Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

How to edit and grade writing | Editing high school papers

Tips for homeschool parents who need help learning how to edit and grade writing, esp. their high school students' compositions and essays.

Homeschooling middle and high school kids carries an extra weight that isn’t nearly as evident when we’re teaching our younger ones: the older the kids get, it seems, the more intimidating it becomes to homeschool them.

Moms confess to me that writing is one of the most challenging subjects for them to teach. And when it comes to editing and grading that writing, they feel like they’re all adrift.

Do you feel that way too? Take heart! If you’re just starting to teach writing to your teens, don’t expect to know everything at the beginning! It’s a learning process, and I hope these editing and grading tips will give you more confidence.

Today we’ll look at editing your students’ compositions with the intent of helping them write stronger final drafts. Then next time, we’ll talk about how to actually grade those finished papers.

Begin with Self-Editing  

After your teen writes a rough draft, have him use a writing checklist to look for errors in his own writing. (Some programs, such as WriteShop I and II, include checklists—and they’re invaluable to both student and parent.)

Once he has self-edited his rough draft and written a revision, it’s time for you to review it and make suggestions before he writes a final draft.

Use a Teacher Writing Checklist  

A well-written checklist will remind you of the lesson’s expectations so you don’t have to make guesses about what that composition or essay should include. This is the key to being objective and consistent. Using a checklist keeps you focused and fair because you’re not making stabs in the dark. Instead, you know just what you’re looking for as you edit the text.

Your child has had a chance to self-edit and revise already; this is your opportunity to catch and comment on anything that still needs attention. Typically, the more suggestions you give during editing, the better his final drafts will become. As you edit, do your best to identify the errors your student has missed during his own self-editing. Otherwise, he won’t even realize he made those mistakes—and they’ll go uncorrected in the final draft.

Is It Laziness?

Your role is to help your teens spot errors he just doesn’t see—those subjective details such as “strong topic sentence” or “communicated clearly.” He may think he’s done those things, but if you believe differently, you can then steer him in the right direction.

On the other hand, if he’s clearly being lazy about self-editing, and he’s not catching obvious things (such as “to be” verbs, repeated or weak words, or missing sentence variations), return the paper to him and tell him you will edit his paper once he has done his job.

Try These Editing Tips

Not only are the following ideas helpful for parent editing, they’re great tips to share with your teen when he does his own self-editing.

SEARCH FOR ONE KIND OF PROBLEM AT A TIME. Read through the paper several times. As you do, watch for something specific each time, such as strong word choice, sentence variety, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, etc.

1. Content

Check the paper’s content. Did your teen fulfill the lesson expectations? Are there areas where he needs  to add more details, facts, or explanation? Are any parts of the text unclear?

2. Organization

Is the writing organized and easy to follow? Does it flow well from one point to the next? Does he use transition words and phrases to connect ideas?

3. Clarity

Is the paper’s tone appropriate for the audience? Does your student need to restructure any awkward or wordy sentences to make sure his writing is clear and readable?

4. Mechanics and Word Choice

Look for misspelled words and grammatical errors. Check sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation. Again, you’re more likely to catch errors if you look for one of these details each time you make a pass through the paper.

BE POSITIVE. Note things your student did well. Finding every error should not be your primary goal. Yes, it’s important and necessary to identify mistakes. Otherwise, your teen’s writing will never get better! Just remember to edit with grace and kindness so your suggestions are more well-received.

An Analogy

Learn how editing a writing assignment is like making chicken stockSuppose you’ve just made a big pot of chicken soup. You ask your teenager to take out the large chunks of vegetables, meat, and bones—anything he can scoop out with a large slotted spoon. This is just like self-editing, where he catches obvious errors in content, style, and mechanics himself.

When he has finished removing the big pieces, you then strain the broth to catch whatever he missed—those soggy celery leaves or pieces of onion skin that still remain. This is like parent editing, where you find the errors that are less evident to him—as well as the occasional bigger mistakes that went unnoticed the first time.

Even after straining the stock, you may find a few bits that never got caught—and that’s okay! It won’t ruin the soup. Likewise, neither you nor your teen will always spot every writing error. That, too, is okay.

In truth, even if you only catch half the mistakes in his writing, his revision will be greatly improved over the first draft. So relax and do your best, dear homeschooling mom, knowing that your encouraging input is making a difference.

Photos: woodleywonderworks and SaucyGlo, courtesy of Creative Commons

Shakespeare journal prompts

High School students can bring literary characters to life with creative Shakespeare journal prompts.

GREAT actors use many techniques to get inside the minds of their characters. With these Shakespeare journal prompts, high schoolers can learn firsthand how writing helps actors bring characters to life!

1. Fairy Antics

You are the mischievous fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You just learned that you applied a love potion to the wrong young man, and now two men are pursuing the same woman! Journal about your reactions to your mistake. Are you a little bit sorry? Are you looking forward to a day of entertaining mix-ups? Are you confident you can fix your mistake?

2. Midnight Meeting

In the first scene of Hamlet, two night guards convince Horatio to watch for a ghost who resembles the dead king. When the ghost appears, Horatio commands it to speak. You are Horatio. Write about your thoughts when you first call to the ghost. Are you truly afraid or simply curious? Do you believe in ghosts, or do you suspect the guards are playing tricks on you?

3. Word Games

When the English King Henry courts the French princess Katherine in King Henry V, he speaks very little French and she speaks very little English. You are Katherine. Journal about your thoughts during your conversation with your future husband. Are you shy, hopeful, or confused? Do you use all your language skills, or do you pretend to know less English than you really do?

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

Photo: Brian Wright, courtesy of Creative Commons

Speech-writing tips for high school students

Teach rhetoric and composition with these speech-writing tips for prewriting, writing, and editing.

SPEECH writing offers a rare chance for students to impact an audience in lasting, meaningful ways. Through this kind of written and oral communication, they can learn to convey truth in a world with where morals are blurred and virtues are disappearing. Thus, speech writers combine narrative, descriptive, explanatory, and persuasive skills, arranging a composition to make both logical and emotional appeals. After all, rhetoric (the art of persuasion) should engage the whole person, not just the mind or heart.

Even if your son will never enroll in a speech and debate club, encourage him to present an original speech in a group setting such as a class, family gathering, or graduation party. These speech-writing tips for students should help him get started!

The Prewriting Stage

When you write a speech, the prewriting stage represents about a third of the entire process.

  • Choose a topic you feel strongly about. If you don’t care about the subject matter, neither will your audience.
  • Evaluate your potential audience. Will you speak to a mixed group of teenagers or to a room of retirees? What are their values and interests? What kinds of music and cultural references will they relate to?
  • Understand your purpose. Are you writing a speech to entertain, inform, or persuade? If you intend to persuade, are you trying to reach a like-minded or neutral audience or an openly hostile group?
  • Research and brainstorm. Start gathering your facts and examples, and make a list of possible talking points.

The Writing Stage

Writing the first draft should consume about 20% of your time as a speech writer.

  • Develop a “hook.” You need to capture the audience’s attention at the beginning of the speech and motivate them to keep listening. A humorous story or a startling statistic may serve this purpose, depending on the type of speech you’re writing.
  • Construct a thesis. Your speech should present a clear message, with each sub-point logically leading to the final conclusion.
  • Build a relationship with the audience. Establish your credibility as a speaker by demonstrating your connection to the topic. Did a hobby, a favorite author, or a family experience lead you to choose this subject?
  • Organize your ideas. Offer a preview of what’s to come in the introduction, and be sure you follow those points in order.
  • Finish with a strong conclusion. When you reach the end of your speech, restate your thesis and tie everything back to your introduction.

The Editing Stage

The editing stage requires another third of your time as a speech writer. As you revise, check for these items:

  • Grammar. Poor writing could cause an audience to stop taking you seriously, even if your main message is solid.
  • Style. In the writing stage, you focused on substance (what to say); now you can focus on style (how to say it). Without resorting to overdone “purple prose,” you can practice writing techniques such as parallelism, repetition, alliteration, and series or lists.
  • Time. Read your speech out loud. It shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
  • Sound. When you read the speech aloud, do you stumble over unnatural words and phrases? Perhaps you need to rewrite with more direct, simple language. Is your flow of thoughts easy to understand? Is your vocabulary appropriate to the audience’s age and education?
  • Appeal to the senses. Your speech should engage the imagination—not put people to sleep! Do you use figurative language to help the audience visualize concepts? Include a descriptive passage to help them hear, feel, and touch your topic. Try to include narratives that people will identify with. You don’t need too many details… just enough to make the stories ring true and help you explain your persuasive points or morals.
  • Organization. You can arrange your speech chronologically, topically, by comparison/contrast, or in some other way. Just be sure you’re consistent.
  • Politeness. Have you used appropriate language throughout? Have you written with respect for yourself and others? The best speeches display compassion and empathy, rather than tear others down.

The Pre-Performance Stage

Once you’ve written and revised your speech, it’s time to practice! Try to memorize it, and watch your speed so you don’t speak too quickly. Practice in front of a mirror so you remember to move naturally, incorporating hand/arm gestures and facial expressions. Experiment with volume, high and low pitch, and pauses (take notes about what works and what doesn’t.)

Finally, have confidence! Stage fright is part of life, but the greatest performers have learned that passion and honesty set the speaker—and the audience—at ease every time.

Daniella Dautrich studied classical rhetoric at a liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan.

Photo: Liz West, courtesy of Creative Commons

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Expository essay topics for high school

 Expository Essay Topics for High School

INFORMATIVE essays give teens a chance to thoroughly research, understand, and communicate a topic of interest. Let your high schooler choose one of these expository essay prompts, and encourage them to use their best writing organization skills!

1. The Map to Victory

Skilled military leaders carefully adapt their tactics based on battlefield terrain. Choose one war from history, and discuss the role of physical geography in at least two major battles. How did mountains, valleys, rivers, and deserts affect the strategies and outcomes of this particular war?

2. A Curtain Closes

Each culture passes down unique traditions for celebration or mourning when people pass from this life. Research three distinct cultures, and explain how their funeral and burial rites are linked to religious beliefs.

3. The Final Frontier

Less than a century ago, space exploration opened our eyes to incredible new possibilities for science, travel, and communication. Write an essay about either the history of manned space flights or the story of the Hubble Space Telescope.

4. Jingle All the Way

The Christmas season brings many songs, activities, and decorations from countries around the world. Write an informative essay about the origin and development of one Christmas tradition, such as Christmas trees, stockings, or advent wreaths.

If you enjoyed these expository essay topics for high school, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for teens, such as:

Compare and Contrast Essay Prompts

Persuasive Essay Prompts

Photo: Jenny Poole, courtesy of Creative Commons.

7 Pinterest ideas for high school writing

NOW THAT Pinterest has been around awhile, it’s hard to believe not everyone is on the bandwagon. Are you? For homeschoolers, Pinterest is so much more than a place to gather recipes and decorating ideas . . .  it’s a smorgasbord of teaching tips!

Some time ago, I posted 8 writing ideas from Pinterest. Most of those ideas were directed at elementary grades, so today I’d like to point you toward some terrific Pinterest ideas for high school writing.

1. How to Teach Note Taking Skills 

Part of preparing teens for college is teaching good note taking skills during high school. How to Teach Students Note Taking Skills explains the basics of when and how to take notes and introduces teens to both column-style note-taking and mind-mapping.

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

2. How to Choose a Topic for a College Application Essay 

If your teen plans to go to college, it’s a given that the various applications will contain essay questions. Typically vague, they give students a lot of leeway. The trick is learning to reword a prompt so the topic feels comfortable and the response can be both powerful and personal. This article will teach your student  How to Choose a Topic for a College Application Essay.

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

3. Writing Truths for Reluctant Teens

How can you encourage your high schooler when he feels stuck? What should you tell him when he can’t seem to get started writing? How do you help him handle perfectionism? Find encouragement with these 10 Writing Truths for Reluctant Teens.

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

4. Tips for a Quick Writing Makeover

Ideally, students should thoroughly edit and revise their essays before submitting a final draft. But when there isn’t much time to revise a piece of writing, there are still several easy adjustments they can make to improve a paper. For those crunch times, teach them these 5 tips for a quick writing makeover.

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

5. Vocabulary Play 

You don’t have to be a little kid to enjoy playing with words! Check out these five fun ways to help students intentionally engage with vocabulary. I especially love the idea of making a word collage. Which is your favorite?

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

6. Create an Art Journal Page

Do you have an artistic teen? A dreamer? A poet? Here’s a step-by-step tutorial showing the process of creating an art journal page that combines scrapbook-type art, word art, and personal journaling. This is where writing meets art!

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

7. 119 Journal Prompts for Teens 

This post offers 119 writing prompts that will especially appeal to teens. Even the most reluctant writer is sure to find a journal prompt that motivates or inspires!

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing

Be sure to follow our Writing Ideas: Teens and Writing Prompts boards on Pinterest for more helpful writing activities like these! 

Pinterest

Your Turn: What’s your favorite high school writing activity from Pinterest? 

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. 

 

Persuasive essay prompts

Persuasive Essay Prompts: Help your teens to develop clear opinions and supporting arguments.

PERSUASIVE writing provides high schoolers with opportunities to articulate a main point (thesis statement) and to build supporting arguments. Use these persuasive essay prompts for research paper assignments, timed writing practice, or formal discussions with your teen.

When choosing examples for their persuasive papers, high school students should draw from their studies, reading, and personal experience. Remember, this is excellent practice for the SAT!

1. Into the Woods

For centuries, men obtained valuable food sources by raising livestock or hunting in the wild. Today, however, many Americans have chosen vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, proving that our industrialized society provides plenty of alternate food options. Where do you stand on the issue of consuming animal meat? Write an essay to support your point of view.

2. All My Brothers and Sisters

International adoptions have become more and more popular in recent years. In light of both glowing reports and horror stories, should we encourage or discourage international adoptions? Take a stance on this issue, and back up your assertions with compelling narratives and facts.

3. A State of Emergency

When natural disasters strike, victims often need immediate emergency relief—including water, food, shelter, and medical services—as well as long-term help rebuilding communities and rebuilding lives. Some say the responsibility to send financial aid lies exclusively with private individuals and charitable organizations, while others believe this is a proper use of tax dollars by the federal government. Develop your opinion with persuasive facts and arguments.

4. True Education

We’ve all heard the old phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” Is this true when it comes to academic, sports, or music teachers? Develop your thoughts into one key point with persuasive arguments.

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, including:

Cause and Effect Writing Prompts

Book Review Writing Prompts

 

Photo: Charles Knowles, courtesy of Creative Commons.

SAT essay tips: Part 2

SAT Essay Tips | Ways to Practice SAT Prompts at Home

THE idea of a timed essay can strike fear into the heart of any student. If your homeschooled teens plan to take the SAT in the next year or so, don’t wait to prepare for the writing section. Help your high schoolers become familiar with the SAT essay format and scoring well in advance. Then, guide them through writing lessons and extra-curricular activities that will build their skills and boost their confidence.

Start with a writing curriculum that incorporates practice with timed essays. WriteShop II is an excellent choice for your 9th and 10th graders. The program encourages a mastery of writing mechanics, and instills strong instincts for organized, concise writing.

Next, let your high schooler read the SAT essay tips below. Remind them to try a few this week!

Express Yourself

Developing an interesting vocabulary requires time and discipline. Don’t allow yourself to rush through daily conversations, emails, and texts with ambiguous word choices and the poor excuse, “You should know what I mean.” Stop and think about what you’re trying to say. Rephrase confusing statements, and find the words that best express your thoughts. On the flip-side, ask others to clarify their meanings and explain unfamiliar vocabulary words to you.

Practice Handwriting

If you’re used to doing all your writing at the computer, you may be in for a rude awakening when it’s time to write your SAT essay in longhand. With that in mind, make sure you’re comfortable writing by hand.

Practice by writing out the first draft of a school assignment in pencil. Is your handwriting legible? Are your paragraph indents overtly clear? Is your spelling reasonably error-free? If one of these areas needs attention, don’t wait until the night before the SAT to address the issue.

Overcome Perfectionism

Writing two pages in twenty-five minutes won’t give you time to erase and redo large blocks of text. At best, you’ll have a minute or so to quickly re-read your essay, crossing out poor word choices and fixing misplaced commas. Always keep in mind that the SAT essay is a first draft. You should write intelligently and neatly, but no one expects you to be brilliant or perfect.

If you struggle with perfectionism, try this valuable exercise: Sit down with a pencil, a blank sheet of paper, and a simple object like a coffee mug or teaspoon. Draw the object without using an eraser. You will probably have to re-draw some of curves and lines, making the best ones darker so they stand out. The old, imperfect lines remain in the background, but the finished picture will still be beautiful.

Learn the Art of Persuasion

Read an SAT essay prompt each night at the dinner table. Take turns expressing an opinion and offering supporting evidence (no more than five minutes per person).

Practice persuasive writing by sending letters to the editor. Choose a newspaper/magazine/blog article, and explain why you agree or disagree with the author. Explain your point of view and lay out personal reasons for your position.

The Road to Success

“There are no shortcuts to success on the SAT essay,” the College Board declares. When it comes to trained instincts for grammar, vocabulary, and organization, they are certainly right. Prepare now, and when test day comes, you’ll have nothing to fear.

SAT Essay Tips: Part 1

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: Andrew Mason, courtesy of Creative Commons.

SAT essay tips: Part 1

SAT Essay Tips: Help your teens understand the SAT essay and write clear, persuasive essays

IF your teen hopes to enter a four-year college or university straight out of high school, he will probably take the SAT. This four-hour test offers one guarantee: the 25-minute essay-writing section always comes first. To score well on the essay, your student needs to understand both the test objectives and scoring criteria.

What is the SAT?

Offered seven times per year, the SAT is the most popular college admission test. Many high schoolers take the test once in the spring of their junior year, and again in the fall of their senior year. At the official website, you will find online registration (including helpful registration hints for homeschoolers), and a test-day checklist (no cell phones are allowed, so bring a watch).

To familiarize yourself with the SAT format, take a practice test well in advance. The Princeton Review suggests taking these practice tests quite seriously: time yourself, take short breaks between sections, and don’t even think about stopping for lunch!

How the SAT Essay Is Scored

The essay component of the SAT is scored on a scale of 1-6. Two readers will assign independent scores, giving you a total between 2 and 12. The essay counts for one-third of your overall Writing score, or one-ninth of your total SAT score. Familiarize yourself with the official scoring guidelines and sample essays.

All the directions and strategies boil down to one thing: the SAT essay is a persuasive essay. You must choose a point of view and support it with logical reasoning and examples. The best scores will reflect several essay components:

  • an understanding of English grammar
  • a variety of sentence structures
  • a well-rounded vocabulary (no weak words)
  • a focused and coherent main thought
  • an organized progression of ideas (the five-paragraph essay format usually works best)

Use Your Time Well

Remember, you only have twenty-five minutes for essay writing. The test materials include a bit of blank space—about a quarter of a page—to “plan” your essay. Don’t get bogged down with full sentences while brainstorming. Just outline your thoughts for the thesis, two or three strong examples in a logical order, and a few key words for the conclusion. Then quickly move on to the writing. (By the way, this is also excellent practice for essay exams in college!)

Length alone will not guarantee a good score; however, the Princeton Review and others confirm that high-scoring SAT essays are long. You have almost two pages to work with, about 40-45 lines. Fill the space if you can, and write at least a page and a half. (Note: you cannot go over the space provided.)

Know Your Audience

The SAT is prepared by an organization called the College Board. You should know several things about them:

  • They avoid highly controversial subjects, such as religion and politics. Words like “Republican” and “salvation” won’t appear on your SAT essay question, although you might see words like “leadership” and “hope.” Write your essay accordingly.
  • The College Board is not elitist and will not mark you down for using examples from your humble personal life. If you can’t draw from heroes of British literature and American history, your parents’ high school stories or an example of a community hero might provide the perfect illustrations for your main point.
  • The College Board does not fact-check essays. If you think you have your stories right, be confident and keep writing. Just be aware that any college you apply to has the right to review your SAT writing sample and compare it to your admissions essay (according to SparkNotes.com).

Collectively, the individuals who read SAT essays must grade an estimated 2 million essays per year. Write with these readers in mind:

  • They are paid to read your entire essay, so you’re not obligated to “hook” or “entertain” them. In this setting, tangents are never cute: “When you think ‘SAT essay,’ think of a well-organized nightly news segment, not a convoluted soap opera plot.” ~ SparkNotes.com
  • They read quickly and assign scores based on a first general impression. Make your thesis statement simple and direct so your essay will be easy to follow. (Mike at AceTheSAT.com suggests you place the thesis in the first sentence.)
  • They are probably tired, so make sure your essay is overwhelmingly readable. If you include a phrase about counter-arguments or opposing views, be very clear about which side you’re on. Don’t confuse your readers!

Of course, when it comes to timed essay tests, the best advice is to start early. WriteShop II teaches many essential skills for timed essays in 9th and 10th grade. In addition, other extra-curricular activities and habits can encourage college-level vocabulary, speed writing, and persuasive arguments. Next week, I’ll share SAT essay tips and ideas for developing these abilities at home.

Tips for Writing SAT Essays: Part 2

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: Andrew Mason, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

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.

 

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