Putting Pen to Paper: Teaching the Writing Process
Another month has slid by and mid-summer is upon us. The harder we try
to slow down our days and hold onto the months, the faster they seem
to fly. Our children say the same thing, so it's not just because we
are getting older!
We're hearing from many of you that you are using the homeschool
conferences to your advantage to learn about, check out, and purchase
curricula for September. One subject that seems to provide angst for
many families is writing--those essays, compositions, and research
papers that sometimes intimidate you as much as they do your teens! We
hope that our discussion of this subject will bring you some relief
and encouragement as you think about including writing in your high
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the questions we are often asked include:
- Why write?
- My child hates to write. How can I get him started?
- How do I teach writing? Help!
- How can I evaluate my teen's writing ability?
- What kinds of papers should my teen write? How many?
- How do I grade writing assignments?
Are you encouraged already simply by the fact that you are not the
only person who has such questions? Before addressing them, it's
important to be reminded that the ability to write will be used in all
walks of life and is one of the marks of a well-educated person.
|Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Learn more >>
In many ways, writing is truly an art. It is a way to craft and
express ideas. It teaches organizational skills especially by mentally
ordering our thoughts so these words and ideas flow in a systematic
fashion to a conclusion. Your teens can take numerous courses to learn
the mechanics of writing; but if it is not practiced, it won't
improve. There is much truth in the adage "practice makes perfect"
when applied to the art of writing.
Another reason to write is for memory's sake. Putting experiences,
feelings, hopes or dreams down on paper not only cements them into our
memory bank, but allows opportunity to relive them at a later date.
Warning! As with all art forms, you may experience contention with
your teen over corrections, suggestions, and editing you do to your
teen's project, especially if it is done with red ink. Something as
simple as using another ink color to edit may be helpful. And, by all
means, turn the table and try your hand at completing the same writing
assignment that you give to your teen, asking him to edit your work.
Your teen will learn much as he searches for errors in your writing
and also provides suggestions for how you can improve your paper. :)
My Child Hates to Write. How Can I Get Him Started?
Writing is hard work, so some children will resist it. Take time to
evaluate if the dislike comes because of a learning issue that may
easily be corrected. If you are an HSLDA member, our learning
specialists are always available to help you diagnose if this is the
case. You may find their newsletter, "Children Who Have to Work too
Hard to Learn," informative
It could be that your teens may just not want to put in the needed
effort to write. If so, you can give them practice putting their
thoughts on paper by writing short entries in a journal each day.
Assure them that you will not read or grade the journal. This will
give them more freedom to say what they are thinking in a variety of
Sometimes the most difficult part of writing is getting started.
Brainstorming together can give your teen ideas which then can be
organized in an outline for the essay. Start with short essays on
topics of interest to your teen or subjects about which he or she is
knowledgeable. This will provide interest and sufficient material to
If you need ideas for writing prompts, try the Teacher's Corner, which provides prompts for each
month of the year. Writing Fix also offers random writing prompts at
the click of a mouse.
How Do I Teach Writing? Help!
Teaching writing begins with instruction in the mechanics of
writing--spelling, punctuation, vocabulary--along with a good grasp of
grammar. You can introduce your student to thesauruses and
dictionaries to aid them in improving their piece.
Once these tools are in place, you will find many types of available
writing resources. There is curriculum which will guide you through
the process of teaching your teens. Some sources will partner your
teen with a mentor who will help her to improve writing assignments or
will review and evaluate papers you assign. Other options are online
courses, co-op classes, or mentors you locate in your community. There
are also many free and helpful writing resources such as the
InfoPlease website that
provides detailed step by step essay writing instructions.
The HSLDA high school website's curriculum section suggests a number
of providers to get you started in your search.
If your teen is interested in advanced levels of writing, Advanced
Placement courses are available online, including Patrick Henry
College Prep Academy.
Additionally, dual credit courses at a community or four-year college
will prepare your student for college writing assignments.
How Can I Evaluate My Teen's Writing Ability?
Assessing your teen's level of writing can be a challenge. However, if
he participates in a group class with other writers, he will gain an
idea of how he's doing. Another way would be to use online writing
programs that evaluate a paper for a fee. A homeschool mom may be a
good source for getting impartial feedback. An English teacher in your
church or community will easily be able to help you determine if your
teen is writing at grade level.
The reading level of your teen will be another tool to use to check
writing abilities. Reading helps to build the writer's vocabulary and
will allow him to "hear" a variety of ways to express ideas and
thoughts. If your teen's comprehension and writing skills are on
similar grade levels, rest assured that he is on target.
What Kinds of Papers Should My Teen Write? How Many?
Writing will be used in all kinds of venues. Therefore, you will want
to provide opportunities to explore a variety of styles. If a unit on
poetry is being covered, composing poems can be attempted. Other essay
choices can include persuasive, creative, expository, informal,
argumentative, compare and contrast, and research projects.
Not all papers need to be the same length. In fact, if writing has not
been an integral part of your academic program, you may want to begin
with teaching how to construct a well laid out paragraph to include
the topic sentence, supporting details, and conclusion. Once this has
been mastered, longer assignments can follow.
There isn't a magic number of essays that should be attempted each
year. Determining how many writing projects to assign will depend on
you the teacher, the student and your objectives. Be careful when
scheduling writing projects to avoid assigning essays for both history
and English in the same week.
Since the SAT/ACT tests include essays written under a time
constraint, you may wish to occasionally give your teens practice in
planning and completing an essay in a prescribed amount of time. This
will provide an additional benefit of learning to meet college
How Do I Grade Writing Assignments?
If you are not sure where to begin when grading your teen's
composition, a rubric may be helpful. Decide on categories that you
will evaluate and assign points to each category. For example, it may
be as simple as: content--60 points, mechanics (grammar and
punctuation)--30 points, effort--10 points. If the total number of
points you assign equals 100, then you'll have a ready-made system
from which to assign a letter grade to the composition after your
evaluation. The free Glencoe guide gives you a more formal rubric for
assessing a variety of student writing assignments such as short
stories, persuasive speeches, research papers, historical essays, and
many more! It's a gold mine of helpful tips.
You may want to encourage your teen to proofread and edit his work
before handing it to you to grade. A student checklist rubric that
will help him can be accessed at MCAS Mentor's website.
Don't fall into the ditch of thinking that you are not proficient
enough to instruct your teens in the art of writing. Alexander Pope
captures the essence of what we are trying to encourage in you and
your teens when he said, "True ease in writing comes from art, not
chance, as those who move easiest have learned to dance." It's easiest
to learn to dance with a partner so whether it's writing thank you
notes or dissertations, practice together with your teen to bring
Next month we will bring you thoughts on the importance of elections
and how your teens can be involved in the process.
Thank you for welcoming us into your home each month,
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants