Essay Writing Skills For High School Students

Common Problems in High School Writing

Writing is a big part of every high schooler’s life. In fact, students write more than ever before–from school research papers to essays on standardized tests to texting their friends. Yet, writing problems abound. According to the 2011 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 24% of twelfth-graders are at or above the proficient level in writing and only 3% write at an advanced level. While these results are disappointing, the overall effect on student achievement is a larger concern: writing problems can greatly hinder college and career success. The good news is that with hard work, patience, and targeted help, high school writing problems can be overcome.

What is Proficient High School Writing?
By understanding high school writing proficiency standards, parents can be more effective in helping their children meet grade-level expectations. At the proficient level or above, high school students are able to plan, draft, and complete error-free essays. High school students should know how to select the appropriate form of writing for various audiences and purposes, including narrative, expository, persuasive, descriptive, business, and literary forms. Students in ninth to twelfth grade should exhibit an increasing facility with complex sentence structures, more sophisticated vocabulary, and an evolving individual writing style. When revising selected drafts, students are expected to improve the development of a central theme, the logical organization of content, and the creation of meaningful relationships among ideas. In addition, students must edit their essays for the correct use of standard American English.

How to Spot Common Writing Problems
Parents can spot common writing problems simply by reviewing their children’s essays and other writing homework. There are specific things to look for to see if your student needs writing remediation. Writing problems may also come to light as high school students prepare for the writing portion of standardized tests. On these tests, students are asked to write an essay, which involves reading and interpreting a writing prompt, selecting the appropriate form of writing to use, and completing an error-free essay within the test’s time limit. The essay measures the student’s ability to develop a thesis, organize and express ideas in a coherent manner, and use appropriate word choice, varied sentence structures, and correct language conventions. If your high school student has trouble in any of these areas, it will hamper their ability to score well on standardized test essays.

What Does Your Child’s Writing Look Like?
Does your high school student make errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Are you finding poorly constructed sentences and unsuitable word choices? Is there a lack of organization or supporting ideas? Here are some common errors that will help you identify the trouble spots in your high schooler’s writing:

Problem: Sentence Fragments
Example: Going to the football game this afternoon.
Solution: I am going to the football game this afternoon.

Problem: Run-on Sentences
Example: I enjoy going to the movies first I have to finish my homework.
Solution: I enjoy going to the movies, but first I have to finish my homework.

Problem: Lack of Subject-Verb Agreement
Example: She drive every day.
Solution: She drives every day.

Problem: Incorrect Noun Plurals
Example: The berrys are ripe.
Solution: The berries are ripe.

Problem: Incorrect Plural and Possessive Nouns
Example: The childrens’ toys were donated to a charity group.
Solution: The children’s toys were donated to a charity group.

Problem: Wrong End Punctuation
Example: Where are you.
Solution: Where are you?

Problem: Not Forming Compound Sentences
Example: It rained today. The weather report called for blue skies.
Solution: It rained today, yet the weather report called for blue skies.

Problem: Sentence Variety
Example: Susan runs to school every morning. Susan talks to her friends before class. They don’t get to class on time. Their teacher gets angry.
Solution: Susan runs to school every morning so she can talk to her friends before classes begin. However, when they don’t get to class on time, their teacher gets angry.

Problem: Paragraph Focus
Example: I love computer games, model cars, and comic books. All are fun!
Solution: I enjoy many different types of leisure activities. My friends and I have a great time playing the latest computer games with the most excitement and challenge. When I want to create something on my own, I build model cars and take pride in getting every detail just right. Yet nothing beats my comic book collection if I want to kick back and relax! With all of these things to do, I’m never bored.

Overcoming Writing Problems: How Parents Can Help
High school writing problems can be overcome through a combination of understanding exactly where your student’s writing weaknesses lie, frequent writing practice, and careful revision. Start by speaking with your child’s teachers, if they are traditionally schooled. Share your observations and concerns. If you are a homeschooler, make a thorough list of the areas where you think your young writer needs the most help.

Often, writing problems exist because students need more feedback or are confused about the feedback they are getting. Another issue is the busy high schooler’s schedule, which doesn’t allow enough time for practice and revision. Here are some tips that can help you get your student on track for writing success–in class and on tests:

  • Give positive feedback. When reviewing your student’s essays, give positive feedback along with talking about what needs improvement. Engage your student in the revision process by discussing the mechanics of writing without disapproval of their ideas. Students should understand that writing is a process and all writers revise their work. Remember, children need encouragement as much as correction. Also, speak in private to avoid possible embarrassment.
  • Consider a placement test.  Because knowing exactly where your student’s writing weak points are is the first step to getting them help, a placement test can be an invaluable tool. Time4Writing offers a free writing placement test for students that will help you determine exactly which course will best remediate the writing problems your specific child or teen is experiencing.
  • Encourage practice and revision. Suggest writing activities that relate to your child’s interests, such as writing for the school newspaper or a club website. The fact that their writing will be published provides an extra incentive to revise. Students should also practice interpreting writing prompts and completing timed essays in preparation for standardized tests.
  • Ask for an opinion. Much of high school writing focuses on producing persuasive essays that convey a well-defined perspective and tightly reasoned argument. Students are expected to clarify and defend positions, as well as refute opposing arguments. Start discussions at home on topical subjects and encourage your children to express and support their opinions. If they have strong views about a particular issue, suggest writing letters or emails to their state representatives or the local newspaper.
  • Emphasize reading; good readers are good writers. If your child doesn’t read published essays, newspaper editorials, or other nonfiction, they won’t know what good essay writing sounds like. Of course, all reading will boost writing and vocabulary skills.
  • Don’t rush writing. Make sure your student has a quiet place to write and help them gauge how long it will take to complete a writing assignment. Writing usually takes longer than we think. If the assignment is rushed, students may feel they can’t write, when they really just needed more time to revise.
  • Get extra help. Recognize when extra help is needed. Ask if your school has any extracurricular programs that target writing. Consider online writing tutor programs and test prep books. Most importantly, don’t ignore writing problems—working with teachers and utilizing available resources can make a difference.

Time4Writing Tackles High School Writing Problems
Time4Writing high school and college prep writing courses meet a variety of needs, from basic skills reinforcement to coaching in essay writing. Taught by certified teachers on a one-to-one basis, our courses help students achieve meaningful improvement in their writing. At Time4Writing, the revision process becomes a highly productive and rewarding learning conversation between the student and teacher. Students revise and re-submit, and the teacher gives further feedback. Some students enjoy the process so much they must be asked to go on to the next assignment, or they’d never finish the course!

Time4Writing currently offers four online writing courses designed especially for high school and college prep:

  • High School Basic Writing Mechanics offers a writing grammar and skills review by focusing on writing fundamentals and strategies for self-editing and proofreading.
  • Students taking the High School Paragraph Writing course will learn the parts of the paragraph (topic, supporting, and concluding sentences) and the types of paragraphs (narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive).
  • In High School Essay Writing, students explore the essay writing process from prewriting to final revisions. Students practice and master each step of the process before going on to the next step.
  • Writing Research Papersteaches high schoolers the essentials of the research process from prewriting through revision. Students will plan and develop one research report, practicing and mastering each step of the research process before moving on to the next step.

Courses can be taken individually or in succession to build skills from the ground up.

With over 14,000 students served, Time4Writing has ample proof that writing problems can be overcome. One high school student taking the Exciting Essay Writing course told us, “I have really enjoyed this class because it has improved my writing.…This past week I wanted to turn off my computer when I began to struggle. Thank you for being patient. Your teaching has been a very big help!”

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Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.

According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:

1. Pick a topic.

You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.

If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?

Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.

Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.

2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.

In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.

To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.

If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.

3. Write your thesis statement.

Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?

Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”

Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”

4. Write the body.

The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.

5. Write the introduction.

Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.

Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.

6. Write the conclusion.

The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.

7. Add the finishing touches.

After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.

Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.

Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.

Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.

Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.

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