Q:

My son in 10th grade is doing well in school except when it comes to writing essays for his English class. He just doesn't know how to choose a topic or to organize what he wants to say. His teacher certainly hasn't been helpful. He has had about zero instruction in writing essays.

Unless he can pick up writing skills fast, I see a lot of trouble for him later on in high school and especially in college. He and I work well together. Do you have any tricks that I can teach him that will help him become a better writer? -- Hope to Improve Skills

A:

Actually, there are some tricks that you can teach your son that should improve his writing skills rather quickly. Here are our suggestions:

1. Make sure that he tells you when a writing assignment is due so he will have plenty of time to do it. Doing a rush job at the last minute is not going to result in a good essay until he gets more skilled at writing.

2. If your son is having trouble selecting an essay topic, you can make it easier by writing down his ideas for topics and then discussing each one before eliminating those with less appeal. At this point, you want to guide him to choose topics that have a narrow focus. This will make it easier to find information and write about it.

3. The next step is for your son to research and find information pertaining to the topic. Do have him find similar information from more than one source online, as not all websites are reliable. He can either take notes or simply copy this information. He should also copy or take notes on books and periodical sources.

4. Once he has all his notes, have him spread them out on the floor or a table in groups of similar information. These piles will be the major topics. You can help him sort them out. Then sort again to form subtopics for each paragraph. What your son has now done is to outline his paper.

5. You may need to guide him in writing the topic sentence for the paper as well as for each paragraph. Guiding him to include the details that he needs will also be helpful.

6. At first, his papers should be fairly simple until he gets sufficient skill to elaborate on the details.

7. The final steps in essay writing are editing and polishing what has been written. If you read the essay to him, your son will be able to see more clearly what needs to be changed or improved. Work together to develop a short list of the points that he needs to check on the grammar side. This should include: checking spelling, punctuation and subject-verb agreement.

Nowadays, it is important to use technology while writing essays. Scarcely anyone will handwrite a paper. However, there is one caution: spellchecking is generally reliable, but grammar checking is not always right.