Improve Writing Skills and make better grades

Teachers in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and even graduate schools all complain loudly about how many students come to them with poor writing skills.  Girl chews on pencil as she plans her essay

Sabrina needs to write an essay. She started by writing and outline.

Now, when she looks at the outline, she isn’t sure she likes it. There are ideas  she wants to include in the essay that don’t fit her outline.

She writes another outline and thinks about it. Sometimes she writes many different outlines before she finds one she really likes.

But Sabrina knows it’s a lot easier to change her outline before she starts to write.

In the past, she’d start writing and know something wasn’t working. She’d throw the paper in the trash and start over. Sometimes she’d start writing five or six times before her essay felt right to her.

Most students just keep writing until they finish five paragraphs or whatever is assigned. They turn it in without ever asking themselves if the essay turned out the way they wanted it to.  They just want to finish assignment. They have no idea how to write a really good essay.

Students entering Middle School should be able to:

  • Write a good sentence with a subject and a verb rather than run-on sentences or sentence fragments.
  • Write a fairly good paragraph, starting with a topic sentence and  adding important details.
  • Use good (not necessarily perfect) grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Write legibly: clearly enough for other people to be able to read and understand.

How are you doing so far?

Middle School students should learn how to:

  • Write a simple essay or book report with at least 5 paragraphs including the introduction, three or more main points, and a conclusion.
  • Answer well-organized essay questions on a test that answer the question.
  • Write a simple report using three or more reliable sources (in addition to encyclopedias), indicating direct quotations with quotation marks and always giving credit to the sources they used.
  • Write a simple bibliography.

All Right, High School Students: Can you do all of those?

High School is a great time to focus on improving your writing skills. When you get to college or go to work, you will be expected to be a competent writer. Employers often complain about the terrible writing skills of those applying for a job.

If you are even Thinking about College

College Admissions staff  assume students who apply have good grades.  They say the most important factor for selecting students is the quality of their college essay or essays. Students who begin college with poor writing skills are already behind, and are likely to have many problems in college.

The time to improve your Writing Skills is NOW!

And EVERY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT can improve their Writing Skills.

Where should you begin?

1. Students who read a lot of books for pleasure are usually better writers. They naturally seem to write sentences and paragraphs like those they read.

2. Many of your teachers will give you assignments that involve writing. That’s Wonderful.  Consider each of these a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to improve your skills.

Step I. Learn to write a simple outline before you start writing. It can start with three lines.

For example, to write an essay about a pet, write three topics related to your pet.

1. How I got my dog
2. Taking care of my dog
3. My life is different since I got a dog

Sometimes you might make several  sets of three topics and choose the one you want to write about.

Add an idea for an introduction and a conclusion. Here, you’ll see that the student decided that how the dog changed his life made a good conclusion so he added another point before that.

Intro: about my dog… name, kind of dog, how he looks

1. How I got my dog
2. Taking care of my dog
3. Things I like to do with my dog.

Conclusion My life is different since I got a dog

Now it is easy to write the report.

In the first paragraph you will introduce the reader to your dog telling us his name, how he looks, and maybe how he behaves.

In the second paragraph, you tell the story of how you got your dog.

In the third paragraph, you might describe feeding your dog, taking him for walks, and sometimes giving him a bath.

In the fourth paragraph, you describe some of the things you and your dog do together.

In the last paragraph, you describe how having this dog has changed your life. Do you have more fun? Have you become more responsible? Do you find that a lot more strangers, especially girls, stop to talk to you about your dog?

Many students reading this are frowning, thinking that every idiot knows how to do this. It is so basic. Obviously, one you know how to write three main points, you can write two or more sub-points for each main point, but it’s important to spend time on the three or four Main Points before going any further.

Other students have very different reactions.”I never know what I am going to say in my essay until I write it. Then I can do an outline later if I have to do that.”  These students often do poorly on essay tests.

“It looks easy enough if I only need to write about a dog. But my teacher expects me to write about a book I just read. That’s a lot harder.”

While it may take a little longer to choose three main points for your book report, this method will still work.

  • It will work for writing answers on essay tests.
  • It will work for writing essays on college applications.
  • It will work for writing reports in college including 20 page papers.
  • It will work for writing a Master’s thesis.

Step 2. Never turn in your first draft.

Wait a day. Read what you wrote and Revise it.

Some students recognize mistakes and awkward writing. If you aren’t sure, get a friend to read it and make suggestions… a friend who is a good writer. You might even ask your teacher for help.

You might rewrite it and ask your friend or teacher what other problems you have.

Step 3: Never Trash your graded papers !

Most teachers spend a lot of time and effort writing comments on your papers. These comments are there to help you understand your mistakes and to help you improve. Most students never read these. They ball up the paper and toss it in a trash can.

You, on the other hand, will read these comments carefully. If you don’t understand what the comment means or what you should have done differently, ASK YOUR TEACHER FOR HELP. Your teacher should be delighted that you really read the comments and that you want to do better.

After discussing the problems with your teacher, go home and rewrite the paper using the advice your teacher gave you. And, yes, show it to your teacher again. After doing this several times, your teacher might say, “Your writing is really improving. This paper would have earned an A.”

Do NOT ask the teacher to change your grade. (A few will do it anyway.) Thank the teacher for helping you. When you need to write another essay, go back and look at the comments on the earlier papers. Be sure you don’t make the same mistakes again.

This isn’t something you need to do once that will insure you make an A on all future papers. You need to do it again and again. Each time you will improve your writing – and, hopefully, improve your grades.

Step 4: Learn to use a Computer for Word Processing.

Again, may of the students reading this are thinking,. “Of course.  Everyone knows that.” But everyone does NOT know that. There are students in almost every  school who don’t know how to use a computer. They turn in hand-written papers that are hard to read.

If you don’t know how to use a computer, take a class. Use the computers in your school or library. Use a friend’s computer.  Word processing skills will help you the rest of your life.  Whether you go to college or get a job, most of you will need to know how to use computers.

Revising a paper is so much easier with a computer. Most computers help you check your spelling – but watch out. The computer doesn’t know if you meant to write “To, Two, or Too.”  Making revisions on a computer are so much easier that doing them by hand. If you don’t know how to cut sections of your paper, ask someone to show you. In less than five minutes you’ll know how to do it.

In many parts of the world you could place an ad in the paper or even on a bulletin board saying

“Student with very little money would like a computer. If you have an old computer you don’t use any more, it would be very helpful. Call me…”

You can use the computer for word processing. To get on the Internet, you might need to pay for Internet access.

If everything on this page is too simple for you, go to the next pages.

How to write an Outline

Writing  Book Reports for Fiction or Nonfiction

How to write a Good Essay

What makes a Great Essay?

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