5 Steps to a Great Essay

Since I have a wide assortment of school age children, there is always one of them that needs writing help. Right now, it happens to be my Middle School aged kiddos. They are of an age that the essay should be second nature to them. In fact, this past year we spent a considerable amount of time learning a few basic pointers to nail down the art of writing essays. Here are my five favorite steps…

1) Brainstorm – depending on the breadth of the essay this may include research. However, if your essay assignment is rather extemporaneous you will not have time to do research and thus must pull from your pre acquired knowledge. Encourage the student to think about the topic. To remember any books/ classic movies they have read that support an argument for or against the topic. Take these examples and formulate them into an opinion or idea.

2) Thesis and outline- Write your thesis which is usually a sentence that summarizes the main point of your essay. The thesis will often contain your title, and the title is what will induce your readers to spend time on your essay. Once you have a thesis written down  – start a rough outline. The outline should include your introduction, main ideas (points), and conclusion.

3) Start your paper with an introduction that contains your thesis and main ideas. Make sure that it consists of at least three sentences and that it catches the reader’s attention. Move on to the body of the paper. Each main idea will have a corresponding body paragraph. Make sure that you start each paragraph with a topic sentence that restates the main idea. Finally, construct a concluding paragraph. In this paragraph you should restate your main ideas and your thesis and summarize your position.

4) Don’t forget to follow whichever style of writing your teacher/parent instructed. There are many different formats including MLA, APA, and Turabian.

5) Last but not least, make sure that you polish your work before turning it in. Read and reread your essay checking for spelling, syntax, and grammatical errors.

If you are still struggling with getting your kiddos to write cohesive essays why don’t you try online tutoring in writing?

Getting your students Writing

writingOver the years of homeschooling ups and downs… I realize that one of the most difficult things to get across to my children are good writing skills. I have found that the challenge has many multiples…

1) I have to get them motivated… this is huge. If I can just find the key, find a thing they love, and get them interested in talking about that thing… I’ve got it made. However, finding the “thing” is the issue.

2) I have to get them to practice good grammar, which means teaching grammar skills. (collective groan)

3) I have to teach them fluency, agreement, syntax, etc. All of which takes practice… so just like learning how to play an instrument or a sport… writing takes PRACTICE.

…sigh…which they won’t get unless they write… and they won’t write unless they are motivated…

This past year I had to teach my highschooler how to practice essay writing for standardized tests… in the middle of it I almost despaired and sought out a writing tutor…but we kept at it even though there was very little motivation…essay prompts are really just not fun!

Now you can see my ongoing dilemma. This past year, I purchased several very interesting and very fun motivational writing books. They were responsible for the best year of writing that we’ve had so far. So, if I had to hang my hat on ONE key thing… it would definitely be the motivation! If you can motivate them to write something they are interested in… you have won the battle!

Making the most of writing…

Yes, of all the subjects in our homeschool… writing tops as the most dreaded! I think my children see the blank page and feel like they just can’t measure up. They have this conception that there is a right and wrong way and that they just can’t get it all together.

We started really focusing on essay writing this spring. My 17 year old all the way down to our second grader were learning how to write an essay. We went over the format and structure, and made an outline of what should be included in each essay. Which amazingly is no different as you get older.  I sincerely believe that if I can get my younger children writing essays with ease while they are in elementary school, then when they get to high school… it should come naturally!

To share how we make essay writing easy at our house let me break down our simple format.

1) Most essays are 5 paragraphs long.

2) Before you start writing you should think of 2 or 3 reasons that support or negate the thesis statement. Once you think of these three reasons, think of either an experience, current event, or a book that supports or mentions these reasons.

3) The first paragraph should be your introduction and should have an introductory sentence (ususally a grabber!), statement of the thesis, and then state your two or three reasons.

4) The second paragraph will be about your reason #1. You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

5) The third paragraph will be about your reason #2. You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

6) The fourth paragraph will be about your reason #3 (obviously if you only could think of two reasons – then you would move on to the next point). You will have a topic sentence that states your reason and how it supports the theme of the essay. Then you will have 3 or more sentences that elaborate on that reason. If you thought of a personal experience, current event, or piece of literature that would be an example include it here.

7) The fifth paragraph will be your conclusion. In this paragraph you will restate the thesis. You will then also refer back to each of your reasons and restate them as supporting your thesis. Finally, you will want a sentence or two that will be your clincher sentence. This will tie it all together and sum up the point that your were trying to get across to your audience.

Making the Most out of Contests!

I know, Christmas isn’t even really over yet and I am already thinking of ways that I can get my kids re-engaged in learning. The holidays always take a big toll on education at our house. We get off track, and we have a hard time getting back on. So, I need some pretty magical stuff to get my six kids back to actually WANT to learn again.  When January rolls around each year, they are always reticent to study vocabulary or learn multiplication tables. This past week I had a little light bulb moment and realized that using contests to help motivate my kids to get interested in writing or reading would be an awesome motivational tool! Easy, fun, simple… follow the rules… and bam! You just might win a prize for doing something you’d ‘HAVE’ to do anyway. This just might be exactly what the doctor ordered for the first week of January…

I posted about this over at The Time for Learning Community blog and gave a great list of contests. This post and other great posts like it are there to help you as a homeschool parent make the most out of your time!

1) Nasa’s REEL science communication contest
2) Viral Video Scholarship Contest
3) Geek Girls… STEM Mentorship Program
4) National Geographic Student Photo Contest
5) John’s Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Talent Search Contest
6)Being an American Essay Contest
7) Christopher Columbus Awards
8) Before You Graduate Competition
9) CANE writing contest (New England)
10) Family and Consumer Sciences Bowl
11) Amazing Kids Contest
11) Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award – Writing Contest
12) American Fire Sprinkler Association Scholarship Award
13) American Foreign Service Association Essay Contest
14) American Regions Mathematics League – Math Contest
15) Banking on Youth Competition

Essay Writing

Over the years, I have seen how some high school students manage to get through several years of grammar and language arts courses without being able to write a cohesive essay. Essay writing is often dreaded by students, but is one of those tools that once successfully learned can get you far. You see essay writing is a necessary skill for taking the SAT/ACT, for college entrance exams, and for passing basic college courses. If we can begin with younger students and successfully teach them paragraph writing skills, then as they get older essay writing will come more natural. It doesn’t take a homeschool gifted child to be able to write super essays. There are really just a few simple rules of thumb to follow.

1) Essays should always have 4 to 5 paragraphs.

2) An essay should begin with an introductory paragraph that introduces the 2 or 3 points that support your theme.

3) The second, third, and fourth paragraph should discuss the 2 or 3 points that support your theme.

4) The final paragraph should be your conclusion. This paragraph should tie up all the threads of your essay. This paragraph will summarize the thoughts that have been presented.

Creative writing involves many different skills. The student must bring in to play his/her vocabulary, language arts, grammar and punctuation skills. Using each of these skills effectively is what makes a great essay!