Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

What’s your viewpoint? 5 writing prompts for opinion essays

Motivate high school students to write by allowing them to express their viewpoints on hot topics using these writing prompts for opinion essays!

Motivate your high school students to write by allowing them to express their own opinions! These writing prompts for opinion essays will give them five hot topics to get their wheels turning.

1. Not So Fast

Nothing can ruin a vacation as quickly as a speeding ticket on a wide-open highway. Do you think speed limits are a good idea, or do they hurt more people than they help?

2. A Book by Its Cover

Everywhere you look, false advertising is rampant. Misleading words and images sell political candidates, beauty products, convenience foods, tobacco, and alcohol. Do you think we should allow (or require) the government to regulate advertising media? Or, does false advertising simply come down to freedom of speech?

3. Lights, Camera, Distraction!

Safety, communication, developing interpersonal skills—all are issues to consider when deciding whether children should use cell phones and social media. What’s your opinion?

4. Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?

Every human being is a steward of Earth’s resources. Do you believe that society should encourage more recycling? Or, should we learn to use less stuff in the first place?

5. The Golden Egg

What is the most important key to success? How much do staying in school, learning a foreign language, and earning a college degree factor into your idea of success? Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we try to feature writing prompts especially for high school students.

Photo: David Lofink, courtesy of Creative Commons

How to use direct quotes in essays

Are your high schoolers ready for college-level writing? Make sure they know how to use direct quotes in essays and research reports.

Are your high schoolers ready for college-level writing?

One test is whether they know how to use direct quotes in essays and term papers. I’m not talking about tossing one or two overused, ancient proverbs or a boring dictionary definition in the intro paragraph. I’m talking about the big “R” – research!

What’s So Important?

As elementary children, we learn to write summaries. We absorb information and spill it back on paper in our own words. In high school, we meet new expectations. Now we must study source texts and create our own unique opinion (a thesis statement). Every point in a thesis statement must be defended by evidence.

Consider a headline news article. A journalist may make strong assertions, such as:

The police department will take drastic measures to prevent future incidents.

We are much more likely to believe this statement if it is followed by a quote from someone with authority:

Police chief Jason Roberts says, “I will not allow anyone in my department to wear their uniform off duty until further notice.”

Now the writer has offered evidence.

High school and college essays require evidence. If your daughter is writing about Jane Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet, she must include words from the author’s (or the character’s) own mouth. If your son is writing about Northern attitudes toward slavery during the Civil War, he should avoid generalizations by including quotes from different people of that era.

Comma or Colon?

The following sentences are punctuated correctly. Can your student guess why?

  • Elizabeth calmly replies, “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing.”
  • “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing,” Elizabeth replies.
  • Elizabeth Bennet holds her tongue about her awkward suitor: “Mr. Collins might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.”
  • Elizabeth wisely understands that her cousin “might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.”

In the first two examples, the quotation is set off by a comma. Grammar rules tell us to always use a comma after a verb such as said, asked, or replied when it appears just before a quote.

In the third example, the sentence would convey a complete thought even without the quotation. Rule of thumb: never use a colon unless there are at least seven words before the quotation.

In the fourth example, the quote needs no commas or colons to set it off because of the little word that. When you use that, you can start the quotation mid-sentence, without ellipses or a capital letter.

A Note about Tense

The Block Quote

A block quotation is set apart with a special indent and no quotation marks. Use the block-quotation format to quote several consecutive sentences – or one especially long and complex sentence. Rule of thumb: use a block quote when the quotation is five lines or longer.

In the blogosphere, block quotes often appear in political or religious commentaries. In high school English essays, block quotes are effectively used to write about drama and poetry. Block quotes are like dessert; they should be used carefully. Too many can give the impression that a writer is lazy, trying to fill the page with words that are not his own.

Consider this block quotation from Robert Frost’s poem “Birches”:

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.

Block Quote or Quotation Marks?

If ellipses were used to shorten the above sentence, it would work nicely with quotation marks: “It’s when I’m weary of considerations, / And life is too much like a pathless wood / Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs / Broken across it….”

Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

Plagiarism is a growing concern in colleges and universities across the nation. Prepare your high school student by teaching him to be above-board as a writer. If he uses someone else’s idea, he must quote their words or mention their name to avoid plagiarizing. If he references someone else’s book, article, or webpage, he must include that source in a “Bibliography” or “Works Cited” page.

Every teacher and professor may have slightly different guidelines, but MLA citation format is a good place to start. A good reference can be found here: MLA Citation Examples.

With thoughtful research, well-chosen quotations and careful citations, your student’s writing will be ready for the college campus… and beyond.

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.wordpress.com.

Photo: Elliott Brown courtesy of Creative Commons

Is your high schooler ready for college?

ACCORDING TO a recent report from the national ACT board, far too many students are graduating high school without the skills needed for college and career.

The statistics are sobering, but take heart! There are steps you can take to help prepare your teens for college.

College Prep Tips and Resources

Start by checking out the following links:

     “Don’t succumb to the temptation to throw in the towel, just when the rewards promise to be so great! Homeschooling through high school is worth the effort! It’s one of the best times you’ll have with your children, before they launch and start their own lives at college or beyond. Stay the course, and finish strong.”

~Lee Binz, The HomeScholar

Infographic: Unprepared for College

Here are some additional statistics to remind you (and your teen) of why purposeful college preparation is so important.

Based on a work at College@Home. Used with permission.

5 tips for teenage writers

These tips for teenage writers will help them learn to write descriptively, make wiser word choices, and avoid wordiness.

This post contains affiliate links for books I’m confident to recommend. Read my full disclosure policy.

MORE OFTEN than not, my blog posts encourage parents of kids who hate to write. That’s why it was refreshing to hear from a teen who actually wants to improve her craft:

“I am 15 years of age and enthusiastic about creative writing. I mostly have trouble finding words to describe something. I tend to repeat words a lot, making the story boring and not very interesting. I have tried to mix it up, but my teachers have said it became too overwhelming to read. I  was wondering if you could give me some tips.” –Melissa

Writing that’s too wordy, disorganized, or lacking in description can definitely cause a reader to feel overwhelmed. In order to capture—and keep—their readers’ attention, students need to work on content, style, and mechanics. These tips for teenage writers will help your student improve in each of these areas.

1. Improve Description

Vivid description is one of the most useful tools a writer can use to hook and hold readers. Appealing to the five senses, descriptive writing paints word pictures using concrete, specific vocabulary.

Words, like paint, can be as subtle as watercolor or as rich and vivid as oils. Choosing the right words—and in the right amounts—entices readers and invites them to linger.

Explore these articles for tips on writing more descriptively:

2. Replace Repeated Words

Synonym Finder 150x210Writers sometimes use repetition on purpose, such as for dramatic effect.

However, if a student tends to repeat words because he’s careless, lazy, or unable to think of synonyms, his writing will soon sound monotonous.

Use a Thesaurus

A good thesaurus is one of the best tools a student can use to replace repeated words. I like The Synonym Finder, but if your kids prefer an online thesaurus, try Thesaurus.com. When they type in the word they want to replace, a bunch of options will come up.

Use a Dictionary

Word differences can be subtle, so when choosing a synonym, students should look it up in the dictionary if they don’t know what the new word means.

For example, suppose your teen has repeated the word anger several times within a paragraph or two. If the character’s anger is mild, and he simply feels bugged about something, the writer should be able to replace anger with annoyance or irritation. However, rage—a violent, out-of-control anger—would not be an appropriate substitute in this case, even though the thesaurus lists it as a synonym.

3. Stay on Track

Do you notice a lot of rabbit trails in your teens’ writing? Is it hard for them to stick to the point? When their writing rambles, they run the risk of losing their readers: if their thoughts are jumbled, their writing will be jumbled too.

To avoid rambling, writers must know what they want to say—and have a plan to get them there. Graphic organizers, outlines, brainstorming worksheets, or mindmaps can help sort and organize ideas before beginning to write.

4. Avoid Information Overload

Does your student cram too many details into her writing? While description can add depth and richness to writing, too much detail can weigh down a story.

5 Tips for Teenage WritersImagine yourself running barefoot through a field. The air is crisp and fresh, and you long to feel invigorated. Unfortunately, you keep stepping in sticky mud, which slows your progress and keeps you from enjoying the run.

If your teen’s writing contains too many details, or she tends to be heavy-handed with her description, her readers will feel as though they keep getting stuck in the mud. She can pick up the pace by offloading unnecessary details.

5. Watch Out for Wordiness

How does an author find the balance between writing in a concrete, sensory, descriptive manner and writing in an imposing, pretentious way?

While it’s important to try out new words, have fun with the thesaurus, and use vivid language as she writes, it’s just as crucial that your child use new vocabulary with care and humility.

A wise writer chooses her words carefully. Her writing is concise yet descriptive. When she uses too many new or strange words, her writing begins to sound pretentious or even arrogant. Help her find a good balance between stuffy vocabulary and overly simplistic word choices. Invite her to write smaller words and shorter sentences if she leans toward verbosity.

Your Turn

Is there one area that poses the greatest writing challenge for you or your student? Which tips for teenage writers will you apply first?

. . . . .

WriteShop IINeed more help? WriteShop II teaches these skills (and more) to help teens become stronger writers. To learn more about WriteShop II for your high schooler, visit our website at www.writeshop.com.

Photos: www.audio-luci-store.it (student writer), and Richard Vermillion (muddy foot), courtesy of Creative Commons. Used by permission.


10 writing truths for reluctant teen writers

10 Writing Truths for Teens: How can you encourage your teen when he feels stuck?   What should you tell him when he can’t seem to get started writing?How can you encourage reluctant teen writers when they feel stuck?

What should you tell them when they can’t seem to get started writing?

What advice can you offer when perfectionism rears its ugly head and they have trouble accepting their own mistakes?

Typically, you can’t say or do much—especially if they’re already in a funk. But if you can bite your tongue and sit on your hands till a teaching moment arises, they might be willing to consider one of these ten truths.

1. It’s not just you. I promise.

Writing isn’t always easy. I’m sure you think you’re the only one who suffers from writer’s block, but it might help to know that even famous published authors will agonize over a word, a sentence, or a paragraph.

2. There’s no penalty for a bad first draft.

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~Robert Cromier

3. If you’re stuck, explain to someone what you’re trying to write.

My adult son is a former reluctant writer. But even to this day, as a Ph.D. student, he’ll call me from time to time when he hits a writing roadblock. Often, I do nothing more than listen and offer the occasional “Mm-hmm.” But the act of thinking aloud and tossing around ideas can open up the floodgate, and he finds that the log jam of words will finally loosen.

Time's Up!4. Set a timer.

Having trouble getting started? Grab a kitchen timer and set it for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, right? And some days, you may not even hear the beep.

5. To write well, it helps to read well.

Reading teaches you how words work. You can become more attuned to detail, imagery, voice, and sentence construction. There’s no guarantee that being an avid reader will automatically make you a polished writer, but reading certainly lays a foundation for writing in many ways.

6. Style comes with practice.

Writing may not be second nature to you, but you will learn to develop your own writing style over time.

7. It’s better to write poorly than not at all.

You can always improve your rough draft. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Everyone revises!

“The first rule of writing is to write. The second rule of writing is to rewrite. The third rule of writing is the same as the second.” ~Paul Raymond Martin

8. Don’t write and edit in the same sitting.

I can’t tell you how many little errors I catch when I revisit a piece of my own writing even one day later! I know it’s tempting to just “get it over with.” But really, you’re much wiser to let that essay marinate for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll be more likely to see it with fresh eyes and be willing to make changes.

[Of course, this means you can’t wait till the last minute to write your rough draft. ‘Nuf said.]

9. Learn to edit your own work.

This is one of the most valuable writing skills you can acquire. The more adept you become at self-editing, the less you have to rely on others to point out flaws. Before you turn your paper over to your parent or teacher, proofread and revise it first.

  • Am I being too wordy?
  • Repeating myself?
  • Making my point?
  • Varying my sentence structure?
  • Using descriptive detail?
  • Punctuating properly?

Your writing will always benefit from a second set of eyes, but learning to edit your own work is a lifelong skill every student needs to develop. While you’ll never be completely objective about your own writing, the ability to self-edit is equally important as having another person do it for you.

10. Edit your writing as if it were someone else’s.

Take an emotional step away from your paper. Imagine that it was written by the kid who flips burgers at McDonald’s, and begin to look for ways the writing could improve. It’s much easier to be objective when you pretend that your composition isn’t actually yours!

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop  provides schedules, checklists, and detailed instructions that give teen writers direction and help them stay on task. Choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Freewriting exercise: The Writing Well

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete.

Although it’s is one of the most necessary and helpful steps of the writing process, brainstorming can stump a reluctant writer—even if she’s using a worksheet, graphic organizer, or parent prompting.

You:    What comes to mind when you think of the beach?
Child: Sand and water.
Great! What else?
Child: That’s all I can think of.

And that’s on a good day!

Prime the Pump

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete. That’s why WriteShop repeatedly emphasizes the need for adequate brainstorming as a routine part of the writing process. But if their well is dry and they can’t come up with enough words or ideas, their compositions will fall flat.

To keep ideas fresh and flowing, students need to prime their writing pumps on a regular basis. By practicing frequent brainstorming—especially when there’s no added pressure to write a composition—they’ll discover that they can think of words more quickly and abundantly. An freewriting exercise like the Writing Well is a perfect training tool!

The Writing Well

The “Writing Well” is a freewriting exercise designed to stimulate vocabulary, ideas, and impressions on a particular topic. It makes a good pre-writing activity, but it’s really brainstorming practice in disguise!

Kept in a small notebook, these brainstorming results can also become a “seed book”—a resource, word bank, or collection of ideas—when writing future compositions.

Student Directions

  1. You will find it helpful to keep your “Writing Well” in a spiral notebook for easy reference.
  2. Use a separate page for each topic. You may use both front and back if you wish.
  3. Before beginning, choose a topic and write it at the top of the page. Then set the timer to write for five full minutes.
  4. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the words, phrases, or sentences that come to mind about your chosen topic within the five minutes allotted.

If you get stuck, try some of these ideas:

  • Picture the topic in your mind. Use your five sensessight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to describe details.
  • Ask yourself questions about the subject matter—who? what? when? where? why? how?
  • Use a photograph or magazine picture to jog your thoughts.

At first this activity may seem difficult. You may wonder: How can I write about one thing for five whole minutes? Relax! Over time you’ll find that it has become more natural to transfer ideas from your head to your paper.

Some of these exercises will lend themselves to becoming compositions. Put a colorful star at the top of the page if you might like to develop this into a paragraph or story in the future.

Parent Tips

In the beginning, your child may have trouble writing for five full minutes. Perhaps you could set the timer for three minutes, then increase it to four, and finally to five over the course of several weeks.

If your student brainstorms very generally about a topic, you might suggest next time that she narrow her topic even further. For example, if she writes on the topic of animals, she’ll probably include a list of many kinds of animals. Next time, have her select just one of those animals (such as dogs, monkeys, or whales) and make a “Writing Well” for that subtopic, including as many details as she can.

Should your student repeatedly make lists of words only, challenge her to begin writing descriptive phrases, too. Sometimes these will be factual and sometimes experiential. For example:

If she’s writing about “red,” words and phrases might include:

  • ketchup
  • stop signs
  • making Valentines for my family
  • embers glowing in the fireplace
  • fire engines
  • Dorothy’s ruby slippers
  • the crimson sunset on our vacation in California

If she’s writing about Grandma, phrases might include:

  • baking chocolate cookies together
  • lives in an apartment in Miami
  • smells sweet like roses
  • takes a ceramics class in her clubhouse
  • silver hair
  • favorite color is pink

The random list of “red” words and phrases probably won’t ever be developed into a paragraph. On the other hand, the “Grandma” list definitely has potential to become a great descriptive composition at some point.

Writing Well Topics

Are you ready? Dip your ladle deep into the Writing Well and pull up a full, soaking draught of words and ideas. Then spill them over a fresh page—and let the writing begin. Here are some topics to get you started!

  • a famous place I would like to visit
  • my dream car
  • gardens
  • books
  • animals (farm animals, jungle creatures, pets, birds, insects)
  • birthdays
  • the beach
  • fishing
  • obeying
  • snow
  • sounds that make me happy (nervous, afraid)
  • my childhood toys
  • my favorite meal
  • my grandpa (or other family member)
  • our pantry
  • Saturdays
  • things I like about myself
  • heaven
  • the color blue (orange, yellow, gray, green)
  • things that make me feel cozy
  • new uses for duct tape
  • If cars could fly…
  • If I had to live underwater…

Copyright © 2012 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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. . . . .

“The Writing Well” is one of the supplemental writing activities tucked into the appendix of the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr. Other photos courtesy of stock.xchg. Used with permission.

When writing efforts fizzle

Past writing failures don't have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track

My child is a high school freshman, and thus far, our homeschool experience has not gone well where writing is concerned. Every program we’ve tried seems to fall by the wayside by Christmas break. Normally, she’s an independent worker who does well with most self-directed assignments—except for writing. We just never finish.

Does this sound familiar? If so, let’s see if I can offer some advice to help you and your teen get back on track!

Parent Involvement vs. Student Independence

I’m all for fostering independence. As students enter the high school years, it’s especially wise to train them to become more and more responsible for their own schoolwork. This means teaching them to break assignments into chunks, work on multiple projects, and stick to deadlines.

But even if a self-directed child is successful in most academic subjects, she may still be floundering when it comes to self-directed writing assignments. This is largely because, for most students, writing must be taught. Good writing is the result of a partnership between a parent/teacher and the student.

Get involved!

A child who rarely finishes a writing assignment can’t be left to learn writing on her own; clearly this approach is failing her. If this is true of your child, you may need to step in and become more involved in teaching, guiding, editing, and grading her work. She may not appreciate your “interference,” but if she’s not succeeding on her own, something needs to change.

Begin by working closely with her to introduce, model, and teach new concepts. After that, let her work independently on her assignment. If she continues to struggle, misses deadlines, or fails to give her best effort, recognize that you’ll need to spend more one-on-one time together while she writes. As she throws herself more fully into her writing and gives effort to assignments, you can start backing off again.

Learning to Stick It Out

Sometimes a curriculum just isn’t working and you need to take a different approach. But if you keep abandoning ship—specifically where writing is concerned—it’s time to ask yourself why. This is especially important if you’ve tried several writing programs but find you never seem to finish any of them.

Is it a character issue—or an academic one?

Does your student:

  • Complain about other subjects, sports, music lessons, or chores—or just about writing?
  • Put up enough of a fight (about anything) that you toss up your hands in despair and give in to her complaints?
  • Make such a fuss over writing in particular that it’s easier to give up without finishing the program?

"No Whining" signIf this describes your home, consider working on the character qualities of diligence and perseverance. Students need to learn that sometimes, even though a curriculum is less than ideal, they can’t just quit as soon as it gets too hard.

In the real world, they won’t always have choices, but if they’ve gotten into the habit of abandoning something partway through when the going gets tough, it will be hard for them to practice stick-to-itiveness in the future. (For example, they’ll be more likely to drop a college class the minute it begins to get challenging.)

Even if this stop-start-stop-start habit only applies to writing, I would still encourage you to decide on a course of action and commit to seeing it through. You’ll probably agree it’s time to make follow-through a priority.

Taking a Different Tack

Perhaps you simply need a new approach to teaching writing. It’s a legitimate possibility that your child’s learning style just hasn’t meshed with other writing programs you’ve tried in the past. In this case, WriteShop might genuinely help you overcome the hurdles you’ve experienced.

For one, WriteShop expects parent involvement yet fosters independence. Furthermore, WriteShop promotes the writing process through:

  • Prewriting activities that set the stage for the writing assignment and get creative juices flowing.
  • Brainstorming worksheets that help students develop ideas before it’s time to write.
  • Step-by-step instructions for writing that never leave them wondering what, exactly, they’re supposed to do.
  • Short assignments (rarely longer than a paragraph) so that they can work on sentence and stylistic skills.
  • Activities and assignments that are broken up into bite-size portions over two weeks per writing lesson so as not to overwhelm a student.
  • Detailed, lesson-specific self-editing checklists that enable students to proofread their own work and make corrections before handing their paper in to you.
  • Parent checklists and grading keys that help you give objective feedback.

Have your student’s writing efforts fizzled? Past writing failures don’t have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track—and with time to spare.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Brainstorming: It’s like traveling with a plan

The brainstorming process gives direction and focus to writing. It's like planning and mapping out a trip before hitting the road.

Making the Most of a Road Trip

I recently overheard someone claim that teaching students to brainstorm is a futile exercise. “In the real world, no one actually brainstorms,” she said. “We just write.”

This statement surprised me, for it reminded me of taking a trip with little more than a vague notion of a plan (“I want to see the USA”). You can set off on your trek, but without a map, timetable, or sightseeing strategy, you’ll end up rabbit-trailing your way to your journey’s end.

While this may be fine for a bohemian, it can frustrate the traveler who really wants to visit a particular landmark but can’t find the turnoff; annoy her for missing some must-see points of interest because she lingered too long in a mediocre little town; and aggravate her when she finds herself going in circles. Worse, she could end up seeing nothing at all because she has absolutely no idea which way to go.

It’s fun to be spontaneous, but to get the most from a road trip, there’s nothing like an itinerary.

The Value of Brainstorming 

Like a free-spirited traveler, a writer may have a general idea of where he wants to go. He may even know a point or two he wants to make along the way. But without a sense of direction, he too will miss important details, spend unnecessary time on a trivial side note, or spin his wheels in one rut or another.

One of the most valuable pre-writing tools for launching the writing process and avoiding other pitfalls is brainstorming.

Students often struggle with knowing how to move from a general topic to a written essay because that paralyzing blank page stands in the way. Brainstorming is a problem-solving process that helps you:

  • Think freely and openly about your topic.
  • Put pen to paper as you write whatever ideas come to mind.
  • Explore possibilities and connections between ideas.
  • Let new ideas form and shape old ones.
  • Start to bring order and organization to your scattered thoughts.

Most importantly, brainstorming has no wrong answers. It allows you to think through your topic without fear of criticism or perfection.

3 Steps of the Brainstorming Process

  • FREE-LISTING: Free-listing helps you develop an initial page of ideas about the topic by writing absolutely anything—key words, phrases, examples, main points, subpoints, details, illustrations—that come to mind to jog your thoughts about your subject. Free-listing uses the heuristic inquiry, more commonly known as the 5 Ws (and an H)—who, what, when, where, why, how. Once this primary list is “complete,” note which of your ideas would qualify as main points or categories and which would be better suited as supporting details or examples.
  • MIND-MAPPING: Next, filter your free-listing ideas through a semantic mind-map. A semantic mind-map is used to represent ideas, words, or thoughts that are connected to and organized around a central key word or concept. Mind-maps are designed to help create, visualize, classify, and structure ideas.
  • RE-LISTING: Finally, organize your ideas according to the groups or clusters created by the semantic mind-map. Identify the central idea (main point) of the various clusters and list supporting details beneath and prioritize these clusters/main points into a logical order. Re-listing results in a rudimentary outline of your initial thoughts and ideas.

These three steps of the brainstorming process remind me of a coin-sorting machine.

You start off with a jumbled, disorganized pile of coins (ideas). Nickels, dimes, quarters, pennies—there’s no rhyme or reason to their scattered placement on the kitchen table. This is your initial attempt at free-listing.

To start putting the coins in their appropriate place, you gather them up and put them into a coin-sorting machine (semantic mind-map). The machine divides the coins (ideas) by kind, just like the bubbles of a mind-map divide your ideas by category.

Finally, watch as your coins come out of the sorting machine in rows of quarters, dimes, and nickels neatly arranged (re-list). In this way, putting your ideas through a mind-map will help you rearrange them into newly organized lists that set the priorities for your paper.

Taking the Trip

You think about the gazillion places you want to visit. You explore websites and sort through piles of travel brochures. Once you have a sense of where you’re going and what there is to see and do, you plot out a route and plan the details. Along the way you may take a detour or explore a new place, but you’ll never stray far from your original plan.

Because you took time to brainstorm, your readers will enjoy the journey with you—and will thank you for being such an excellent guide!

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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It’s Never Too Early: Developing College-Level Writing Skills in High School

Alisa Gilbert joins me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. Alisa blogs for bachelorsdegree.org. Today she’s sharing some great tips for parents of college-bound high schoolers.

Everyone under the sun will tell you how important it is for children to develop solid writing skills. It’s a key job skill, after all.

More and more universities are incorporating writing across the curriculum, meaning your college-bound child—no matter her major—will invariably encounter courses in which she is asked to write research papers and essays throughout the semester.

The Price of Unpreparedness

Even though we tout the importance of writing in high school, I believe many parents and educators simply pay it lip service. Writing standards in high school are so far below college standards that many freshmen are shocked to discover how little they’ve learned and practiced to prepare them.

Personally, I was home-schooled throughout elementary school, after which I attended public high school. My high school writing assignments, even ones in advanced English courses, were graded on a completion basis. Aside from correcting a few of the more egregious spelling and grammar errors, teachers paid scant attention to anything beyond very basic writing no-no’s.

When I started college, confident enough in my writing ability to consider majoring in English, I was absolutely stunned when I received Bs and Cs on my papers, all dripping in red ink. Although I eventually endured the rigorous process of unlearning all the bad writing habits that went unnoticed in high school, I’m convinced I could have learned how to write well years before.

What Can You Do?

I was lucky enough to have taken courses with a few professors who really cared, who took the time to teach me what good writing meant. For students who are still in high school, I suggest developing college-level writing skills as soon as possible.

One thing to keep in mind is that writing isn’t like math, where you either understand it or you don’t. It’s an ever-evolving process; it never reaches a stage of “perfection.” Also, learning to revise rigorously, reading over every sentence to ensure stylistic clarity and logical soundness, is just as important as checking for grammar and spelling errors.

Unfortunately, schools generally don’t stress developing strong writing on an institutional level simply because it’s expensive. It takes time to teach one of the most difficult skills anyone can learn. And many teachers are simply not up to the task of working with every single one of their students to improve their writing. It’s logistically impossible. This is where homeschooling comes in.

For starters, if you want your kids to learn to write well, they should read as much as they can. Encourage them to read books that interest them, as well as books that force them to expand their vocabulary and ways of thinking. Have them practice writing beyond school assignments, and read books on writing, too.

Most importantly, before parents or students dismiss the importance of writing skills, thinking that writing well is only within the purview of English majors, consider this: One of the key skills employers cite as deficient among recent graduates is written communication.

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This guest post is contributed by Alisa Gilbert, who writes on the topics of bachelor’s degrees. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alisagilbert599@gmail.com.

Helping reluctant writers embrace the process

Helping reluctant writers embrace the writing process | How to avoid arguments, head-butting, and apathy

Quick! Take this survey:

  1. Do your students complain about having to edit and revise their compositions and essays?
  2. Do they hate having to spend several days on the same writing topic (brainstorming, writing a draft, self-editing, and revising)?
  3. Do they become apathetic and lose steam by the time they get to the final draft?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have good news: Your kids are completely normal! But short of dragging them across broken glass or hot coals, how can you teach them to embrace the steps of the process as a natural, expected part of writing?

Writing Is Hard Work

If you’ve not used a formal writing program before, it’s possible that the writing process is new to your children. Regardless, they’re not alone. I wish there were a magic wand I could wave over them to help them like it better, but in truth, writing is hard work, and it takes time and discipline.

Unless they’re making lists, journaling, or emailing a friend, most writing does require planning, drafting, editing, and revising. This would be true whether you use WriteShop, some other writing program, or simply create your own writing assignments.

Typically, students want to write a paper once and be done with it. They don’t want to brainstorm, and they certainly don’t want to rewrite it. But whether or not these steps of the writing process are built into the curriculum (as they are with WriteShop), it’s really important for children to come to terms with the reality that this is how writers—from students to professional authors—write.

So . . . how do we go about helping reluctant writers grasp the importance of the writing process?

A Look at the Writing Process

There are three main parts of the writing process: brainstorming, writing, and editing and revising.


The student who just sits down to write without having first brainstormed will either stare at the page with a blank look, unable to think of anything, or she’ll write in a fairly disorganized fashion, repeat herself, include unnecessary detail, or omit key ideas. Even in timed-writing sessions, students are encouraged to dash out a quick outline to help them focus on what the question is asking and to keep them from drifting off-topic as they write. Simply, brainstorming focuses a writer. It helps her choose details, plan and organize her story or report, stay on track, and avoid tangents.


Writing is done in stages. The first draft serves to get those rough, new ideas onto the paper. By its very design, the first draft is meant to be revised later.

Editing and revising

Whether or not your child agrees, every paper benefits from revision, and editing gives her a chance to make some modifications. Even this blog article was edited and revised many times before I posted it. I don’t just try to catch typos; I also want to make sure my answers are complete and clear, my thoughts are organized, and my tone is professional yet conversational. This self-editing process tends to be subjective for most of us because we feel an emotional attachment to each and every word. That’s exactly why your child needs to turn her work in to you for objective feedback: She needs an outside opinion in order to write a more polished final draft

Helping Your Student “Get It”

OK. You and I agree that the writing process is important. Yet the $20,000 question remains: How do we get our kids on board? Again, there are no magic answers, but I can offer a few ideas:

Show your teen she’s not alone.

Your student may feel as though she’s the only one who has to plan, write, and revise her compositions. Discovering that the writing process is universal may help her back down a bit. For fun, you might ask her to do a Google search for the term “writing process.” I bet she’ll be surprised to find over 21 million results!

Give freedom to a creative child.

It’s natural to expect a negative response from a reluctant, resistant writer. But if a student who normally loves writing fits this profile too, maybe she feels her creativity is being stifled when she is asked to brainstorm or make changes to her text.

First and foremost, give such a student the freedom to write for the sheer joy of writing—plays, stories, poems, whatever she loves! Separate these experiences from her writing lesson by not requiring her to plan or revise these stories. For her, use the writing process to teach skills in the same way that math drills, piano lessons, or other repetitive activities teach, reinforce, and offer practice. Let her write to her heart’s delight in her free time, but also require her to learn discipline through the structure of the writing process.

Use analogies.

You’re a parent, so I’m sure all this makes sense to you. The hard part is communicating it to your student. I find that analogies can help explain things so that she can get it too. Here are some past blog articles that deal with the writing process. Several offer different analogies that compare the writing process with things like gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, and spelunking (caving). See if one or two of these analogies spark understanding in your reluctant student.

Point to the future.

Students who choose to go to college quickly discover that the writing process is taught there as well. And as much as they may grumble and complain, it’s to their benefit to plan, draft, and improve each piece of writing.

Among curriculum sites, public schools, universities, and professional writers’ blogs and websites, the writing process is regarded as key to success. To help your teen see how vital these repetitive skills are, even at the college and professional level, here are a few outside sources that further explain the purpose and various stages of the writing process.

Start Young

In the end, there’s no shortcut to bypass the writing process. Planning and revising are as important to a composition or essay’s success as the actual writing. The best way to avoid arguments, head-butting, and apathy is to train your children while they’re young, perhaps using a program like WriteShop Primary or WriteShop Junior. If they grow up with the writing process, they’ll be more likely to accept and value it, even if they never learn to love it.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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