Entries Tagged 'Essays & Research Papers' ↓

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.

 

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.

 

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

3 reasons teens should read before writing

Teens need to read differently for different assignments. Here are three ways reading can help students prepare for essays and reports.

AT ANY AGE, prewriting activities help your kids warm up, think about their topic, and consider the purpose and audience. Simply, prewriting gets them ready to write!

When working with teens, prewriting activities guide them toward shaping and developing their essays and reports. Prewriting can include any or all of these:

  • Focusing and narrowing topics
  • Determining the direction the paper will take
  • Researching and gathering information
  • Brainstorming, planning, and choosing details
  • Organizing and outlining

From time to time, teens will need to read differently for different assignments. Let’s look at three ways reading helps them prepare for writing.

1. Read for a Specific Writing Assignment

When a student is asked to summarize an article, respond to a piece of literature, or write a reflection essay on a book, she first must read the selection (not merely skim it, as she might for other assignments). Sometimes she’ll have a choice (“read a novel by Mark Twain”), and sometimes not (“read Huckleberry Finn”).

If she completes the task correctly, her written response will show that she both read and understood the material.

2. Read to Gather Background Information

Before choosing a topic for an essay or research paper, it’s important to start with general background information. Skimming through encyclopedia articles on two or three topics should provide a good overview. As your student fine-tunes her choices, she can follow up by reading a few articles or books on the subject.

General background reading will:

  • Give the student a feel for different topics.
  • Direct her toward one or two that especially interest her.
  • Help her narrow a broad topic to a more specific one.
  • Show how certain topics relate to other topics or issues.

3. Read for Research Purposes

Once your student has gathered background information and settled on a topic, it’s time for more in-depth reading and research. At this stage, she should start gathering facts, examples, and scholarly opinions to include in her paper. She’ll want to make use of various sources, including periodicals and other library resources, subject-specific articles, newspaper articles, and books on her topic.

Let’s look at three kinds of sources your teen might read in preparation for research:

Subject-specific Encyclopedias

While encyclopedias are great for general overviews, they’re usually not detailed enough for research purposes. However, libraries usually have a variety of subject-specific encyclopedias that are more focused, have longer entries, and go into greater detail. Examples include:

  • Encyclopedia of Food Science & Technology
  • Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
  • Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
  • Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy

Online Sources

A website’s URL can provide a good clue as to its reliability as a source.

  • URLs ending in .edu are usually educational institutions and may be good sources for research.
  • URLs ending in .gov are most likely reliable government websites. Usually, these will provide fairly trustworthy and objective statistics and reports.
  • URLs ending in .org are often a non-profit organizations. Beware of any political agendas before citing such sources; an .org website may be a trustworthy research source—or it could be heavily biased.

When searching for online articles, discourage your teen from using Wikipedia as a legitimate source of information. Instead of using Wikipedia as a source, she can let it direct her to journal or newspaper articles, official web sites, and other more credible sources.

To get her started, here are some helpful links to online research sites that can supplement and improve your teen’s research efforts.

Books

In these modern times, students are quick to rely on the Internet to provide source materials for their research. However, it’s always helpful—and often required—to find scholarly books on the topic as well.

Once your own home library has been scoured, head for the library in search of biographies, historical texts, or other works. Without reading or skimming an entire book, a quick look at the table of contents and index will help your teen determine its potential usefulness.

If the idea of research is daunting (as it is to most students!), encourage your teen that she doesn’t have to read every bit of every book. A chapter—or even just a paragraph or two—may be all she needs to read from a particular book to gather a timely quote or an important fact.

Set your teen to reading! Each of these activities—specific assignments, general overviews, and detailed research—is an important prewriting activity that will help pave the way for a solid essay or research paper.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Photo: Will Ockenden, courtesy of Creative Commons

4 tips for writing college application essays

Preparing teens to write solid essays during early high school will make them more comfortable with writing college application essays.

THOUGH IT’S been 14 years, it seems like only yesterday that my first college-bound child began filling out forms, submitting transcripts, making lists of extra-curricular activities, and yes—writing college application essays.

Each university had its own specific essay guidelines, so each essay she wrote had to be unique as well (not to mention engaging enough to set it apart from the rest of the applicants’ submissions).

Is your child preparing for university? The admissions essay doesn’t have to be a deterrent. Here are four things you can do to help teens prepare for this task:

1. Teach Essay Writing

I’m sure this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many parents have not begun teaching essay writing to their soon-to-graduate teens.

Whether writing is your weakest area or your strongest, it can easily take a back seat to other subjects in your homeschool. To keep writing at the forefront, make sure to schedule it into your weekly lesson plans. You may need to invest in a curriculum that lays a foundation and equips teens with tools to sharpen and enliven their writing.

In addition, regularly assign essays related to other subjects of study such as literature and history. Frequent practice with essay writing of all types will make the application-essay process that much less stressful.

2. Encourage Excellence

Lee Binz has made it her mission to help parents homeschool high school. In her article “What’s the Big Deal about a Little Essay?” she says, “Colleges want to know two things about your student – who they are and how well they communicate.”

The folks in admissions read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays every year. Many of these essays are poorly written, lacking in content, style, and creativity. It doesn’t have to be this way! When your students’ essays are lively, personal, and carefully edited, they will stand out from among their dull counterparts.

3. Promote Concise, Honest Writing

Admissions personnel are not impressed by pompous writing. Teach your teen—in all essay writing—to speak plainly, articulately, and honestly. While well-chosen, mature vocabulary words can certainly be tucked into the essay here and there, the text should be clearly written and easy to read.

4. Plan Ahead

Beginning in 9th or 10th grade, essay writing should be part of every high schooler’s language arts diet. Whatever you do, please don’t wait till they’re seniors to introduce this skill!

According to Lee, teens should start the actual college-application process on the day their senior year begins (though essay writing itself shoud be introduced well beforehand). She often suggests that students practice writing essays beginning on the first day of their junior year.

“Practice college application essays before senior year,” she says. “If you go to a college fair, grab some application packets and look at their essay topics. Use those for writing assignments.”

Admissions counselors really do read these essays. They want to see how students handle various topics and how well they express themselves in writing. Preparing your teens to write solid essays during their earlier high school years will make them more comfortable with the process and more confident in their ability to communicate—no matter what the topic.

. . . . .

WriteShop IIWriteShop II teaches advanced descriptive narration, persuasion, and beginning essay writing (including timed essays). To learn more about WriteShop II for your high schooler, visit our website at www.writeshop.com.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Plagiarism: Committing literary theft

Plagiarism is literary theft. The term might be new to your teens, but they understand cheating. Simply put, plagiarism is cheating at writing.

You sit down to grade a stack of essays. As you read through one particular paper, it occurs to you that the information seems familiar—so familiar, in fact, that you recognize it as the text from an Internet article you yourself printed out in preparation for another writing class. When you look up the article and compare it with this student’s paper, you’re shocked to discover they are identical.

Defining Plagiarism

The term plagiarism might be relatively new to your students, but cheating is not. When it comes to writing, especially in a formal setting, these two words mean the same thing. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarizing as:

  1. Stealing and passing off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.
  2. Using (another’s production) without crediting the source.
  3. Committing literary theft.
  4. Presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

Establishing a Policy

Whether you homeschool one student, tutor several, or teach creative writing or English classes, it’s wise to establish and distribute a policy on plagiarism. Here’s an example:

Plagiarism is the illegitimate use of another person’s words and/or ideas without giving appropriate credit to the original source. Such attempts to copy someone else’s work and call it your own is a very serious offense that will not be tolerated and will have significant consequences. All work done for this class must be your own original composition. When writing, you are required to properly cite any source you use—published or unpublished, from a book or from the Internet. Failure to do so will result in a zero grade for the assignment.

Reinforcing the Rules

Stand firm regarding plagiarism. In any other class setting—whether in a public or private high school, college, or even the workplace—plagiarizing an essay to the extent that our hypothetical student has done will result in an instant F on the assignment, disenrollment from the class, and/or institutional disciplinary measures. Because most educational institutions have a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism, submitting a plagiarized essay like this could, at best, result in a lower grade, or at worst, cost the student a scholarship or expulsion over something he may have thought was “no big deal.” It’s so important to drill into your students that trying to save a few hours’ worth of work by cutting and pasting a two-page essay from the Internet is just not worth the consequences.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Image: FullCodePress, courtesy of Creative Commons

5 tips for writing concisely

These tips for writing concisely will help teens express as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

~William Strunk, The Elements of Style

Conciseness boils down to this: expressing as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details. Concise writing is brief and precise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dull and dry. Help your children apply some of these tips for more concise writing.

1. Stay on track

Staying on topic is a surefire way to encourage writing concisely. When your student takes tangents and rabbit trails, he loses his focus and ends up with cumbersome, awkward, or disjointed writing. Help him create an outline before he begins writing so that he’s less likely to wander off the path.

2.  Be precise

The more concrete the word choice, the clearer the writing. Your child can be wordy and say “the shaggy gray dog with the long hair hanging in his eyes,” or he can simply say “the gray sheepdog.”

3. Use plain English

Many students mistakenly think that big words impress. In truth, effective writing uses simple, straightforward language. While a handful of mature, well-placed vocabulary words can raise the level of a story or essay, using too many can make a piece of writing seem verbose, over the top, and just plain hard to read. Unless you’re writing for a scholarly audience, don’t overdo the vocabulary.

4. Avoid super-long sentences

To train children to be concise, attach a word limit or try restricting the number of paragraphs and sentences they can use. This will help them say what they need to say in the space allotted.

When kids are first learning to write descriptively and use a thesaurus, the pendulum can swing wildly from three-word sentences to 20 or 30-word sentences. It’s okay to give them the freedom to play with words; they’ll find their center over time. Just know that you may need to gently correct if their zeal begins creating log jams in their writing.

5.  Don’t be redundant

Redundancy refers to extra words or phrases that should be cut out. Your student’s ability to write concisely will always trump filling a page with unnecessary text.

It’s not uncommon for beginning writers to repeat themselves. But such repetition bogs down the writing and makes the reader work too hard. Here are two ways to eliminate redundancy:

  • Add concrete details, facts, or examples instead of rehashing the same point.
  • Slash unnecessary words and phrases. Remember: when two words will do the trick, why use a dozen? Encourage your student to read each sentence and paragraph to see if he can cut out any words. His point will be clearer, stronger, and easier to identify.

Encourage your kids to try some of these tips for writing concisely. They may be amazed to discover how sharp and crisp their writing can be!

Photo: Pete, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing across the curriculum with WriteShop II

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

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

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

Writing Across the Curriculum

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

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

History-based Essays

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

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

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

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

.  .  .  .  . 

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

Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

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

Why Write a Thesis Statement?

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

What Is a Thesis Statement?

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

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