Here are a few personal essay titles that I gave to my Junior Certs today. I’m really just posting them here so I’ll have them for again! Most of them are taken from a random selection of previous exam papers. Some of the titles that usually come up lean in particular directions – towards descriptive short stories or dialogue heavy ‘scenes’; others towards journalistic opinion pieces – so I’ve avoided them deliberately because I want today to be about the art of personal writing. What these titles have in common is that they ask you to insert yourself into the essay, to reveal who you are as a person – your thoughts, beliefs, experiences, hopes, dreams, personality and sense of humour.
- The things about myself I’d most like to change
- In 30 years time…
- Childhood memories
- Life’s little luxuries
- A significant event that changed my life
- It’s a weird and wonderful world
p.s. Another title I made up recently that produced some interesting responses from Leaving Certs was “Write a personal essay about some of the funniest/most embarrassing moments of your life so far”.
HL Paper 1 Section C
A versatile short story. This story is written in a way that could be altered on exam day to fit into a broad range of titles. Consider how the short story below could be adapted to fit a variety of essay titles below:
Write a short story in which setting/location is a significant feature (2008).
Write a short story in which the central character is faced with making an important decision (2009).
Write a short story in which a central character is either manipulated or is manipulative (2013).
Write a short story about a reunion (2013).
Write a short story in which a ghostly presence plays a significant part (2014).
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I constantly remind myself of the old adage, “Look, but don’t touch.” But it is a rule I have always struggled, unsuccessfully, to abide by. The pond is an idyllic spot; the water sparkles beneath the light of a blazing sun, while the edges are shaded by ancient weeping willows that dip their leaves and branches beneath the surface. On the opposite side of my hiding place is a clearing, known locally as “the shore”, and it is here, that dog walkers stop to throw sticks and children; stones. Today, there are three visitors: boys aged twelve (my favourites). Two of them are known to me, John and Danny. They’re twins. Danny is older and constantly reminds his three-minute-younger brother of this. They don’t get on, but today they seem happy, skimming stones to my side of the watery expanse.
His father left when he was nine. It was a Wednesday night. Paul lay on the bathroom floor, his ear to the cold tiles, listening to his parents shout at each other in the room below. Then there was silence. The news came on. Even to this day those opening credits remind Paul of those words shouted by his mother: “You had sex with her!”
“Sex” was a concept nine year old Paul didn’t fully understand, but it was that word that resulted in his father leaving, never to come back. It was mum’s fault. Mum made dad leave. Everything was mum’s fault. It was mum’s fault Paul didn’t see his cousins, it was mum’s fault he couldn’t go on the school tour, and it was mum’s fault that Paul wasn’t going to the same secondary school as John and Danny.
“But St. Anne’s is a great school,” she argued.
“I want to go to the Comp.”
“You’ll do better at St. Anne’s.”
“None of my friends are going there.”
“So you’ll make new ones.”
“I don’t want new ones.”
John and Danny were both going to the Comprehensive school, and they laughed at Paul, especially when they found out he started school two days earlier than they did.
John and Danny laughed. Paul did too, but it was a fake laugh, to him there was nothing funny about that word. To him, it wasn’t a word associated with fun or pleasure. It was a loaded word; a word that had destroyed his family, and ruined his life. Last night, Paul had cried. He cried thinking of the future, thinking forward to dark September evenings. John and Danny would move on. They’d make new friends and Paul would be alone. Alone. And struggling to fit into a school he neither wanted to be in, nor did he belong.
His sadness is palpable. I want to reach out to him, tell him he wouldn’t be alone. I could be his friend. He could talk to me, cry to me. And I would hold him in my arms, like his father should have.
“Time for a swim”, announces Danny. They quickly disrobe.
I am now fixated by Paul, so much so, I don’t even notice the others enter the water.
They swim in circles, laughing, splashing and sending wave like ripples to the edges of the pond. Paul changes direction and effortlessly crosses to my side, eventually pulling himself out of the water.
He is so close to me now. He might have even seen me, had he been looking. He looks well; a fine specimen of adolescence and so close, I could almost touch him... He re-enters the water in spectacular style, plunging deep below the surface.
Now’s my chance.
You see, even on hot days like this, the water remains cold, and the deeper you go, the colder it gets; sometimes below freezing. It is a lesson Paul would have been taught in Geography in a couple of weeks... but not now... not now that I’ve introduced myself...
A tap on his shoulder; a whisper in his ear, “Time to go”.
After ten minutes of hysterical searching for their friend, the twins eventually drag his lifeless carcass to the shore. It lies there, sprawled out on the grass; quite undignified.
I glance back over my shoulder at the ensuing pandemonium; a jogger stops to help. Soon the ambulance will arrive, with the paramedics frantically pounding on Paul’s chest, desperately trying to expel water from his lungs... I do hate to see people waste their time.
Besides, someone somewhere is finishing a short story and I must go to relieve them of any future reading pleasures.
Based on a student's essay
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