Are you looking for ways to help your middle school or high school student with their writing assignments? Here are 5 simple writing assignment help tips that may be just what high schoolers and parents need.
Writing is a process that leads to a final product. Most students want to skip the process part and go right to the final product. I worked in a college writing lab and spent 15 years grading papers for high school writing workshop classes, so I’ve seen it all.
My goal is to help parents help their students at home. Here are 5 simple high school writing help tips for parents whose students are bogged down by an assignment.
High school students can read and follow these tips themselves!
5 simple writing assignment tips:
- Define the assignment. What exactly is it you are expected to do?
- Come up with topics to write about. Can you think outside the box here?
- Research. Research your heart out. Even if it’s not a research paper. Do you use your phone to look things up?
- Work out loud to record your voice saying what you want to say. Again, do you use your phone for this type of thing?
- Write a “sloppy copy.” Just write and feel the chemicals in your brain flow into your brain’s reward center! Try a voice to text program.
Tip #1 Get started and define the assignment
The first of the 5 simple writing assignment help tips for high schoolers and their parents is just that. Simple.
Writing can be painful. Absolutely painful. Just as painful as a higher level math problem you can’t solve without help.
The most painful parts of writing are getting started and editing. My advice is to focus on the directions for the assignment and just start writing. Write anything. Get started.
Set a timer for yourself and write
Write down your thoughts willy nilly to take away the pain of getting started. You don’t need to keep them in a final draft, but just get something down.
What I do is time myself freewriting. I set a timer for two minutes, think about the assignment and maybe what I want to write about and just start writing whatever pops into my head.
I don’t judge, and I don’t stop writing until the timer dings.
Then, without judgment, I read over what I wrote and circle ideas that may be good or may be developed into something deeper like a theme or thesis.
This is easy to do and provides you with a process to follow. Write a list of the ideas that you circled and allow them all as possibilities. Color code them with different colored pens or highlighters. That way it seems a bit more fun.
Read and re-read the assignment
At this point it is very important to read and re-read the assignment. Read it out loud and make sure you understand it.
Many times when I was tutoring in my college’s writing lab I would ask a student state their assignment. They usually had no clue. Or sometimes they thought they knew, but they really didn’t.
The picture became so much clearer once we defined terms and figured out what exactly the professor wanted. Some of the pain of getting started to fade away.
As you move on through the writing process, re-read the assignment. Make sure you are sticking to it.
If your first freewrite seemed to miss the target of the assighment, do another 2-minute freewrite. Do as many as you need.
Tip #2 Get a topic
I have read way too many papers on topics like anorexia, bulimia, and meth. I know these are important topics and may be fascinating to teens, but they are rarely handled well.
For whatever reason, these topics actually end up being very run-of-the-mill research papers.
Try to think outside the box. I read one really good paper about the Large Hadron Collider. The student had a lot of knowledge of the topic, and it was easy to read because it was so well-written. The fact that I still remember it years later is an indication of how good it was.
Most teachers want students to run their topic by them, and this is a good idea. Listen to your teacher’s advice. It will help both of you.
Think about possible sources for your writing topic
Try to pick a topic that not only interests you but also one that will be easy to research. Think about what kind of sources you could use and see if there are any unusual ones.
For example, we have some crazy characters in our family’s history. I always try to get my own children to use these colorful people as topics for their papers. But they always refuse.
I don’t really understand this. The information and stories about these people have already been gathered.
It would be so easy to comb through such stories, take really good notes, and come up with a good personal account connection to history.
We also have tons of primary resources like historic photos, annotated family trees with sources, copies of census data, ship manifests, letters, deeds, etc.
What I am saying here is use your resources. Use resources that are readily available to you, and use your imagination!
If you start writing about a topic you have chosen and find yourself at a dead end, don’t hesitate to abandon it. You may just have to.
Tip #3 Do your research by using your phone and talking to people
A well-researched paper is enjoyable to read, and I think even fun to write. If you have tons of notes from many sources, it feels like you have a million dollars in the bank.
The paper then kind of writes itself as you go cruising through your notes and sources. It ends up being just a grand organizing of your research notes.
Start on your phone and have it lead you to your different sources to research. Go ahead and read a Wikipedia entry to gather some background informaton on your topic.
Do not document Wikipedia as a source. It only is for background fact gathering.
I love articles and personal interviews as sources. You can find articles online in subject article services, and most schools have a subscription to one of these services. These articles can go really in-depth on certain topics.
Primary sources are gold in research paper land, so try to find some. Do interviews and ask around. Use your phone to actually call people and talk to them.
Don’t kick anything out. Keep good notes and record even the smallest fact. It may come back to be just the thing you need as your paper winds itself around to completion.
Save unusual research tidbits for the conclusion of the paper.
Your teacher may like a conclusion that offers a fresh area of research to explore next. Maybe some research that didn’t quite fit your thesis could work here.
Tip #4 Write out loud
When I worked as a college writing lab tutor this was our secret weapon. We had the students tell us out loud what they wanted to say. And we recorded them as they did this.
Each student’s words and their style were eloquent. They were often surprised at how good they sounded when they went back and listened to themselves.
Then I told them to write it down! To write down exactly what they said.
Be able to state the assignment out loud and then say out loud how you will fulfill that assignment.
Talk to a real live person
Have someone else write down what you say or record your voice. Talking right to a real person may help you stop yourself from judging and correcting what you say. Even better, talk to a real live person as you record your voice.
Say what you know and write it down. With all of your research you now know a lot.
Tip #5 Write a sloppy copy
Write a “sloppy copy.” This is your first attempt to put all of your research to use.
The key to writing a “sloppy copy” is to not judge it or yourself. Do not judge your writing AT ALL at this point.
The best approach to starting on a sloppy copy is to organize all of your research notes. Make sure you keep the sources right with each note.
In addition to my 5 simple writing assignment tips here are several hints for organizing notes into main ideas
- Write up a formal outline. I hate these and stay away from them whenever possible. Only use if it helps you or if your teacher requires it
- Use colored notecards or use white notecards and color code them at the top with markers or highlighter pens. Each card contains one note with exact source listed on backside. If you do this you can just lay them all out on the floor in a long train, switch them around as you want, and then type up the notes in Google Docs or voice to text them into a document. All you have to do then is add in your own thoughts and transitions where they fit.
- If you wrote your notes out on paper then just color code each note by main idea with markers or various highlighter pens or even write a symbol in a circle next to each note. Then just start typing what you have into a doc and organize by main idea. Be sure to keep exact source information for each note.
- Take photos of your source information right from the source as you use each source. Keep a master list of sources so you have correct and exact source information. Later you can run it through a citation builder.
With the sloppy copy you may want to make a title page and list of sources or works cited page (if required) just to get those out of the way. The formatting of those pages and any headers or footers you may need is technical and irritating. Best to just get that part of the process out of the way.
The sloppy copy is meant to be very rough. It is a first pass through.
Now, after using these 5 simple writing assignment help tips for high schoolers and parents, you have made good progress. What a good feeling, right?
Next will come the editing, judging, handwringing, and rewriting. This is the part where parents really come in handy. But we will save that for another time.
Check out my other post about helping high school writers in Homeschool Lite: Tips for Helping Writers grades 7-12+
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For more tips for parents visit my posts on teaching your child at home in the series 10 most important steps to teach your child to read
For some tips on what to do to get your child ready to learn to read, check out Steps 1 & 2 of my series 10 most important simple steps to teach your child to read Steps 1 & 2.
If you would like to learn more about using a sound board to teach your child to identify the sounds that make up words, check out Step 3 of my series.
Step 4 in the series teaches parents how to make a sound board and how to introduce letters to go along with the sounds in words.
Awareness of the world around them helps children when they are learning to read. Learn some ways to increase your child’s level of awareness in Step 5 of my series.
Next, learn all about how to teach your child to read simple 3 letter words in Step 6.
Learn how to help your child read and retain sight words in Step 7.
Teach your child to read short vowel letter sound combinations called blends and digraphs in Step 8 of my series in Step 8.
Then in Step 9 I provide some valuable tips on how to teach long vowel sounds.
Finally, Step 10 provides handy tips on how to teach your child to read various vowel sound combinations.
These 10 steps cover phonemic awareness tips and phonics tips up to reading fluency. They provide a logical and simple step-by-step approach that can be done at your own pace.
Thank you for reading and let me know how it goes!