(image courtesy Differentiation Station)
“How do I get started on this paper?”
“My teacher wants me to write HOW MANY pages?!”
Writing is the second-most frustrating task that students have. (The first is anything math-related. Check out “How to Help with Math Homework.”) Writing takes a lot of practice, and that practice takes time. It is an absolutely necessary skill though, so it must be practiced. Often, someone’s first impression of you is how you write, whether it’s a college application, a resume, a dating profile, or a tweet. So how can we tackle the assignment at hand?
1) Discuss the assignment. I have found that many students don’t even understand what the assignment is, much less how to start. Yes, please make sure your student understands the assignment. Is the writing assignment a (more informal) story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end? Or does the writing need to be a (more formal) expository or persuasive essay, presenting facts or opinions? What needs to be included in the final product? Have the student tell you, not the other way around. That way, the idea behind the assignment takes root in the student’s mind.
2) Writing is about communication. Understanding that is crucial. Writing–communication–is about getting someone else to understand what you are saying or what you want them to know. So figure out the main idea (thesis, moral) of what needs to be said. A good friend told me once, “You have information that needs to be shared. Once you understand that, the words will fight to get out.”
3) Develop a plan. Essays don’t always write themselves, even if the idea is there. Help the student form a plan of how the message will be communicated. Usually, that starts with a story. Here are key ways for the student to plan what he wants to say.
–Brainstorm. Just write down the topic and anything that comes to mind about it. It doesn’t have to be neat. As mentioned before, brainstorming is a STORM from your BRAIN. If the essay has a prompt, does the student agree or disagree? What are examples of why?
–Make an outline. Outlines help us organize our thoughts into an order, especially the ones that just exploded onto the paper during the brainstorm. Find the main idea of what’s going to be said. What is the purpose? Then pull out and arrange the thoughts that support it. Not everything from the brainstorm might make it into the outline or final paper. That’s okay. Stick to the outline.
4) Proofread! Did the main idea’s point get across? Are the examples strong in their support? Revise the drafts until the answers are ‘yes’! The main idea and the support examples should be clear in how they link to each other. The ideas in the essay should be communicated in an easy-to-understand manner, even if the ideas are complex. Lastly, check for grammar and other technical errors.
Remember to model good habits at home–and BE PATIENT. Developing writing skills takes time, especially if it isn’t practiced. So take the time to share in writing (and reading!)with each other. Perhaps keep a journal or write notes to each other. Get more helpful ideas from last year’s“Just Start Writing!” post (wow, exactly a year ago), or message me for more personal help.