Entries Tagged 'Essays & Research Papers' ↓

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.

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time | Teach teens the value of unplugging during school time

YOUR TEEN lives in the modern world. Between phone calls, texting, email, instant messages, Facebook, and any other number of social media opportunities that distract her, she has to learn to establish boundaries for herself in order to get any work done at all.

Do Not Disturb

When she’s hammering out a paper or other project, there should be none of this electronic interruption until she’s finished, and for good reason. Setting aside these distractions is sort of like hanging an e-version of the “do not disturb” sign. And now I’m going to become very unpopular with your teen—and so will you, if you take my advice!

Unplug the Internet cable during her computer time and turn off her cell phone, if she has one.

Yes, unplug. She may not appreciate it, but you’ll do your teen a favor to limit social network time.This will make it impossible to go online or get interrupted by a text message while she’s working on an essay or report. If she needs to do research online, have her separate the research process from the writing process. Let her work online . . . and then simply unplug the cable when her research is complete.

What’s the Big Deal?

When your student tries to do schoolwork while catching up on Instagram or texting with friends, she loses the ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, the quality of her work suffers. In addition, she’ll require more time to finish the project. For one, the interruptions themselves take time. But more importantly, these breaks—no matter how short in duration—require her to keep refocusing when she finally returns to the task at hand.

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time

I regularly experience this myself. I have two tasks open on the desktop, my email open on the laptop, and a barrage of projects stacked on my work surface. When I flit back and forth among them like a restless butterfly, I often close out my day feeling like I got absolutely nothing accomplished. Instead, I end up with myriad loose ends dangling everywhere and just as much on my to-do list as when I woke up.

But when I commit myself to one project at a time, visit my inbox a few times a day instead of several times an hour, and steer clear of both Facebook and the phone during those designated working hours, I am so much more productive as I pick off a whole bunch of little tasks (or take a nice chunk out of a bigger project). The sense of accomplishment is huge for me—and your teen can experience this too.

One of my favorite desktop apps is Strict Workflow. When your student clicks the icon, she is automatically shut out of Facebook or other favorite websites for a set period of time (it’s both customizable and free). Strict Workflow makes a good option for a teen who’s fairly responsible as a rule but can lose track of time.

Goodbye to Multitasking

Making electronic access difficult (or impossible) forces your student to pour all her concentration and effort into her writing. This ability to separate work from play is of the utmost importance at college where she won’t have your help making such wise choices. In your “home training center,” once your teen figures out how much easier it is to write a paper in an uninterrupted chunk of time, she may never go back to multitasking again!

That’s it for now—I’m off to take a dose of my own medicine.

Please do not disturb.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Pablo Viojo, courtesy of Creative Commons.

More tips for stronger papers

Notebook and pens

With a few focused efforts, your teen’s essays and research papers will rise to the challenge.

Use transition words.

Transition words help papers read more smoothly by providing logical organization. They also connect important thoughts or provide transitions between opposing ideas. Students often get into trouble moving from idea to idea. Without transitions, they’ll lose their reader, who will have trouble following the writer’s line of thought.

Transition words act as signals to alert the reader. Words like in addition and furthermore tell the reader that a point is about to be expanded or explained. On the other hand and conversely suggest that the writer will explore an opposite idea. Therefore and finally signal that a train of thought is coming to an end.

Reading through the paper paragraph-by-paragraph makes a good test of fluency. If each paragraph makes sense on its own, the writer probably made wise use of transitions. If not, she can look for ways to add a transition word or sentence to introduce new ideas.

Transitional words and phrases

Don’t plagiarize.

Plagiarism, copying another person’s written work and calling it your own, is the same as stealing. What has been stolen is the author’s unique way of formulating ideas into his own words. Teach your student the proper way to credit the sources she uses in her research paper or essay.

Plagiarism.org 

Focus on clarity and simplicity.

It’s not uncommon for young writers to try to impress their instructors by overwriting. This can take the form of using too many big words, piling on too much (or unnecessary) detail, or taking rabbit trails. The content of a research paper or essay must always, always point back to and support the thesis statement. If it fails to do so, eliminate it.

Word Choice

For more essay and term paper tips, also see 4 tips for stronger papers.

4 tips for stronger papers

girl with penEssays and research papers are often the bane of a high schooler’s existence. But a few simple tips to set them off on the right foot will save hours of red-penciling later on!

Write a clear thesis statement.

Your thesis statement provides focus, both for the reader and the writer. It should state the research paper’s main message in one or two sentences.

Why should your essay contain a thesis statement?

Stay on track.

As you write your paper, continually support your thesis statement with facts, details, and examples. Avoid irrelevant information that can distract your reader from the main points. By staying on track and avoiding information that doesn’t directly support your thesis, you’ll produce a much stronger essay.

Don’t rehash ideas.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying the same thing over and over in different ways. Instead, do a little more research so that you can support your claims with fresh facts and examples. Your readers will thank you!

Term paper research: Getting started

Make a plan and stick to it.

Essays and research papers need structure—an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Without structure, your paper will fall apart. Avoid diving into your paper without thinking your argument through and organizing your thoughts into an outline. Instead of trying to rope scattered ideas, herd them into formation before you begin to write.

Outline the paper from beginning to end. As you outline the body of the paper, list your key points and hit the major supporting details. It’s a relief to know where you’re going, and it will make your paper much more focused and easier to write.

How to make and use an essay outline

College prep: Is writing on track?

BookshelfIf your bookshelf looks anything like mine did when we were homeschooling, it holds an assortment of curriculum you’ve stopped and started at various times along the way. Some we just couldn’t get into for various reasons, and we ended up finding alternatives. But there were others that we fully intended to use—we just never got around to them.

For example, we were supposed to get through a foreign language to meet my son’s college admissions requirements. Time and again, it seems, we’d start fresh and then stop. Spanish kept sliding to the back burner because of everything else that vied for his time. Then one day I nearly had a stroke when I realized he would never be able to finish the course in time for graduation. He paid for my lack of perseverance by having to spend some of his college electives on a foreign language.

Do you find that writing is one of those subjects you keep starting and stopping? Does your child drag his feet, fail to finish assignments, or complain night and day? Or are you the one who has trouble following through with lesson planning or editing? Whatever the reason, it’s important that you start afresh, make a plan, stick to your guns, and don’t let your student whine, wheedle, cajole, or otherwise manipulate you into letting him lapse!

Start Fresh

Writing is one of those non-negotiable subjects that forms a basis for academic success. So make a commitment to see your writing program through. If you’re not using a formal writing curriculum, you must still commit to assigning writing on a regular basis.

Has time been the culprit? You may need to give up another subject or extracurricular activity in order to have the time to devote to writing. Your child will not survive in college without writing skills.

Make a Plan

WriteShop’s convenient scheduling options can help parents stay on track. With older high schoolers, time is running out. So if you’re concerned about the SAT essay, for example, your student will need to complete the essay portion of WriteShop II well in advance of the test because he’ll need time to practice writing timed essays. But no matter what, arm yourself with a plan—and stick to it—or your student will slip into old habits of not completing his work. This means:

  • Choosing a schedule to follow;
  • Sticking with the schedule;
  • Supervising your student’s work to make sure he’s doing it; and
  • Editing and returning papers to him on time so he doesn’t fall behind in his writing assignments.

If your student can finish WriteShop II by (or before) 10th grade, you can devote the rest of high school to more advanced writing, such as longer essays, literary analysis, and a couple of research papers.

Stick to Your Guns

Now for the hard part! Help your child develop self-discipline. See that he follows the schedule. If he’s used to giving excuses for why he didn’t get around to doing his writing assignment, make him write first thing each day. Hold him accountable and don’t let him off the hook!

Likewise, if follow-through hasn’t been your strong suit in the past, recommit yourself to helping prepare your student for college by teaching and overseeing the lessons and adhering to deadlines. If your student knows you won’t check up on him, he’ll continue to fritter away his time. But if he realizes that you’re going to hold his feet to the fire and impose consequences for incomplete work, he’ll perform better for you.

You’ll both be much happier in the end, and just imagine the pride at being able to say that you reached your goal!

Timed writing: Preparing for SAT essays

Preparing for SAT essays begins in early high school. Practice w/timed essays helps make responses nearly automatic. WriteShop 2 can help.

Here’s a question we see often in our WriteShop mailbag:

Q: In a few years, my sons will be taking their SAT college entrance exams. Is the essay section in WriteShop II good preparation? My sons are in 9th and 10th grades.

A: Fortunately, you have plenty of time to start preparing for SAT essays. The best time to start training your kids in the art of timed writing is during 9th and 10th grades, followed by weekly practice in 11th grade.

There’s a good reason for not putting off teaching this important skill till the last minute. Continue reading →

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