Entries from September 2009 ↓

Writing across the curriculum with WriteShop II

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

Q: Can you help? I’d like to learn how to use Write Shop II with topics from my high schooler’s history studies. For example, I’d like to give her an assignment such as: “Write a 3 paragraph paper on Gregory The Great.”

A: You will be glad to learn that you can use almost all WriteShop lessons to write about things you’re studying in history.

Writing Across the Curriculum

To write about history, you have several choices. First, take a look at Appendix B of your Teacher’s Manual, specifically TM pp. B-4 to B-7. This section, called “Writing Across the Curriculum,” gives you all sorts of ideas for using each WriteShop assignment as a springboard for writing about other subjects such as history or art (the WriteShop II ideas begin on TM p. B-6).

This way, you could give your daughter important practice writing the short report from Lesson 19, having her write a biography instead of an animal report. She could certainly write about Gregory the Great or any other figure from history. This important assignment is the first WriteShop lesson that teaches how to organize a longer composition.

History-based Essays

The remaining essay section (Lessons 25-30) will then teach a new set of skills: beginning with Lesson 25, your student will write short essays that give her opinion, compare or contrast, and describe or define. Each one of these essays can be used with history lessons.

In addition to the suggestions on TM p. B-7, you can also find loads of recommended topics and essay ideas on TM pp. B-21 to B-25. For example, here are some ways you could use Gregory the Great as a subject for some of the upcoming essay assignments:

  • On TM p. B-23, one of the suggestions says: “Discuss the significance of a famous battle.” You could tweak this topic to say: “Discuss the significance of the reign of Gregory the Great.” 
  • Also on TM p. B-23, instead of describing “what made George Washington a great president,” you might suggest: “Discuss three major accomplishments of Gregory the Great.”
  • On TM p. B-25, one of the suggestions says: “Compare or contrast two presidents (scientists, explorers).” Instead, have her compare Pope Gregory I with Pope Leo I.

Once you’ve completed the lessons, it would be wise to continue re-assigning essays from Lessons 25-30 on a regular basis to keep your daughter in practice. So, once she’s used up her lesson-specific checklists, you can provide her with photocopies of the all-purpose essay checklists on pp. C-3 to C-6 (Teacher’s Manual Appendix C). With these checklists, you will be able to give your own parameters for each assignment’s length, enabling you to teach longer essays if you so desire.

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WriteShop I and WriteShop II have a proven track record! Using the program will help prepare your teens for advanced high school and college writing. For beginning and average writers in 7th-10th grades, consider WriteShop I. For students in grades 8-11 who need a bit more challenge, take a look at WriteShop II.

Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

Discovering interesting topics is a critical component of the essay-planning process. However, a good topic is not enough to guarantee a successful paper. The goal of the initial prewriting stage is not to come up with a subject or a topic, per se, but to identify a controlling idea that will help guide and shape the student’s essay and direct her brainstorming efforts.

Why Write a Thesis Statement?

An essay focuses on a particular concept, idea, or scenario and tries to say something unique about it. It shouldn’t be a sprawling report of all possible facts and details. Instead, essay writing is about choosing and analyzing the most important elements necessary for advancing a particular position. Therefore, the thesis statement for an essay represents a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for the entirety of your student’s paper.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement presents, in one or two sentences, the central, controlling argument of an essay. It explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper and/or previews its main ideas. Everything your student writes throughout the essay should in some way reinforce this primary claim. A good thesis statement should:

  1. Concisely present the central idea of the essay.
  2. Guide the direction of the paper and establish priorities
  3. Take a definitive stand that justifies the case your student is about to make.
  4. Articulate a specific, arguable point with which people could logically disagree. It helps to ask what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about the topic. If the student is presenting a claim or statement that no one would argue against, then he’s not saying anything worth reading. 
    • Uncontestable claim: The world would be a better place without war.
    • Contestable claim: Christians should not participate violently in war.
    • Uncontestable claim: Domestic terrorism is on the rise in the United States.
    • Contestable claim: The rise of domestic terrorism reflects an increased disillusionment with the United States government.
  5. Effectively answer the prompt or question (if given).
  6. Be thoughtfully and deliberately worded.
  7. Avoid vague generalizations.
  8. Use clear and concrete language.
  9. Pass the “So what?” test of significance. A good thesis should be substantial and important, so ask, “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?” 
    • Insubstantial claim: Students at ABC University have school spirit.
    • Substantial claim: The strong sense of community at ABC University is evident in its students’ commitment to campus functions and organizations. This challenges the prevailing characterization of Generation X as apathetic, uninvolved, and lazy.

Wordless Wednesday – A flower grows in Brooklyn

This is what happens when poor spelling collides with a New York accent.

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Teaching young children to write: 3 keys to success

Key: Avoid Comparing Your Child

It’s easier said than done, but as you teach your young child to write, try not to compare him with other kids his age. Just because little Susie could write phonetically at age four, or Johnny started writing sentences before your child could form the letters of the alphabet, relax! There’s no need to panic or stress.

Key: Children Develop at Different Rates

Fine-motor skills, like other stages of development, vary from child to child. Some budding writers, especially boys, will struggle with writing on a line, copying and forming letters, and putting their words and thoughts on paper. These skills and more come with time and patience. The development of a young child’s writing is best achieved through:

  • Plenty of time spent on writing activities.
  • Many opportunities to write during the school day.
  • Focused instruction that builds from your child’s efforts. 

Key: Your Child Needs You

Clearly, young children cannot learn to write on their own. Even if you create an atmosphere rich with educational materials—story books, fancy papers, colored markers, a spelling dictionary, and a pocket chart—it’s not enough. To effectively develop basic writing skills, your child needs YOU—along with your example, encouragement, and daily guidance.

This season in your child’s educational development is an opportune time to teach and model writing within a warm, safe environment. As you progress through early writing lessons, you’ll find that repetition, routine, and consistency play a vital role in teaching basic skills. There’s no way around it—your involvement with your child during writing sessions is key to his or her success.

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