In my history lessons, our teacher taught us a very good outline or structure that can be used for GCSE essays. It fits perfectly with the timing and gives you the oppourtunity to get in all the points and details necessary. You may have learnt to do it differently, but it is a structure I stick to religiously, and it works very well.
The introduction can be really brief: 3 sentences thereabouts.
An overview: A general statement showing you know what you're on about.
A key statement: If you could sum up the essay in one sentence, that sentence.
A link to the first paragraph: Does what it says on the tin.
Overview: The Plains Indians lifestyle was very different to the white mans lifestyle.
Key Statement: This was because the Plains Indians lived in a very different environment to where the white man had come from.
Link to First Paragraph: It was very different in many ways, such as the animals that lived there and the materials that were available.
The way I organise my paragraphs is that I put the two most important factors, in my opinion at the beginning, and at the end. This way, these factors are the ones that stick in the examiners head. I put the factor I feel (and this is only personal opinion) is the most important last, because it then flows well into the conclusion.
First Paragraph- Nomadic Lifestyle
Mainly due to the hunting of the buffalo. In retrospect, I think I should have put this paragraph last, as it is a huge factor.
The buffalo were constantly moving around the Plains. South in the winter, where it was warmer, and north in the summer, where temperatures were far more bearable. The Plains Indians, whose lifestyle depended on the buffalo, would follow them. To the white man, they moved in a seemingly random pattern, but it was actually an annual route, led by the buffalo herd.
White man thought this was inferior. White man liked farms, permanent homes and settling. Nomadic lifestyles seemed pointless and inefficient.
In actual fact, this was the best way for the Indians to make use of the resources available to them on the Plains, as wood and water were scarce.
In each of my paragraphs, I like to begin and end with a reference to the question. This was suggested to me by my teacher (likewise with all the other tips on here). It just helps to keep me focused on what the question is actually asking me, so that I don't go off topic, which is far to easy to do, especially under exam pressure. It may be boring, but it is an idea that really works. Just getting into that habit has helped my essays improve by far. It makes it easier for the examiner to make sense of, and easier for me to stay focused.
Second Paragraph- Religion
The Plains Indians had a religion based on "The Great Spirit". White settlers were Christians, and the difference in religion led to conflict and prejudice, as it ineivetably seems to.
The Plains Indians performed rituals such as the Sun Dance. To them, they were incredibly spiritual and gave them good "medicine"- not to be confused with healing, medicine here refers to a spiritual connections, recieving visions and the like. Good medicine was necessary to hunt and survive. The rituals were bright, colourful and noisy affairs.
This conflicted greatly with the white mans religion. The Puritains, who were some of the settlers, had a very plain and solemn religion, with rules and books. They saw the Plains Indians religion as brutal, savage and inferior.
I tend to do my essays thematically, picking 5/6 main points and doing a paragraph for each. Sometimes, this isn't the best approach, and chronologically organised paragraphs, which go through events step by step, often work very well. Using a chronological structure helps you to ensure you won't miss out any majors points, but a thematic approach can help you identify some far more insightful points, and therefore gain more marks. It's just a case of whatever works best for you.