Different Types of Essay Assignments for High School Students

High school student working on an essay assignment on a laptop

These popular essay assignments enable high school students to explore the ins and outs of various types of writing.

In high school, essay practice is key to helping students fine-tune critical thinking skills and build writing fluency. For both efficacy and engagement reasons, the greater the variety of writing activities, the better. Each of these essay exercises for high schoolers involves a different kind of thinking and a different approach to writing, ensuring students develop well-rounded writing skill-sets:

1. Poetry analysis essay assignments

Poetry analysis assignments ask students to break down a poem and study it closely in order to draw conclusions about its meaning. Doing so not only sharpens student reasoning and explanation skills, but deepens student understanding of how writers use language to communicate ideas about their experiences.

For many high schoolers, poetry analysis is among the most intimidating types of essay assignments. As such, it’s often worthwhile to use pre-writing activities that guide students through several readings of a poem, each time focusing on a specific element. Here’s one common approach for arriving at an interpretation of a poem:

  • Read: Ask students to read through the poem carefully, noting any immediate thoughts that come to mind.
  • Build understanding: Have students read the poem again. Then, ask them to answer guiding questions to get a better sense of what the poem is about. What impact does the title of the poem have on readers? What objects, people, or events are described in the poem? Is there a clear speaker narrating the poem, and, if so, what is their tone?
  • Deepen understanding: Have students read the poem a third time—this time out loud. Ask them to focus on the features of the poem that stand out to them. What sounds (such as rhyme or rhythm) are prominent in the poem? How does descriptive language like imagery or metaphors impact how readers feel about the poem? Does the poem’s structure affect its meaning or message?

Completing a pre-writing activity like this will ensure students feel prepared to craft an essay that articulates a coherent analysis of a poem.

2. Rhetorical analysis essay assignments

Rhetorical analysis helps students see how an author uses language strategically to achieve their purpose. Authors make deliberate rhetorical choices to make their text effective, persuasive, or moving depending on whether they’re trying to teach their audience about an issue, persuade them to take action, or change their feelings on a subject (or any number of other goals). By analyzing these choices, students become familiar with strategies like figurative language, varied sentence structures, and logical arguments that they can incorporate into their own writing.

Rhetorical analysis essay assignments should guide students through the process of teasing out an author’s purpose, identifying the author’s rhetorical choices, crafting a thesis, and defending that thesis. To get students thinking along the right lines, try asking them any (or all) of these questions:

  • Does the author structure the text in an interesting or purposeful way?
  • Does the author try to seem trustworthy or likable to the audience?
  • Does the author use evidence or logical reasoning to convince the audience that something is true?
  • Does the author make any notable word choices (like using emotionally charged words or memorable descriptive language)?
  • Does the author use interesting or unusual sentence structures or vary sentence length to grab the audience’s attention?

3. Expository essay assignments

Another common type of high school essay practice, expository writing assignments ask students to explain, describe, or expose interesting ideas about a subject. Doing so helps students think critically about the world around them and develop a deep enough understanding of a topic that they’re able to lead their audience through it. Expository essay assignments involve conducting research about a subject, gathering relevant evidence to support a position, and using this information to formulate a central idea or argument.

As with any type of essay assignment for high school students, you should show your class how to approach each section of an expository essay:

  • For their introductions, students must learn how to grab readers with a hook and connect this hook to their thesis using a bridge.
  • For their body paragraphs, they must make sure that each piece of evidence and explanation adds a new point and supports their topic sentence and thesis.
  • For their conclusions, they must learn how to succinctly restate their key points without repeating language verbatim.

Using NoRedInk for high school essay practice

NoRedInk’s comprehensive online writing curriculum includes all these types of essay assignments for high school students (and more). Our Guided DraftsQuick Writes, tutorials, and pre-teaching resources help you build student writing, critical thinking, and research skills. Our personalized, scaffolded approach makes it easy to ensure that each student receives the support they need to learn at their own pace.

Sign up for free today to get access to hundreds of essay exercises for high schoolers!

Lillian oversees email communications at NoRedInk. Prior to NoRedInk, she spent over four years at PBLWorks, an education nonprofit focused on project-based learning. A proud product of public education, Lillian holds both an MA in Education and a BA in Art History from the University of Massachusetts.