to be furnished with details. And if changes are needed, you can add on but not just haphazardly–you have to go back to the blueprints. Your idea to ask students to come up with their own and share is terrific. What makes best sense to us might not to them. I imagine they might be able to do something about playing video games.

  8. In rain or sunshine,cloud or thirst, remove the common monomial factor first.

    Thank you Mrs. Watkins!
    Danville High School, 1955

  9. I use the old “court case” analogy and of course, I use some kind of crime as the focus (usually a murder). For whatever reason, this resonates with them (probably all the police dramas they watch). So, as you might imagine, we talk of the importance of presenting the arguments, providing the proof (e.g., a gun), and explaining in what way(s) the proof supports the arguments (this is the part that really works; you can’t just provide evidence; you need to EXPLAIN its connection to everything else). And, it’s not really to food, so we don’t get too hungry while we’re discussing it.

    • TT: Along the same lines, I often talk about how literary analysis is basically the same as the scientific method: you get an overall first impression, propose a theory, examine the evidence, revise your theory according to what the examination turns up, and so forth…

    • ooh! That’s a good one =) I used it once with one class of students for a very specific assignment, and I think that it worked well–I used it to teach them to pull facts for their argument from the text, but I can see how it would work to teach writing overall.

  10. The most important aspect of the cake analogy for me is that it impresses upon students that writers do not – and can not – approach a text the way a reader does, just as the baker and the eater have a very different relationship with the cake. Like the baker, the writer has to have an idea of how the finished product will look/taste, but has to START with the recipe, the raw ingredients, the process, etc. Only once the development – i.e., the cake layers – has been successfully put together can the writer worry about the icing and the rosettes 😉

    • Maggie: I think that perspective – that the baker is to the eater as the writer is to the reader – is the thing that struck me most as well. It also reminds students that they are “writers” – just like making a cake in your kitchen at home makes you a “baker” – something that they often dissociate from because “writers” are people who wrote those books they don’t understand…

  11. I use the old hamburger method as some other people have shared. It works wonderfully when they follow the formula. Mostly I use it with my regular freshmen and not my honors. However, I’m struggling to get my honors to actually discuss (commentary in the hamburger style) the details or facts that they present in their paragraph. They are great at topic sentences and listing facts to support it, but they don’t connect the facts back to the topic sentence so it reads like a grocery list. Anyone else have this problem?

    • I do, indeed. My college students still haven’t got it, for the most part, although if they even get the grocery list down I feel relieved. And when I do read a beautifully constructed, connected paragraph…well, it brings tears to my eyes.

  12. Hm. Video game parallels…

    Perhaps the introduction is like the opening cinematic. It gives a sense of the scope, purpose and tone of the essay without going into specific details about what’s going to happen.

    Oh yeah… and it’s designed to whet the reader’s appetite! ;D

    I’ll have to think on this some more 😉

    • Oh, yes, please do – if you come up with something we non-gamers can use to sound even slightly cool, we’ll be grateful (although we’ll of course mess it up; a few years ago I made some reference to “communicating by MS Messenger” that my students thought was adorably weird, especially when they found out I’d never instant messaged anyone in my life.)

      • Oo, I have another! Okay, here’s some explanation so hopefully the analogy makes sense:

        Some games are designed for one person to play on their own computer or Xbox or whatever. Other games are ones where the player logs in to a server where there are lots of other people playing the same game at the same time, and the players can interact with each other.

        In these games, players can team up to complete quests instead of doing them solo. Some quests are specifically designed to be too hard to do alone; they also generally have better rewards for successful completion.

        ANYWAY. To have a truly effective team, most players will try to team up with a group of players whose characters have each been designed to fulfill a specific role. The most common division of roles is healer, damage-dealer, and tank (the tank is a character that takes damage so that the healer and damage-dealer don’t get killed).

        In essay writing, and in writing in general, it’s important to be aware of your audience, because this helps you clarify your purpose. If you’re not sure what your purpose is, your essay will be less effective, just like if a character with lots of healing abilities tries to be the tank. In no time at all, the character – and the essay! – is DEAD.

  13. Actually, my favorite (and possibly most successful) analogy for teaching is one that I use when teaching grammar, particularly sentence structure.

    This analogy actually stems from the way that I think about grammar, the way I picture the sentences in my mind.

    Each sentence is a drama or play with roles to be filled. Subject, Verb, Direct Object, Adjective, etcetera. Depending on the type of sentence, the roles may differ: Subject, Linking Verb, Predicate Adjective, Adverb . . .

    The 8 Parts of Speech are the actors. Each of them has different abilities that determine which roles he is suited to play. And the director is pulling from the different groups of actors (for example, if a director is looking for an understudy for a noun that is playing the role of the Subject, he would have to get a nominative case pronoun–though that’s a pretty specific example that I usually save for later).

    So, nouns can play any role and answers the question “Who?” or “What?”
    Pronouns are understudies for nouns. They also make good extras (because they are less flashy than nouns so we don’t have to pay them as much attention).
    Adjectives can play roles modifying nouns.
    And so on . . . I make up the connections as I teach them sometimes.

    Usually, though, I focus on the main roles in a sentence, and I give the students basic sentence patterns to start recognizing:
    Subject-Action Verb-Direct Object
    S-LV (state of being)

    And then we work with real sentences, identifying the basic outline of the drama (the pattern) and then finding which part of speech has filled each role.

    I find this analogy especially helpful in dealing with verbals. Verbs are the most versatile forms of speech because they can play almost any part of the sentence, in one form or another, but they’re pretty picky and may bring an entourage of their own personal assistants with them!

  14. I also use the hamburger analogy when I teach paragraph writing. I use the top bun as the topic sentence and the bottom bun as the concluding sentence. I like to use a “Big Mac” analogy because I would like them to have two really strong examples (two all beef patties) and then give the details which would be the special sauce, lettuce, pickles, onions, yada, yada. My low level students really like the visuals that the Big Mac gives and they can come up with their two examples and then add the details. They realize then, too, that you can add details later. Students often think that you start at the top of a paragraph and write until the end. This helps them realize that if you get the “meat” the “fixings” can be added later.

  15. My brother in law took the photograph of the cake, which I baked! Thank you for choosing the image (it tasted good too!) oh, and I’m a teacher too! (special needs)

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