Entries from August 2013 ↓

4 essay prompts high school students will love

Interest-grabbing essay prompts high school students will love {via In Our Write Minds}

DO your teens view writing as a dull, meaningless task? Are you always searching for essay prompts high school students will love? Then suggest one of the following interest-grabbing topics to help them brush up on composition skills!

1. The Artist’s Eye

Describe the artwork of your favorite painter or film studio. Discuss the color palette, subject matter, and style (abstract, realist, etc.).

2. Dream Budget

Imagine someone hands you $10,000 on the day of your high school graduation, with one condition: you must spend part of it immediately, save another part for at least twenty years, and give the rest away. Where will you shop, and how will you invest? Which charity, cause, or ministry will you support? Explain your choices.

3. Two Roads Diverged

Compare and contrast two careers that interest you. What aspects of the jobs appeal to you? How will your future look if you choose one of these two paths?

4. Green Light

In your opinion, what are the top three signs that a young adult is ready for a committed relationship leading to marriage? Do age, college degrees, or financial status predict successful relationships?

If you enjoyed these essay prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: Liana_Kyle, courtesy of Creative Commons.

How to write a standout college application essay

How to Write a Standout College Application Essay @writeshop

AS a parent, you’ve likely spent years preparing your teen for college—academically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you followed these tips for college application essays, you’ve already planned ahead by encouraging excellent communication skills.

By now, your teen has probably narrowed down her list of college choices, and she’s ready to start writing. If she wonders how a mere handful of paragraphs can properly introduce all her thoughtful, ambitious, diligent, and enthusiastic qualities, it’s time for her to think like a novelist. In other words, don’t tell your readers—show them!

A Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement in the first paragraph keeps an essay on track. Page limits will not allow high school students to include every childhood dream and future goal in their college admission essays. To avoid rambling, write a few introductory sentences to set the overall tone. Then follow with a thesis statement that answers the admission counselor’s question: Why should I keep reading?

Study the application carefully as you write your thesis statement:

  • Does the admission staff want to see an essay about “Why You Are a Perfect Fit for Our College” or “How You Will Contribute to Our Campus Community”? Develop your answer with three to six key points.
  • Now, write a thesis statement that includes all of these points (or, as my professor called them, “divisions of proof”). Each paragraph in your essay will build on one of these points, drawing from your life experiences for concrete examples.

Write in the Active Voice

After you develop a thesis statement and write a solid draft, go back and edit for active instead of passive voice. To find instances of passive writing, look for the red flags commonly known as “to be” words (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been).

An essay in the passive voice sends subtle signals to an admissions counselor: This student follows and responds instead of taking the initiative to lead. You don’t want to send a message like that!

Consider the following statements:

  • Passive: I was asked to join the drama team for my youth group during my sophomore year.
  • Active: As a member of my youth group drama team, I volunteered to coordinate the elementary school outreach in the spring of my sophomore year.
  • Passive: I have been commended by my teachers for my attention to detail in labs and my ability to motivate other students. 
  • Active: I always take the time to double-check details during labs whether or not the teachers are watching, and I make a special effort to encourage lab partners who lack self-confidence in the sciences. 

Using active voice also makes it easier to add more compelling details to a sentence. This lends an air of greater maturity to your writing.

Paint Captivating Pictures

A novelist does much more than simply ask readers to imagine a boy on a sailing ship or a girl in a small town. She helps us feel the runaway slave’s quickening heartbeat in a wild storm. She helps us hear the red-headed girl’s piercing song in the Main Street parade. Your job as a college applicant is no different. You must envision yourself living, breathing, and studying at your college of choice. Then, you must help the admissions staff see the same picture.

Write a vivid college application essay by avoiding conditional statements (“if/when this happens, I would/could/might do that”). Use a strong future tense instead:

  • Weak: If accepted to your fall program, I would be a valuable asset to your school.
  • Strong: At XYZ University, I will dedicate myself to carrying on a tradition of innovation and scholarship. Grateful for this opportunity, I will stand as a proud member of the 2014 freshman class.

What’s Your Story?

Author Richard Paul Evans offers this wisdom:

The most important story we will ever write in life is our own—not with ink, but with our daily choices.

In your college application essay, you have an exciting opportunity to demonstrate more than just writing skills. You can show an admissions staff that your life story is something they will want to invest in and become part of. What are you waiting for? Find a quiet spot and start writing!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: AFS-USA Intercultural Programs, courtesy of Creative Commons.


5 First lines: Fun writing prompts that spark enthusiasm

5 First lines: Fun writing prompts that spark enthusiasm! The prompt provides the first line of each paragraph, and a child’s imagination will fill in the rest! {In Our Write Minds}

LET your children try these fun writing prompts, and see how far their creativity takes them! We provide the first line of each paragraph, and a child’s imagination will fill in the rest.

1. Every Kid’s Dream House

When I build the perfect tree house, it will include four spectacular features.

2. Operation X-Ray Vision

Making a superhero costume from stuff around the house is actually quite easy.

3. It’s Classified

This book will self-destruct in fifteen minutes, so follow these directions carefully.

4. A Modest Proposal

Dear Mom & Dad: Here is my detailed plan to redecorate my bedroom.

5. D.I.Y. Fashion

With a jar of paperclips, beads, and mismatched buttons, you can transform any item of clothing.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: Wonderlane, courtesy of Creative Commons.


Kids need clear writing expectations

Kids need measurable, clear writing expectations. Achievable goals, specific directions, and consistency will boost confidence and skills

By Daniella Dautrich

When you have kids, you step into the role of teacher every moment of every day. Your toddlers and teens alike look to you for guidance and approval as they navigate a complex world of social interactions, household responsibilities, and time management.

Clear expectations from you make all the difference in their learning experience. If children fail to understand what you require, the confusion quickly leads to frustration or discouragement. The realm of writing is no exception.

You might not have an antique desk and blackboard or the perfect “teacher outfit” for the first day of school. But when it comes to teaching writing, I’m confident you’ll be the poised and prepared Writing Teacher of the Year if you avoid two common pitfalls!

The Insecure Parent: “A” for Effort

If you feel inadequate when it comes to teaching writing, it’s possible you’re requiring too little from your kids. Because teaching and grading writing are stressful, you may only ask for 15 minutes of journaling each week or give a purposeless assignment here and there just to say, “We did writing.”

If writing is rather hit-and-miss at your house, so is grading. Sometimes you comment on your kids’ papers, and sometimes you don’t. You’re an encourager at heart and desire to praise any of their efforts. More often than not, you liberally give checkmarks, smiley faces, and passing grades. It’s possible their writing and grammar mistakes continue to multiply simply because giving realistic feedback is hard for you.

The problem isn’t your fun-loving or soft-hearted spirit! Insecurity about teaching writing creates low expectations and inconsistency. This makes for a haphazard teaching style that not only creates a stumbling block for overwhelmed kids, but quenches their confidence as well.

The Unrealistic Parent: “A” for Perfection

The pendulum can swing the other way too!

If you have a background in English, love to write or blog, or consider yourself a grammar geek, you may have especially high standards for your children. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—but it can become a problem if you don’t set boundaries or communicate your requirements.

Be careful not to impose vague standards of perfection on your kids (which set them up for failure). Weighing them down with unclear (or unrealistic) expectations can turn them off to writing. Instead, give your children achievable goals so they know what to aim for.

The Write Solution

Giving clear writing expectations will help you raise better writers and reduce stress. That’s why I’m such a fan of teaching writing skills the WriteShop way. Red-pencil corrections such as “too vague” may leave your child scratching his head and wondering what he did wrong. Instead, before he first begins to write, make tasks concrete and give him measurable targets such as:

  • Write one paragraph of five to seven sentences.
  • Include emotion words to add a stronger voice.
  • Choose vivid, exciting words instead of dull, vague words.

Now, instead of marking your children’s writing as “too vague” or “too short,” you can instruct, guide, and correct with greater confidence. As you and your children practice communicating specific ideas, requests, and concerns, the clear expectations might just overflow into the rest of your home life as well.

Interested in learning more about WriteShop curriculum choices?

WriteShop Primary (grades K-3)
WriteShop Junior (grades 3-6)
WriteShop I and II (junior high/high school)

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Steven S., courtesy of Creative Commons.

Get your homeschool year off to a great start!

Free Homeschool Interviews

Summer is quickly coming to an end and many homeschool moms are starting, or at least planning, their homeschool curriculum. In order to help encourage homeschool parents, Kerry Beck is offering 2 weeks of homeschool interviews to get your school year off to the right start!

Kim Kautzer

Kerry is hosting interviews of 15 experts in the homeschooling community. Each one has practical advice to help you get started on the right foot this year. I’m honored to be one of the guests who was interviewed.

I’ll be sharing my own story about teaching a struggling student, plus I’ll have lots of tips for teaching writing in your homeschool. I hope you tune in to listen!

When is Homeschool Super Heroes Week?

Actually, it’s more than a week —it is 2 weeks of wonderful information and inspiration!  You can listen to the interviews each day for free during August 19-30.  All you have to do is register for Homeschool Super Heroes Week and you will have daily access to practical tips & tricks for you to start your year right.

  • No traveling to your state convention
  • No hotel expenses
  • No registration fees

See you there!


Register for this free event here.

WriteShop is an affiliate of Homeschool Super Heroes. This post contains affiliate links. Please see our complete disclosure policy for details.

Journal prompts for horse-loving kids

journal prompts, horse, writing prompts, horseback riding

CLOSE your eyes, and step into a barn where feed, hay, and leather tack bathe your senses. Imagine your horse’s smooth coat and glistening eyes as the two of you come alive in an early morning ride. Now, capture a few of your thoughts and feelings with these horse-inspired journal prompts.

1. And the Winner is…

If you could spend one day as either a sleek Triple Crown race horse or fancy, high-stepping show horse, which would you choose and why?

2. Through Rain, or Snow, or Gloom of Night

From police to cowboys to stagecoach drivers, people from all walks of life have formed close bonds with their horses. Write about three ways horses have helped mankind throughout history.

3. Sitting Tall in the Saddle

Western style riding offers the security of a wide saddle, the casual feel of both reins in one hand, and the smooth gait of the Western jog. English style riders enjoy a lighter saddle, a lively trotting gait, and the option to compete in dressage events. Which style do you prefer? Explain your opinion.

4. A Perfect Partnership

Riders quickly learn that half-hearted signals won’t control their steeds. For successful horse and rider communication, you must be fully present and committed to following through with each signal. Write about a time when riding—or another outdoor activity—demanded you to give one-hundred percent. Describe the challenges you faced and the result you achieved.

5. One of a Kind

In personality, appearance, and skill, no two horses are alike. Breyer model horses capture this spirit with handcrafted sculptures, painted and finished by the finest artisans. Perhaps a Breyer model reminds you of a horse you hope to own someday. Maybe you’ve already had the good fortune to meet this special animal. Write about your dream horse and what makes it unique.

6. Little Things

Have you ever wondered about your horse’s strange behavior, and later discovered rocks stuck in a hoof? Write about an experience with your horse (or sibling or best friend) when you learned that small things in life make large difference.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: David, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Finding a voice

Eudora Welty, fiction writing, perspective

WHEN we are young, our own voice seems loudest and most important. Then, we grow older and something happens. The world is no longer a show for our benefit, but rather a stage where each of us has a part to play. Finding a voice is the process of discovering that unique part.

For author Eudora Welty, finding a voice required all her courage and honesty as a freshly-minted college graduate in the heart of the Great Depression.

Aware of the World

At sixteen, Eudora entered a Mississippi women’s state college. Overcrowded, underfunded, and bursting with old traditions, the school offered her a firsthand look at a lively variety of personalities and backgrounds. Her longing for somewhere distant led her to the University of Wisconsin in her junior year. After attending grad school at Columbia University, it was time for Eudora to come home; her father had died, and the Great Depression hung over the nation like a gray cloud.

Working at her first full-time job, Eudora canvassed her home state with paper, pencil, and camera as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration. Noisy girls in a college dorm had been a mere taste of life compared to the people she now met in their local communities and on their native land. Storing scenes and descriptions in her memory—and saving each spare dollar for trips to New York City—Eudora dreamed of the day when an editor would publish her stories.

On those trips to New York, Eudora slowly became conscious of a change time had wrought within her. As a child in a sleeper car with her father, she had listened to the sounds of the night from a bunk enfolded by thick green curtains. She had peered out the window at distant houses with light in the doorways, never considering that those continued to exist when she and her train car had passed. Now, as an adult, her perspective had shifted. In the tumultuous years of World War II, a quiet soldier stepped off her train into the sunset of a Tennessee valley. Eudora recalls, “I felt us going out of sight for him, diminishing and soon to be forgotten.”

Perhaps your son or daughter will begin college this fall, with opportunities abounding to interact with new cultures or serve in new neighborhoods. The coming school year might bring a first job, first mission trip, or first time traveling alone by plane. Each step lets your child discover a wider world, where self grows smaller and others matter more.

Finding a Voice

Eudora Welty found her passion for writing in college, but spent years developing her voice. She wanted to write fiction, something her mother adored and her father had questioned. He represented the critic who claims fiction must be a waste of time because it is not true. Developing her craft, Eudora found that fiction can hold truths of human life, even if the details and chronology are not historically true. Having gained perspective into the wider world, she endowed her characters with the truth of human feelings, experiences, and relationships she had observed.

Working behind a camera, Eudora learned that we must always be ready: “Life doesn’t hold still.” Writing allowed her to capture some of that transience, and it helped her see connections between young and old, past and present, reality and perception. Each time she began a new story, her respect for the complexity of human beings—and for the threads that bind us together—grew deeper.

After years of patiently fine-tuning her skills, Miss Welty found an enthusiastic editor. Your children, likewise, are learning skills today that will help them move forward in the world tomorrow. Don’t let them get discouraged if they can’t see the end goal. Someday, they’ll look back and appreciate the preparation.

Daring to Live

Concluding her memoir of a sheltered life, Eudora Welty sums up her experience:

“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way of becoming a part of it.”

From a toddler’s first steps to a college freshman’s orientation week, the journeys your children take will continually mold their view of the world and their sense of mission in it. They may find a voice someday through teaching, architecture, culinary arts, or any other avenue. In the meantime, love them. Encourage them. Through bittersweet changes, through the heartache of parting, your children will remember your unwavering support—and they will know that love is the strongest force in the world.

Part 1: How Listening Can Inspire a Love of Words

Part 2: Learning to See

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Vestman, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Printable Writing Prompt ~ August

Have you ever walked through the paint aisle and read the color names on the paint chip samples? This month’s printable writing prompt pairs those creative color names with your imagination! Print, write, and share! We’d love to hear your story.

August Writing Prompt

Click the image above to download the prompt. If you would like to share this prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host these files anywhere else.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Learning to see

descriptive language, Eudora Welty, observation, reading

In her memoir One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty invites us to ponder the connections between childhood memories and the mature creative process.

Miss Welty reminds us of a profound yet simple truth: if you want to raise a writer, you must teach your child how to read. Reading, however, goes far beyond printed words on a page, as we find in Part 2, “Learning to See.”

Reading the Natural World

In the early days of automobiles, when babies bounced across the country on their mothers’ laps, Eudora Welty spent summer road trips with her legs outstretched over suitcases in the back seat. Her family drove long miles from their Mississippi home to visit Grandma Andrews in West Virginia and Grandpa Welty in Ohio. Eudora recalls:

“I rode as a hypnotic, with my set gaze on the landscape that vibrated past at twenty-five miles an hour.”

Winding roads and rugged ferry boats led the family car to its first destination: a West Virginia mountain top with a weather-beaten house, built by the grandfather who had once impressed many a jury with his oratory and spun plenty of tall tales to tease his wife. The road trip would continue, bearing the family across the state line to the north where—as Eudora’s mother pointed out—the barns were all bigger than the houses. Exploring the Welty farm, with its apple orchard, pasture, corn and wheat fields, young Eudora discovered that “Grandpa’s barn was bigger than his house.”

Just as the best landscape artists work from life, the best writers see life with open eyes. Your children can’t journal about changing tides and swooping gulls on the beach if they won’t take the time to smell, to listen, to look around and watch. They cannot write about an afternoon spent at the museum if they walked through the halls and never bothered to notice anything.

We are all riddled with distractions that hinder us from truly seeing. Perhaps we ought to take a cue from the Welty family’s road trip of yesteryear, and try driving with the radio turned off, the DVD player removed, and the handheld devices off limits. Allow your children the boredom and wonder of fifteen minutes—or one hour or two—simply looking out the window. Adopt this habit, and over time they may be eagerly describing the changing skyline of your city, the changing colors of the seasons, and all the other curious, delightful things they were finally able to see.

Reading People

Cross-country trips enabled Eudora Welty to see not only new landscapes, but new facets of her parents and relatives as well. She came to understand her mother as the brave woman who, at only fifteen years old, had escorted a dying father to a hospital by way of frozen lake and train, and had soon after taught school to pupils older than herself.

Eudora learned to sense the changing atmosphere when her father entered a room where five banjo-loving uncles eyed him as the man who took their sister away. Eudora attached great significance to her mother’s childhood home in the mountains, where lonely echoes remind you of things out of sight but never really far away. When her mother’s eyesight grew dim in later years, and their family’s happiest times seemed far distant, Eudora relearned the lesson from her mother and the mountains: “emotions do not grow old.”

It’s easy to separate the children from the adults when friends come calling or extended family fills the house at holiday time. I encourage you, whenever possible, to include your children in adult gatherings and conversations. At first, your little ones may not understand or contribute much, but over time children learn to read people and the situations they create.

With this background in reading both people and nature, your sons and daughters will one day write in a way that cuts to the heart of an argument and, more importantly, touches the heart of all who read.

Part 1: How Listening Can Inspire a Love of Words

Part 3: Finding a Voice

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy

Photo: Lori H. Designs, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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