Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

SAT essay tips: Part 1

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

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

What is the SAT?

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

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

How the SAT Essay Is Scored

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

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

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

Use Your Time Well

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

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

Know Your Audience

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Writing SAT Essays: Part 2

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Andrew Mason, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

4 essay prompts high school students will love

Interest-grabbing essay prompts high school students will love {via In Our Write Minds}

DO your teens view writing as a dull, meaningless task? Are you always searching for essay prompts high school students will love? Then suggest one of the following interest-grabbing topics to help them brush up on composition skills!

1. The Artist’s Eye

Describe the artwork of your favorite painter or film studio. Discuss the color palette, subject matter, and style (abstract, realist, etc.).

2. Dream Budget

Imagine someone hands you $10,000 on the day of your high school graduation, with one condition: you must spend part of it immediately, save another part for at least twenty years, and give the rest away. Where will you shop, and how will you invest? Which charity, cause, or ministry will you support? Explain your choices.

3. Two Roads Diverged

Compare and contrast two careers that interest you. What aspects of the jobs appeal to you? How will your future look if you choose one of these two paths?

4. Green Light

In your opinion, what are the top three signs that a young adult is ready for a committed relationship leading to marriage? Do age, college degrees, or financial status predict successful relationships?

If you enjoyed these essay prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: Liana_Kyle, courtesy of Creative Commons.

How to write a standout college application essay

How to Write a Standout College Application Essay @writeshop

AS a parent, you’ve likely spent years preparing your teen for college—academically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you followed these tips for college application essays, you’ve already planned ahead by encouraging excellent communication skills.

By now, your teen has probably narrowed down her list of college choices, and she’s ready to start writing. If she wonders how a mere handful of paragraphs can properly introduce all her thoughtful, ambitious, diligent, and enthusiastic qualities, it’s time for her to think like a novelist. In other words, don’t tell your readers—show them!

A Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement in the first paragraph keeps an essay on track. Page limits will not allow high school students to include every childhood dream and future goal in their college admission essays. To avoid rambling, write a few introductory sentences to set the overall tone. Then follow with a thesis statement that answers the admission counselor’s question: Why should I keep reading?

Study the application carefully as you write your thesis statement:

  • Does the admission staff want to see an essay about “Why You Are a Perfect Fit for Our College” or “How You Will Contribute to Our Campus Community”? Develop your answer with three to six key points.
  • Now, write a thesis statement that includes all of these points (or, as my professor called them, “divisions of proof”). Each paragraph in your essay will build on one of these points, drawing from your life experiences for concrete examples.

Write in the Active Voice

After you develop a thesis statement and write a solid draft, go back and edit for active instead of passive voice. To find instances of passive writing, look for the red flags commonly known as “to be” words (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been).

An essay in the passive voice sends subtle signals to an admissions counselor: This student follows and responds instead of taking the initiative to lead. You don’t want to send a message like that!

Consider the following statements:

  • Passive: I was asked to join the drama team for my youth group during my sophomore year.
  • Active: As a member of my youth group drama team, I volunteered to coordinate the elementary school outreach in the spring of my sophomore year.
  • Passive: I have been commended by my teachers for my attention to detail in labs and my ability to motivate other students. 
  • Active: I always take the time to double-check details during labs whether or not the teachers are watching, and I make a special effort to encourage lab partners who lack self-confidence in the sciences. 

Using active voice also makes it easier to add more compelling details to a sentence. This lends an air of greater maturity to your writing.

Paint Captivating Pictures

A novelist does much more than simply ask readers to imagine a boy on a sailing ship or a girl in a small town. She helps us feel the runaway slave’s quickening heartbeat in a wild storm. She helps us hear the red-headed girl’s piercing song in the Main Street parade. Your job as a college applicant is no different. You must envision yourself living, breathing, and studying at your college of choice. Then, you must help the admissions staff see the same picture.

Write a vivid college application essay by avoiding conditional statements (“if/when this happens, I would/could/might do that”). Use a strong future tense instead:

  • Weak: If accepted to your fall program, I would be a valuable asset to your school.
  • Strong: At XYZ University, I will dedicate myself to carrying on a tradition of innovation and scholarship. Grateful for this opportunity, I will stand as a proud member of the 2014 freshman class.

What’s Your Story?

Author Richard Paul Evans offers this wisdom:

The most important story we will ever write in life is our own—not with ink, but with our daily choices.

In your college application essay, you have an exciting opportunity to demonstrate more than just writing skills. You can show an admissions staff that your life story is something they will want to invest in and become part of. What are you waiting for? Find a quiet spot and start writing!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: AFS-USA Intercultural Programs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Book review writing prompts for high school students

Writing prompts to help high school students write book reviews about style, characters, originality, content, and author voice

Not that long ago, it seems, we would look to magazine writers and newspaper columnists for book reviews. Today, every online customer is a potential book reviewer. No matter what you’re reading, someone wants to know your opinion.

Ask your high schooler to choose one writing prompt for a one-paragraph book review. Or, combine several prompts for a longer critique. Don’t forget to post the polished review on Amazon, Facebook, or a personal blog!

1. As Clear as Crystal

Explain your opinion of the author’s writing style. Are his arguments clear? Are his directions confusing? In his fiction, does he balance internal character development and external action to keep the story moving? Overall, do the author’s word choice and sentence structure make you want to read more?

2. Like Flowers in Spring

Evaluate the fictional characters. Are their actions consistent with their strengths and weaknesses? Are their speaking habits believable? Provide some examples. Analyze the story’s ending: does it flow naturally from what you’ve learned about these characters?

3. As Old as Time

With hard work and imagination, an author can reveal her distinctive creativity within the limits of classic plot structure. Describe the originality–or the copycat features–of her fictional storyline.

4. As Good as Gold

A work of nonfiction, whether a biography or a cookbook, claims a certain amount of special knowledge. Considering how this book advertised itself in the title and table of contents, did the actual product meet your expectations? Was it accurate and well-researched? Did the facts outweigh the propaganda? Did you find extensive, organized information or only repetitious jargon?

5. Like Water in a Desert

We characterize an author as a harsh critic or a compassionate mentor depending on their tone. Did you find this author to be condemning or inspiring? Give examples. Since you have familiarized yourself with the author’s viewpoint, add a recommendation about which readers will find this book most appealing.

If you enjoyed these book review writing prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: “Classical Collection” by Les Chatfield, courtesy of Creative Commons.

High school cause and effect essay prompts

cause and effect essay topics, high school writing prompts

WHEN high school students are confronted with information or current events, they should be able to independently analyze the data or situations. These cause and effect essay prompts will help your teen draw conclusions about underlying causes and intended (or unintended) effects. A family discussion may help your high schooler brainstorm and organize ideas before he starts writing.

1. He Who Fights with Monsters

Violent video games and toys are pervasive in our society. Could this be caused by malicious, money-hungry marketers, or is it simply a reflection of human nature? Do toy guns and first person shooter games lead to more crimes, or do they actually prepare young people for better self-defense?

2. Daddy’s Home

Sadly, it has become ever more common to see broken homes and absent fathers. What do you think has caused this breakdown of marriage, and what are the effects on children who grow up without a male role model in the home?

3. Give Me Liberty

Gun control is a divisive topic. From your experience or research, why are guns withheld from law-abiding citizens? What happens to freedom when a citizen can no longer own and carry a weapon? What happens to crime rates?

4. Some Things Money Can’t Buy

In our nation, personal debt has skyrocketed over the last century. What has caused the massive growth of school loans, credit card debt, and thirty-year mortgages? What is the effect on an individual, family, or country when debt is entered into so freely?

5. Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Have you heard that boys statistically get more attention than girls in a classroom? What do you think has caused the integration of young men and young women in educational settings, from high schools to youth groups to summer camps? What are some of the positive effects of this social policy, and what have been some of the negative or unintended effects?

If you enjoyed these cause and effect essay topics, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: Alexandra Tengco, courtesy of Creative Commons.

6 compare and contrast essay topics

compare and contrast essay, high school writing prompts

COMPARE AND CONTRAST essays don’t have to be dull and tedious! Your high school students will be sure to enjoy a few of this week’s lighthearted topics.

Help teens stay focused with a four-paragraph outline: introduction, similarities, differences, and conclusion. Motivated writers may need two paragraphs for the comparisons or two paragraphs for the contrasts, and that’s fine, too!

1. All in the Family

Family reunions tend to occur at the time of births, weddings, and funerals. Choose two of these three events to compare and contrast.

2. Fashion Statement

It makes us laugh and makes us cry; it fills our closets and empties our wallets. Fashion, past and present, can be fun to study and even more fun to wear! Compare and contrast the clothing styles of today with the styles from a twentieth-century decade of your choice.

3. Saved by the Bell?

Some people procrastinate every assignment and always arrive five minutes late. Others rise before dawn, meet deadlines early, and arrive at meetings with a quarter hour to spare. You know both types, so it’s time to immortalize them in a compare/contrast essay.

4. Behind Closed Doors

Imagine two modest-sized houses: the first belongs to a young pair of newlyweds, and the other is owned by an elderly couple. Compare and contrast these two homes, including the furniture styles, the gadgets and appliances, and the number of items stored in garages, drawers, and closets.

5. Bucket Lists and Dirty Floors

How does it feel to experience something the very first time? How do your feelings change when the activity becomes an old routine? Think about an experience such as driving a car, going camping, baking a cake, or practicing an instrument. Compare and contrast the first time you tried it with your most recent experience.

6. Cheaper by the Dozen

Piles of laundry, noise levels, schedules, routines—we see so many differences between large and small families. Contrast a few of the differences you’ve noticed, and compare several things that both kinds of families have in common.

If you enjoyed these compare and contrast essay topics, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers. 

Photo: surlygirl, courtesy of Creative Commons.

7 tips for teaching free verse poetry

free verse poetry, poetry, poems, free verse, national poetry month

WHEN you think of free verse poetry, do words like modern, unfamiliar, or even scary come to mind? It’s probably because much of modern poetry is either too confusing or too graphic.

The good news is that some poets have combined the best of literary talent and historic research, and their work is too good to pass up! That’s why I am recommending Margarita Engle and her free verse novel The Poet Slave of Cuba for our April celebration of National Poetry Month.

This is the story of Juan Francisco Manzano, a talented boy growing up on the sugar plantations of nineteenth-century Spanish Cuba. His greatest curse—and his greatest blessing—is this: he is the Poeta-Esclavo, the Poet Slave.

Engle’s book masterfully portrays the tragic struggles and sweet triumphs of a slave culture in the not-so-distant past. The stories, while tastefully drawn, do portray human suffering in a stark, startling manner. For that reason, this book is recommended for high school, or perhaps junior high at the parent’s discretion. As you read this book, keep in mind the following tips for teaching free verse poetry.

1. Compare Free Verse Poetry with Prose

Poets usually write free verse poetry using grammatical, non-rhyming sentences. Their free verse stanzas might look deceptively similar to prose. Help your children understand the difference between poetry and everyday prose using this exercise:

  • Choose a stanza from The Poet Slave or other poem. Example: I am the big brother of two freeborn babies, twins / a brother and sister, my own / free, so free, / while I am not.
  • Ask your child to rewrite the stanza in their own words, using as few words as possible. Example: I am older than my baby brother and sister. They are twins. Both of them are free, but I am not free.
  • Read the two versions out loud until your children can hear the difference.

2. Read Aloud to Understand Lines and Pauses

A line in a free verse poem can be as long as a sentence or as short as a single word. Poets put great care into making each line the perfect length to convey a thought or a feeling. Teach your children about pauses at the end of lines by taking turns reading aloud:

  • Practice breathing at the end of lines, not in the middle of them.
  • Take shorter pauses at the line break when a sentence in one line is continued in the next.
  • Take longer pauses at the line break when the two lines have separate thoughts.

You may also enjoy a more in-depth discussion of stanzas and line breaks in free verse poetry.

3. Identify Imagery and Themes

tips for teaching free verse poetry, reading poetry, imagery, themes, free verse, poemsIn The Poet Slave, references to feathers, wings, and birds start appearing in the very first stanza. This poem, however, is not about birds. The story is about a mind, soul, and body longing to be free. Note how the imagery (feathers, wings) and the theme (freedom) are closely tied together.

When you study free verse poetry, help your children identify the key images in the poem. Ask them to keep a list of ways these images are used. Most importantly, help them see the parallels between the imagery and the overarching theme.

4. Watch for Alliteration

In The Poet Slave, the proud Marquesa says:

They flicker all around him, like fireflies in the night.

This is an example of alliteration. This poetic device is fun to find—and even more fun to read. Keep an eye out for alliteration when reading free verse poetry.

5. Listen for Sound Patterns

Teach your children to be aware of sound patterns in free verse poetry. Interesting sound patterns show up when the words in a poem mimic the sounds in the story. We can almost feel la Marquesa slowly exhaling when she says:

The sight of so much invisible music
makes me sigh.

6. Try a Hands-On Experience

The Poet Slave of Cuba offers a first-person glimpse of a house slave’s world: the central courtyard, the tiled floor mosaics, the delicate blooms of tuberose and jasmine. When you read a free verse poem with your children, try to find real-world examples of things in the poem. For example:

  • The art enthusiasts in your family will appreciate making a mosaic with brightly colored scraps of paper.
  • If you live in California or Florida, you might visit a historic Spanish-style home such as the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga.

7.  Make a Character Study

A character study can be as informal as a lunchtime discussion between you and your child. It can include a T-Chart to compare the inner qualities of two characters in the story. Or, you may assign a character study essay. Your older child will choose one person in the poem (such as Juan) and write about how he learns to overcome his own character flaws.

For example, the poet slave Juan is surrounded by superstition from an early age, and he sometimes wishes that he knew how to pray. His journey into manhood teaches him not only about faith in God, but also about the true meaning of mercy.

I hope you’re excited to try a study of free verse poetry with your family, and especially your high schoolers! If you want to start with a shorter poem, try one of these classics:

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.

Photos: Janne Hellsten and cuatrok77, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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.

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