An introduction to the introduction that just occurred to me, because I wanted to do this all extemporaneously with no editing:
In high school debate tournaments, there was an event called Expository Speaking, or something close to that. We just called it Expoz. Students were handed a topic on a slip of paper, and given a short amount of time to research and write about it, then give a speech on it. I was always afraid to try it. This strikes me as very silly, looking back. I was a star at exposition! Learning to give a speech from there wouldn't have been so difficult. But I wasn't encouraged in that direction. Now, as an adult, I could speak extemporaneously about just anything at all, informative or persuasive. I like to talk. Whatever. Let us commence.
We're back to daily short essay time. The 16 year-old is a comedian. The 14 year-old fusses over spelling and handwriting. The 12 year-old moans and groans about having nothing to say. In his case, this might be partially true. None of us can figure out if there's anything inside his head other than baseball and a love of chocolate. But even Raggedy Ann had cotton that she would pull on when she was searching for a solution to a problem.
Today I issued him a challenge, as I do from time to time. "Think of an old saying that you've heard, about anything at all, and I'll write an essay on it right here and describe it as I write."
The state tests school kids take now have essay portions on them, and next year when we do online school, they'll all have to do some. One just has to be more serious and one has to just relax, but baby bear, well. He's gotta "just do it."
So, after saying he knows no old sayings at all, he came up with "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." And here is the essay I composed and wrote, which I estimate took about ten minutes of pen to paper and explanation as I wrote. (Obviously it would be much faster on the keyboard/much more could be written in that space of time.) The point I wish to make, which I will expand on in a minute, is that you can write anything about anything, if you just put your mind to the task and let one idea lead to the next.
All my life I've been told, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." When I was little, I took that literally and worried that if I didn't eat apples every day I would get sick. Then I grew older and understood that it was a metaphor for taking care of yourself. I have learned other metaphors work the same way. They teach you how to live a good life.
Apples really are good for you. They have fiber and vitamins and come naturally from the earth. The best foods are all like that. They help us grow, and support all our systems, including our skin, teeth and hair. So if we eat the best foods we will be more healthy than if we eat a lot of unnatural processed "junk."
The people who invented the saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" knew that when you eat good food you feel better. And when you recite something important as a rhyme, it is easier to remember. The apple is a metaphor for good wholesome natural food.
Now that I understand how useful a saying like that can be, I plan to learn more of them as little reminders for daily living. Also, I think I will pick up some apples today on my way home.
In later school years, you'd be allowed time to write something like this and edit, then rewrite the final piece. And it would be best to provide another body paragraph with more detail, perhaps about another common folk saying. But in these middle school exercises, 25-30 minutes for prewriting and writing is sufficient to demonstrate you can get the job done, and two body paragraphs are okay.
It's good daily writing practice, or something to do if you feel you have "writer's block"—pick something someone said in the news, a song lyric or line of poetry, or a famous saying, and go to town with it. You might find it leads you in some interesting new direction, or at least settles your mind back into order.