Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

Developing a strong thesis statement results in a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for an essay.

Discovering interesting topics is a critical component of the essay-planning process. But a good topic isn’t 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 essay and direct the student’s brainstorming efforts. That’s what developing a strong thesis statement is all about.

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 the 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.

While it’s good to create as strong a thesis statement as possible up front, it’s also important to know that it isn’t set in stone until the essay or term paper is actually finished. Your teens should plan to revisit the thesis during editing and revising to fine-tune or tweak it as needed.

Developing a strong thesis statement results in a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for an essay.

Photo: Paul Bonhomme, courtesy of Creative Commons

Creative writing prompts for teens

Create "short" stories, turn an experience into a movie synopsis, and write from new points of view with these creative writing prompts for teens
Invite your students to choose one of these creative writing prompts for teens. Options include describing a personal experience as if it were a movie, developing fun poems or stories, writing about their first name, creating a story using only one-syllable words, or exploring point of view.

1. Lights, Camera, Action!

What kind of year has it been for you? What events and experiences marked your most memorable moments? Write about an event as if it were a synopsis of a movie, choosing one of these famous film titles as the title of your own “movie.”

  • For the Love of the Game
  • Family Vacation
  • Home Alone
  • Frozen
  • The Money Pit
  • The Sound of Music
  • Wreck-it Ralph
  • Field of Dreams
  • Despicable Me
  • It Happened One Night
Keep in mind that your synopsis probably won’t follow the original movie’s storyline! For example, if you just went through the coldest winter in memory, you might pick Frozen as your movie title. If you backed your mom’s car into a fire hydrant, Wreck-it Ralph or Despicable Me could make a good choice.

2. Writer’s Choice

Choose List 1, 2, or 3. Write a poem or story that uses as many words from that list as possible.

  • List 1: brick, alley, broom, kittens, nervous, window, slam
  • List 2: red, swing, squeak, envelope, gust, photo, exhilarating
  • List 3: forest, jeep, gate, key, blue, rickety, wild

3. A Rose by Any Other Name

Write about your first name, choosing one, some, or all of the following questions to help direct your writing.

  • Do you think your name suits you? Explain why or why not.
  • Is there a story behind your name? Have your parents ever explained how or why they chose it for you? Write about it.
  • What does your name mean? Do you think the meaning fits your personality, nature, character, or gifts/talents?
  • Do you sometimes wish you could choose a new name for yourself? If you had the chance, what would it be? Why would you choose it? What would you want this new name to say about you?

4. A “Short” Story

Using at least 10 words from each list below, describe a scene or situation. Try to capture emotions along with sensory details of sound, smell, and touch. Your challenge: every word you write may contain only one syllable!

  • Nouns: boat, swamp, boots, light, hole, splash, eel, night, shore, boy, dock, wire, stick, rope, reeds, noise, dog, pail
  • Verbs: fall, drop, steer, slosh, seize, hope, reach, grasp, turn, hide, glide, howl, shake, chase, yell, laugh, lurch, leak

5. Putting Things Into Perspective

Describe a place from an unusual point of view or vantage point, such as:

  • Your bedroom or den from your fish’s viewpoint
  • A winding mountain road from a car’s point of view
  • Your neighborhood from a hawk’s vantage point
  • Your backyard from your dog’s perspective
  • A grocery store from the point of view of a loaf of bread
  • Your refrigerator from the viewpoint of a wrinkled old apple
  • Or, come up with your own idea!

Looking for more writing prompts? Check out our extensive collection on Writing Prompt Wednesdays. Most months, we feature a set of prompts just for teens!

Create "short" stories, turn an experience into a movie synopsis, and write from new points of view with these creative writing prompts for teens

Photo: Justien Van Zele, courtesy of Creative Commons

Reflective essay prompts for high school students

Reflective essay prompts for high school students invite teens to think about role models, challenges, growth, and missed opportunities.

A reflective essay calls on the writer to express his or her own views of an experience.

Sometimes, reflective writing will ask students to think more deeply about a book, movie, musical work, or piece of art. Other times, the topics will invite them to reflect on a personal encounter or other experience.

These four reflective essay prompts for high school students are more personal in nature. For this activity, encourage your teens to choose the topic that speaks to them the most.

1. The Wind Beneath My Wings

A role model is a person you look up to—someone you respect or admire more than anyone else. Who is your role model? Your grandpa? Youth pastor? Coach? What have you learned from this person? Which of their character qualities or traits do you hope to one day have yourself? Write an essay explaining how this individual has influenced who you are today.

2. Can I Get a Do-Over?

By the time you reach high school, you have already experienced some of life’s ups and downs. You’ve seized some great opportunities and turned your back on others. Though you’ve made good choices, you have also made poor ones. You’ve both rejected and heeded good advice. Looking back, surely there are things you wish you had done differently. Write an essay sharing your most important piece of advice with a younger sibling or friend.

3. The Time of My Life

Have you lived or traveled overseas? Held an interesting or unusual job? Participated in a sport that challenged you physically and mentally? Think about an unusual experience or incident from your life. Write a reflective essay explaining how that experience has impacted you and caused you to grow as a person.

4. Picking Yourself Up

No one is immune to failure—scientists, authors, athletes, surgeons, and great leaders can all recount times of falling flat on their faces. Describe a time when you failed at something, and write a short essay explaining what you learned from this experience.

If you enjoyed these reflective 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

Expository Essay Topics

Photo: George TenEyck, courtesy of Creative Commons

4 expository essay writing prompts for high school

Prompts ask teens to explain how to start a collection, apply for a job, help storm victims, and avoid college debt.

Expository writing explains, describes, or informs. Today, let your high school student choose one of these expository essay prompts to practice writing to explain.

1. Treasures to Keep

People love to collect and display items that have sentimental value or special appeal. Key chains, seashells, vintage tea cups, action figures, and sports memorabilia are just a few examples. Do you have a special collection? Tell the benefits of having a collection, and explain how someone can begin to grow a collection of his or her own.

2. Blown Away

A devastating tornado has leveled much of a nearby small town. Write an essay explaining what you would do to help these families recover from their loss.

3. It’s Off to Work I Go

Your parents have decided it’s time for you to get a part-time job. Write an essay explaining the steps you need to follow in order to apply for a job.

4. I’m College Smart

With the rising costs of tuition, many college-bound students are relying on loans to help them pay for their education. Sadly, this means college students owe an average of $33,000 when they graduate, which often takes 10 years or longer to repay. Research different options for how to go to college without debt. Then, write an essay explaining several ways you can avoid facing massive debt when you head off to school.

If you enjoyed these expository essay writing prompts 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, including:

Photo Credits: Draco2008 (cars), Ivan Walsh (shells), MixedGrill (collection), Steve Snodgrass (Pez), courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing about food and culture | High school writing projects

Do you have a teen gourmet or budding chef in the house? Have any of your kids traveled overseas? These writing activities invite them to explore recipes, describe travel experiences with food, or write a restaurant review.

High schoolers will have fun writing about food and culture as they American recipes, describe travel/food experiences or write a restaurant review.

Encourage your high schoolers to explore their culinary passion or hobby with one of these projects that encourages writing about food and culture. 

This article contains affiliate links for books we think your family will enjoy.

Writing Project: American As Apple Pie

A well-rounded study of a geographic region or period of history can include maps, literature, art—even food! This activity focuses specifically on American cookery, helping you learn about foods of the past, regional dishes, or even your own family’s everyday eating habits.

Search recipe files, family cookbooks, specialty cookbooks, and online sources to find some recipes that are uniquely American. Your collection should include at least 10 recipes that relate to a single topic or theme.

If possible, choose a theme that ties into your current history or geography studies. Here are several possibilities:

  • Colonial American or frontier recipes
  • First Ladies’ recipes (from one First Lady or several)
  • Regional or cultural recipes (choose one, such as New England, the South, or soul food)
  • Ethnic foods introduced by immigrants (choose one, such as Scandinavian, German, or Italian)
  • Contemporary cookery (choose one theme, such as salads, cookies, or breakfast foods)

Once you’ve chosen your topic and gathered your recipes, prepare three of them. Then, evaluate each one by asking yourself some questions, such as: Was this recipe easy to prepare? How did the final dish look, smell, and taste? What did your family think of it? Would you make it again? Why or why not?

Finally, make a booklet of your 10 recipes, designing or decorating it to match your theme.

Writing Project: A Taste of Travel

Have you ever eaten haggis or blood pudding? How about fried locusts or Vegemite? These foods may sound weird to us, but in other parts of the world, someone else is probably gobbling them down right now! If you’re up for the challenge, this writing project invites you to take a look at unusual foods.

My children are now grown, but when they were teens, they spent many summers on overseas missions trips. Their travels gave them the opportunity to try some strange local foods they wouldn’t normally eat here in the States.

Our middle daughter went to Peru when she was 15. One evening, her team was introduced to cuy chactado, or fried guinea pig. It sounds nasty, doesn’t it? But she actually loved the chicken-like meat. Do you want to see a picture of cuy chactado? Click here if you’re brave.

When our son was 16, he spent a summer in Botswana. In Africa, people eat dried mopane worms as a snack. He wanted to experience all sorts of new things while in his host country, so yes—he really did eat a caterpillar. (I don’t think I could be that brave. But who knows?) You can see a picture here, but don’t click if you think it will gross you out!

Have you ever traveled internationally? Perhaps you’ve been on a missions trip overseas, visited grandparents or other family, or vacationed in a foreign country. Write about your culinary experiences during your travels, choosing one or more of the following topics:

Describe the weirdest food you ate. How did it look and taste? What was its texture like? What did you think of it? Would you eat it again?

What was your favorite new food to try? Describe it.

Did you experience any unusual mealtime customs or expectations? How does this culture approach food? Explain how different it is from the way most Americans eat.

Writing Project: Restaurant Review

Next time you go out for a meal with your family—whether to a fast-food place, local diner, or a nice sit-down restaurant, write a review about your experience.

The gourmet burgers might be fantastic, but the service is slow. Or the food isn’t great, but there’s a breathtaking view. Because a restaurant review is about more than just food, be prepared to take in the whole dining experience. Include details about atmosphere, service, and food so you can give an accurate review. Readers appreciate knowing both the pros and cons. You’ll probably find it helpful to take notes to help you recall your meal.

Write descriptively. Vague words like good, delicious, or bad don’t communicate a food’s characteristics. Instead, explain how a food tastes by using specific words to describe appearance, aroma, flavors, and textures.

Vague: For dessert, I had their delicious Molten Lava Cake and ice cream. It was a perfect way to end the meal.

Descriptive: Topped with a generous scoop of homemade vanilla-bean ice cream, the rich Molten Lava Cake was drenched in a warm, fudgy sauce. What a sweet way to end the meal!

Make your review personal. Be real! Then, with a parent’s permission, publish your review on a site like Yelp or Urban Spoon.

By Kim Kautzer

Photos: liquene (Yummy), Whitney (apple pie) and Joshin Yamada (street vendor), courtesy of Creative Commons

How to edit and grade writing | Grading high school papers

Grading high school papers intimidates many homeschoolers. Here are six ways to help you be more objective when evaluating student writing assignments.

See Part 1: How to Edit and Grade Writing | Editing High School Papers

One of the hardest parts of teaching writing is knowing how to evaluate a paper. It seems like such risky business—a subjective effort characterized by inconsistency and wild guesses. Last week we might have let an error slip by, yet this week we’ll red-pencil that same mistake with a vengeance.

One thing is certain: Arbitrary grading will never help your student become a better writer.

Homeschooling moms are always relieved to learn that parts of writing can be quantified. Sure, there will always be judgment calls about clarity, content, and organization. But here’s the good news: when you’re able to give a grade based on (mostly) measurable standards, your confidence will soar!

I learned to grade papers by trial, error, and necessity when I first began teaching writing. Many years and hundreds of papers later, those methods have proved solid and reliable—and I’m confident they’ll help you’ll feel more prepared.

1. Use an Evaluation Form

If you’re anything like I used to be, you worry about under- or overcorrecting. You make stabs in the dark. Your daughter’s paper may “feel” like a B, but when she asks why she didn’t get an A, you don’t have a good answer. You simply don’t know how to tackle that final draft.

But guess what? You’ll be miles ahead when you use a rubric that helps you grade objectively.

This can be:

  • A rubric that comes with your writing program, such as the WriteShop I and II composition (and essay) evaluation forms;
  • printable grading form you find online; or
  • One you create yourself using the assignment’s standards.

2. Tell Students What to Anticipate

Before they start writing their rough drafts, teens should already know what you’ll be looking for along the way. That way, there won’t be any bombshells when they get their final grade—a grade determined not by your random whims, but by how well they met the expectations of the lesson.

3. Expect Progress

You edit earlier drafts and grade final drafts.

Remember: most student’s papers will be much better by the end because they’ve been revised and rewritten at least twice. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the final drafts score consistently well. Your goal is mastery, so it’s natural to see progress and improvement from draft to draft!

4. Know What to Look For

GRADE FOR CONTENT

The meat of a paper is its content, which you grade according to subject matter, substance, argument, evidence, logic, or other relevant criteria.

If this is an essay, also include an evaluation of the thesis statement. In one or two sentences, the thesis should state the essay topic, give the purpose of the essay, and suggest the main points that will be developed in the paragraphs that follow.

A typical writing assignment goes through each of these stages:

Not every paper must jump through these hoops. For the learning experience of proper writing, only one paper at a time needs to go through the entire writing process. For example, a book report, science article, biography, literature essay, or history report might be evaluated on content alone.

GRADE FOR STYLE AND ORGANIZATION

When grading a paper’s style, look at the kinds of words and sentences your student has used. Style can include concreteness, conciseness, sentence variety, tense agreement, and voice.

An effective essay is also unified and well organized. Each paragraph in the body of the paper should begin with a topic sentence telling the main point of the paragraph. In a persuasive essay, each paragraph should begin with a sentence that makes a claim. The body of that paragraph, then, should support the claim with examples, facts, and logic. The more solid the content, the higher the grade you can assign.

A fictional story or narrative will be organized in a different way, but it should still flow well from start to finish. For a stronger grade, this kind of prose should follow the five stages of storytelling.

GRADE FOR MECHANICS

Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence completeness fall under the heading of mechanics. A high-scoring paper will be free (or nearly free) of mechanical errors.

Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, or misplaced modifiers will count against the final score, while using parts of speech and punctuation marks accurately and making sure words are correctly spelled will contribute to a higher grade.

5. Assign Points

Ah, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? How do you decide how many points to give? There are many ways to assign/deduct points, such as:

100-POINT NARRATIVE

  • Content can include paragraph unity and development, subject matter, use of details and examples (40 points)
  • Style can include voice, readability and sentence fluency, sentence variety, vocabulary, conciseness (40 points)
  • Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (20 points)

100-POINT ESSAY

  • Content can include thesis, development of main points with facts and examples, topicality, conclusion (45 points)
  • Style can include organization, clarity/fluency, sentence style and complexity, parallelism, vocabulary, use of transitions (45 points)
  • Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (10 points)

6. Take Attitude into Consideration

When bad behavior persists from beginning to end—even if the paper itself has improved—you’re well within your rights to give consequences. So if your teen’s attitude has been just awful throughout the entire writing process (e.g., unwillingness to brainstorm thoroughly, disrespect for deadlines, refusal to accept feedback or make changes), take this into account when giving points.

7. Be Flexible and Fair

What happens when you find mistakes in the final draft? As a rule, don’t penalize students for mistakes they weren’t told about earlier in the editing process. If you happened to miss something during parent editing (and therefore failed to bring it to your teen’s attention), he can only assume what he’s written is correct.

Let’s say, for example, that you didn’t catch an awkwardly written sentence in an earlier draft—but it jumps out at you in the final. As you’re grading, you might let that one slide. Point out the error, certainly, but assure him you’re not penalizing him for your earlier oversight. Kids always appreciate fairness!

On the other hand, if he’s simply careless with spelling or punctuation, or he writes a sentence fragment when he clearly knows better, go ahead and deduct points accordingly.

Finally, if you’ve discussed the paper and identified ways to improve it—and the final draft reflects many positive changes—give full points whenever possible (along with kudos, of course!).

Grading high school papers doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small. Be consistent. Cheer your kids on. I know you’ll get the hang of it!

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 communication, they can learn to convey truth in a world with where morals are blurred and virtues are disappearing.

Speech writing combines narrative, descriptive, explanatory, and persuasive skills 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 teens will never join a speech and debate club, encourage them to give an original speech in a group setting such as a class, family gathering, or graduation party. These speech-writing tips for students should help them 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.
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