Jump to content


3rd high schooler here - I still struggle to teach solid essay writing skills

Recommended Posts

Hi - I was a writer/editor of newsletters and advertising before I became a mom. I can write well, but I am a perfectionist so it takes several drafts to distill my message. Teaching it to my children has been difficult!


I am teaching daughter #3 to write and all my children (even at the college level - with 2 years of AP Lit as well) seem to struggle to support their thesis in an essay. They seem to slip back into narrative writing. (Their grammar and mechanics and sentence variation are excellent. But their papers lack focus and support. They also lack organization.


Current students (15yod and 13yob) can not seem to understand that all the sentences in a paragraph have "a job to do". First of course, they struggle mightily with forming a strong opinion for their thesis. Then, they can't seem to back it up. Lastly, they are weak in organizing. (Plus, they tire of the paper when it is only about 1/3 of the way done - i.e. after first rough draft.)


In addition, they seem to end up "telling" (almost like a book report) about their subject (providing description/facts) rather than supporting their opinion about their subject.


These past few weeks, they have each written 2 essays about Watership Down, the first a character sketch (2-3 pages double spaced) and then a compare/contrast on major characters.


I know this is a tough skill, but what are some time-tested and effective ways to teach them the skills for supporting their opinion/thesis?



Lisaj, mom to 5

Link to comment
Share on other sites



I'm currently working with my 11th grader on these same skills. I think he's finally coming around from narrative to more focused, academic writing. IMHO, it's a really tough transition to make.


What has helped him the most is for me to spend time with him during the outline stage. If he is forced to come up with a fairly detailed outline, including a strong thesis and the supporting details/facts, his end result is much better. We discuss over and over again this question -- do your details prove what you asserted in your thesis statement?


I remember back to my 10th-12th grade English teacher and how she helped us with our papers. She would make the assignment and tell us to go home and think about what we wanted to say and come back the next day with a rough outline. Then she would assign independent reading to the class and call each student up for a 2-3 minute review of his/her proposed outline. I remember often coming to her with an incoherent list of ideas, and in that few minutes, she would help me organize my thoughts, and I would leave with a great outline. I didn't improve my writing skills overnight, but over those 3 years, I became a pretty good writer. So don't despair, just keep working with your dc on those papers.


Also -- it has been very helpful for my son to be in a couple of outside classes (Lit & Latin) where he has a chance to peer review papers. He has been able to learn from the writers that are more focused than he is, and he's been able to really spot papers that are all narrative rather than analytical.


Best wishes,


Link to comment
Share on other sites

We are using:


They Say/I Say





Patterns for College Writing - covers more than just narrative. :001_smile:



The argument book by the same author is good too.


I can also recommend the "Best Essay" series.

The Best American Essays of the Century



I like the variety in the annual books as well. Using them feels like a trip to an art gallery where the paintings are current and are actually for sale. What does an essay look like when it's inspired rather than assigned? What techniques do writers really use? What is the effect? Plenty to learn.


Note - some topics could easily offend plenty of folks.




Edited by Janice in NJ
Link to comment
Share on other sites

You might want to check out the book Paradigm Online Writing Assistant. It is available online too, as the title indicates. For us, it is easier to use a portable book.


My 8th grade dd is almost finished this. I choose exercises from each chapter for her to do, along with the reading. I anticipate we will finish it by mid-December, so we completed it in one semester.


I think especially if you have a background in writing (I do too), it is something worth looking at, because you can adapt it to your child's level/needs.


Hang in there!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Marking my spot, my 9th grader is having a terrible time with this! I am an intuitively good writer, but I suck at teaching it, and we are using iew which he hates because it is so formulaic.



I used some of the IEW History-Based books with my son in the 6th-8th grades, and he didn't love them either. But, I think it did a great job teaching him the structure of a good paragraph/paper, and it also forced him to make his sentences more interesting.


The IEW books we used weren't intended to help a student move from narrative essays to more analytical ones. That is something that we are focusing on now that we've moved on from IEW. As I said in my earlier post, I think really working with your student at the outline stage is key to helping him/her more to more analytical writing. Also -- the change in thought process doesn't happen overnight, and IMHO, at 9th grade, it's just getting started. You've got all of high school to work on writing with your student. If you keep up the effort, you should see some improvement


Best wishes,


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...