Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

College Prep 101: Key writing skills help high schoolers earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicators

STRONG WRITING SKILLS will help your student earn higher test scores, write quality college application essays, and become a better communicator. That’s the good news.

But as I shared recently, there’s bad news too: many college students possess dismal writing skills and are not adequately prepared for rigorous coursework.

I know this is pretty disheartening. It can be easy to give in to gloom and discouragement. Instead, let’s look at positive, practical ways to equip our teens for college-level writing.

Cover the Basics

The requirements are pretty simple, really: focus on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare your students.

Make sure your teens regularly write quality compositions and papers. Specifically, they should know how to write a:

  • Professional email
  • Business letter
  • Résumé
  • Clear, well-organized essay (both persuasive and expository)
  • Research paper

Minimally, by the time your teens graduates from high school, they should at least know how to:

Plan Ahead

If you teach these foundational writing skills early, you’ll still have time to introduce advanced writing and longer, more specific essays in 11th and 12th grade, including:

  • Literary analysis
  • Different types of essays (cause/effect, compare/contrast, reflection, argument, definition, etc.)
  • Research papers of various lengths

So make a plan. Keep working on your teen’s grammar and writing skills, and give purposeful writing assignments on a regular basis. Otherwise, writing will keep dropping to the bottom of the stack—and your teen will be in for a rude awakening when his college years begin.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

Photo: ccarlstead, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Students are ill-prepared for college-level writing

Students are increasingly unprepared to write at the college level

A while back, I talked about the importance of strong writing skills in the workplace. Today I want to take a look at the grim statistics regarding poor writing skills on college campuses and help you explore things you can do now to ensure that your children do not join those ranks.

The Problem on College Campuses

First-time college students face their new post-high school careers with excitement, fear, and any number of challenges. But good writing, for many freshmen, may pose the biggest challenge of all.

Professors want to see concise, coherent and well-reasoned writing assignments. And regardless of the discipline—whether English, history, biology, or art—they expect students to write at a higher level than they did in high school.

Are incoming students unprepared for college writing? We hear again and again that many freshmen lack the most basic skills to write clearly, effectively, and coherently because their working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure is so poor. According to a recent article by the California State University:

About 60 percent of first-time freshmen enrolling at the CSU each year do not show entry-level proficiency in [college-level English] assessments, even though they have earned at least a B average in the required college preparatory curriculum. As a result, many students must attend remedial classes, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.

When High Schools Fail to Prepare Their Graduates

Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, reports that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the nation’s high schools are not devoting enough time to writing skills and may not be providing students with a strong enough writing-based curriculum.

The Tufts article notes that according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 percent of university faculty members say their students are simply not ready for the rigors of college-level writing.

When College Writing Courses Don’t Teach Writing

Arriving on campus is no assurance of success for incoming freshmen who need basic writing courses but aren’t necessarily getting them.

Professor Stanley Fish says universities should rethink the political and ideological emphasis of most composition classes. He rightly suggests that “unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”

Fish relates that a few years ago, he became alarmed and curious about the poor writing skills his English graduate students demonstrated in their research papers. Graduate students should write well, Fish believed; especially since they were responsible for teaching undergraduate students how to write in introductory composition classes. Fish asked to see lesson plans for the 104 sections in which English graduate students taught composition to undergrads. He found that in 100 of the sections, “students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.” Only four sections emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and the craft of writing well. (Eagle Forum Education Reporter)

A Sad but True Example

Several months ago, a friend came into possession of a freshman English paper and shared it with me. Sadly, it serves to reinforce the statistics and testimonials that only too frequently cross my desk. From start to finish, this student’s essay on William Blake’s “The Tyger” is riddled with errors:

  • Uncapitalized proper nouns such as jesus and greek
  • Missing punctuation, including periods
  • Casual language (“…it is actually about more than just a tiger and stuff.”) 
  • Slang (“Allusion is all over the freekin place.”)
  • Misplaced apostrophes and more slang (“Tyger’s have four feet. Cool, huh?“)
  • Use of second person (“If you look at Blake’s history…”)
  • Run-on sentences and sentence fragments
  • Absence of transitions
  • Lack of organization
  • Use of numerals instead of words (“…5 years ago…”)
  • Use of Wikipedia as a “credible” source

This student represents a mere drop in a very full bucket. Thousands of similarly skilled young men and women are accepted into major universities every year—high school graduates whose writing abilities just aren’t up to par.

You Can Make a Difference!

I could continue filling your brain with testimonials and data and examples. But why rehash when the bottom line remains the same? Students are emerging from their high-school cocoons as undernourished butterflies whose wings are inadequately developed for flying through college writing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re in a privileged position to help your homeschooled students. In future articles, I’ll get into more detail, but for now, rest assured that you can:

  • Learn to identify your child’s unique grammar, spelling, and writing issues.
  • Tailor curricula and writing lessons to address those needs.
  • Make sure you’re covering the basics.
  • Expand instruction to include more college prep work.
  • Offer your child what a classroom teacher of 150 cannot: one-on-one instruction, frequent writing assignments, and detailed, consistent feedback.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

5 tips for writing concisely

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

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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.

What does your writing reveal about you?

What Does Your Writing Reveal about You?

Words Matter Week: Day 2

Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.

In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.

That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.

Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?

This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.

But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:

now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years

What does your writing reveal about you?

Oh, dear.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.

Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.

But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?

  • Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
  • Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
  • If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.

Conventions? What Conventions?

OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.

This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.

Find the Errors

Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.

Here are the mistakes I found.

  • now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
  • i – should be I
  • its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
  • to – should be too
  • !! – never use more than one exclamation point
  • the – see #1
  • reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
  • thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
  • hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
  • a visitand visit? for a visit?
  • y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
  • comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
  • its, to – see #2 and #3
  • meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)

So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?

The Final Draft

Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:

Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.

The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.

Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.

. . . . .

Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.

Photos: Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Why on-the-job writing skills are more important than ever

Will your teens have strong on-the-job writing skills? Studies show it's more important than ever if they hope to get---and keep---a job.

We parents give an awful lot of thought to what our children will do once we’re done homeschooling. Will they go to college or university? Take a vocational track? Enter the ministry? Will they become scientists or mortgage lenders? Clerical workers or nurses? Entrepreneurs or educators?

One thing seems clear: No matter the profession, studies show it’s more important than ever that your teen develop good writing skills if he or she hopes to get—and keep—a job.

Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . or a Ticket Out

According to a survey polling 120 American corporations (whose payrolls include nearly 8 million people), an employee’s on-the-job writing skills can either hinder or advance him in the company.

The survey may be a few years old, but its ramifications remain relevant today. Here are some of the survey’s findings:

  • People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired and are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion.
  • Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. “All employees must have writing ability,” said one human resource director.
  • Eighty percent or more of the companies in the service and finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors, the corporations with the greatest employment growth potential, assess writing during hiring. “Applicants who provide poorly written letters wouldn’t likely get an interview,” commented one insurance executive.
  • Half of all companies take writing into account when making promotion decisions.
  • More than 40 percent of responding firms offer or require training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies. Based on the survey responses, it appears that it may cost American firms as much as $3.1 billion per year to remedy poor writing skills. “We’re likely to send out 200–300 people annually for skills-upgrade courses like ‘business writing’ or ‘technical writing,’” said one respondent.

You can read the entire report here.

Focus on Key Writing Skills

What does this mean for your child? Simply, it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s college-bound. If she expects to succeed in the workplace, she’ll need to demonstrate better-than-average writing skills.

So make sure to focus on basic but key writing skills throughout junior high and high school to adequately prepare her. Minimally, by the time your teen graduates from high school, she should know how to:

  • Write a clear, well-organized essay.
  • Write a business letter.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Use proper punctuation, including correct use of quotation marks and apostrophes.
  • Use good sentence structure, including avoiding run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
  • Avoid using slang and shortcuts common to texting and instant messaging.
  • Properly site sources (avoiding plagiarism).
  • Self-edit and proofread her own writing.

Helpful Resources

If you’re looking for a place to start or need a few supplemental resources, check out some of these links and products:

Photo: Isabelle, courtesy of Creative Commons

Stumbling block #8 – Parental criticism

Stumbling Block #8: Fear of Parent Criticism

When it comes to chores, character training, and schoolwork, you can’t always be the nice guy, the friend. Nope. You’ve got to be the parent, which means it falls to you to judge and evaluate your kids’ work. But if you don’t evaluate with wisdom and purpose, you can unwittingly set them up for today’s Stumbling Block to Writing.

Stumbling Block #8

Problem: Students feel criticized when parents evaluate their writing.

Solution: Use editing and grading tools that encourage objectivity and consistency.

Worry about criticism from Mom or Dad is a huge issue for your child. She doesn’t want disapproval; yet if her paper isn’t perfect, she fears facing judgment. Since kids often see their writing as an extension of themselves, they feel personally affronted when they see marks on their formerly unspoiled pages. Their feelings can be summed up like this:

If you criticize my writing, you criticize me.

Well, clearly, in spite of your child’s hypersensitivities, you still have to evaluate, edit, and grade. So what’s the solution?

Be Objective and Consistent

Nothing makes the editing and grading chore easier and more pleasant than objective tools that equip you for the task. An equipped parent is a confident parent! Your student can sense your confidence. She knows you’ll be consistent, and she won’t worry that you’ll be capricious or unpredictable with your remarks and suggestions. This kind of objectivity and consistency builds a lot of trust.

It’s as simple as using a good editing checklist that pinpoints particular things you can watch for in each paper. Now your student can see that your comments are not based on whim or mood, but on specific lesson expectations she accomplished—or failed to meet.

As you review your student’s writing project, this impartial checklist will allow you to comment on the work in a way that helps her feel less criticized. Ultimately, when editing and grading become consistent and purposeful rather than arbitrary or illogical, you’ll see a big change in her attitude—and yours!

For specific ideas, check out editing tips for the faint of heart.

Give Plenty of Praise

Dish out generous servings of praise and positive comments along with your helpful suggestions. Show your student that you notice her efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage improved writing without bruising her sensitive spirit. And when you give a final grade, laud her with sincere praise. Show that you notice things she did well and correctly. Remember: if you use an objective grading rubric, you’ll know what these things are!

Watch for the next article in our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series: Stumbling Block #9 – What’s the Point? 

Share a comment: Is parental criticism a stumbling block for your children? What objections do you face when you edit or grade their writing assignments? 

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Are you looking for a writing curriculum that provides you with specific editing and grading rubrics? If so, you’ll appreciate WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th graders and WriteShop II for 8th – 11th graders. Lesson-specific checklists build confidence by ensuring that you only hold students responsible for the writing skills they’ve learned. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Stumbling block #7 – Procrastination

Stumbling Block #7 - Writing Procrastination

In our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, last week we looked at the problem of laziness. But laziness has a close cousin in the obstacle we’ll explore today: procrastination.

Stumbling Block #7

Problem: The procrastinator waits till the last minute to write her paper.

Solution: Break up assignments over time and provide accountability for your student.

The Pressure of Procrastination

If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.  ~Author Unknown

When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to put off distasteful tasks—or those that seem big and scary—such as cleaning the garage or preparing for a big party. Claiming we work best under pressure, we shop, bake, clean, and decorate in a last-minute frenzy. As time rushes forward and the deadline looms, we sweep piles of laundry and schoolwork into drawers and closets, abandon the balloons and streamers, and purchase a hastily chosen gift card because we never got around to buying a present.

“Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University. The idea that time pressure improves performance is a myth. In truth, procrastination can result in:

  • Health and sleep problems.
  • Anxiety and panic as tasks pile up.
  • Poor performance and inefficiency.
  • Guilt.

As William James aptly put it, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

Five Steps Toward Overcoming Procrastination

The best way to get something done is to begin.  ~Author Unknown

Putting off a writing assignment till the last minute can lead to a rushed and sloppy paper hastily written just before it’s due. It may also leave your child feeling too pressured or anxious to do a good job. As with the lazy student, the procrastinator needs a strategy. Try these suggestions to help your child make wiser use of her time.

1. Work on adopting a “do it first” attitude.

Tackling unpleasant or disagreeable tasks earlier in the day—when your student is fresh and alert—often means greater progress in shorter time.

2. Establish a deadline for the writing project.

When you don’t give a cut-off date, you imply that your child can put the task off indefinitely. Set a date and stick to it.

3. Divide the assignment into smaller chunks.

While a deadline is important, it doesn’t ensure that your student will pace herself. So in addition to assigning a distant due date for the whole composition or report, give more frequent due dates for parts of the project. For a short composition, assign brainstorming, rough draft, self-editing, second draft, parent editing, and a final draft. For a report or term paper, you’ll also want to see topic ideas, note cards, outlines, etc.

The writing process, by its very nature, is a series of steps. However, the procrastinator is prone to completely skip steps (or else cram several steps into one last-ditch writing session). Assignments spread over several days or weeks—with mini due dates scheduled along the way—help train her to spread out her work and not save it all till the last minute. A schedule or plan that outlines each step makes the best defense against procrastination.

4. Don’t neglect to follow up.

Your student needs to allow drafts to rest between writing sessions. But since she tends to wait till the last minute, she typically leaves no time for revising or refining. Make sure that you hold her accountable along the way with checklists and deadlines, and check her work regularly to keep her on task.

As the parent and teacher, you’re responsible to ensure that your child is doing the work and sticking to her deadlines. We homeschoolers can get lax about this. If you say “I’ll check over your work later,” but fail to do so, you continue to perpetuate the problem of procrastination. By not checking up on your student or asking to see her assignments, you unfortunately model the very behavior you seek to correct.

5. Set up task-appropriate rewards.

Come up with ways to reward your student’s steps of progress. Completing her brainstorming on time or writing her rough draft may earn her some computer or TV time. Finishing a task ahead of the due date could merit even more time to spend with her friends, read for pleasure, or work on her hobbies.

Do you ever feel like YOU are your child’s main stumbling block? If so, you won’t want to miss next week’s article, which addresses parental criticism. Check it out and soak up the encouragement!

Share a comment: Does your child procrastinate? What is one new thing you can do toward changing his or her behavior?

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop  provides schedules and checklists that give direction to a procrastinator. Parent supervision is also a key element of the program. Train your little ones early using WriteShop Primary. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photo: fdecomite, courtesy of Creative Commons

Stumbling block #2 – Weak writing skills and tools

Stumbling Blocks to Writing | Students lack skills and tools

Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing! Last week we looked at Stumbling Block #1 and ways to increase your student’s confidence. What’s today’s hurdle?

Stumbling Block #2

Problem: Kids don’t have the writing skills and tools they need to make stories, essays, or reports fresh and interesting.

Solution: Introduce prewriting exercises, brainstorming worksheets, and checklists.

Whether you’re sewing, gardening, working with wood, or fixing an engine, you can’t do the job properly without certain skills and tools. The same can be said for writing—and I’m not just talking about paper, pens, and a laptop. Let’s look at some practical principles you can apply to begin equipping your children for success!

Pre-writing Activities

ScattergoriesOne of the easiest ways to build writing skills is to have some fun! Pre-writing exercises and writing games act as enjoyable warm-ups to get creative juices Apples to Apples - Vocabulary Gameflowing, build vocabulary, and strengthen sentence development. Games you make up, like sentence-building or concrete writing games, make perfect pre-writing exercises.

And don’t discount the value of purchased word games. Scattergories and Apples to Apples come to mind as two great writing warm-up games our family loves to play. Along with old friends like Scrabble and Boggle, they make ideal family Christmas gifts. Your kids will have no idea they’re learning!

Brainstorming Worksheets

Before your student writes the first word of her composition, she’ll improve her chances for success by brainstorming. Like pre-writing, brainstorming is a skill that stimulates thinking in general. However, it also acts as a springboard for writing about a particular subject. When a student brainstorms:

  • It gets her ideas flowing so she has something to say.
  • It helps her overcome writer’s block.
  • It prepares her for writing as she develops a plan and gains direction.
  • It helps her organize her thoughts.

To further promote thinking skills, you’ll want to teach a variety of brainstorming techniques. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition your student is writing. For example:

  • She might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process.
  • If she’s writing a descriptive paragraph, she should carefully study the subject for interesting details and record her observations.
  • For a narrative, she’ll want to sequence the events.
  • A Venn diagram is especially useful for compare/contrast essay.

There are many ways to brainstorm, but worksheets and graphic organizers are tools that often smooth the way for reluctant writers. If you are using a program like WriteShop I or II, you’ll find brainstorming worksheets already prepared for each writing assignment (see an example here). Alternatively, a quick Google search will yield a variety of brainstorming tools available on the web.

But brainstorming isn’t just for your junior high or high schooler! You can begin teaching this skill in kindergarten, either on your own or with a helpful curriculum like WriteShop Primary. Starting your children when they’re young can help prevent the debilitating case of writer’s block that often plagues older students.

Checklists

A good checklist serves as a guide to help your student identify her own errors in content, style, and mechanics so she can improve and enliven her writing. For instance, if the checklist reminds her to use synonyms instead of repeating main words, she’ll be forced to find more interesting words. This simple tool can help her hone a valuable skill she’ll use all her life. (In a few weeks I’ll be talking about checklists in greater detail when we take a look at Stumbling Block #6: Laziness.)

Other Skills and Tools

In addition to checklists and brainstorming sheets, there are other tools that help breathe new life into writing. For example, skill-building exercises can give a student instruction and practice in new writing skills like choosing titles, writing topic sentences, citing sources, or using sentence variations.

I’m sure grammar is part of your language arts curriculum, but how it can revive writing may be a complete mystery to you. I’d like to suggest that when you require your student to use newly learned grammar concepts in her compositions, the grammar actually makes more sense. So rather than teach grammar in a vacuum, teach it as it applies to writing. That’s where the rubber meets the road!

Writing isn’t an exact science, but you can certainly apply proven principles to promote stronger writers in your home. It’s my prayer that you’ll begin to notice a difference in both attitude and output as you put some of these tips into practice.

Next week we’ll look at Stumbling Block #3: Lack of motivation. You won’t want to miss that one!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Do you wish your writing curriculum offered more pre-writing activities and brainstorming ideas? Then take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. You’ll love the writing games and brainstorming worksheets that equip and inspire successful writers! 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

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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