Help Your Child Write an Essay (without writing it for them) Part 1

Your child has been asked to write an essay. The first question you need to ask is: “What exactly is the assignment? ” If they are unsure, clarify this with the instructor before moving on.

An essay is a form of expositional writing.  Before taking pen to paper, ask these questions:
What type of essay is it –  Informative, persuasive, or analytical?
Who is the audience? Is it for Mom? A classroom of peers? Or is this a  presentation for an organization or a letter to an editor?
How much time does your child have before they need to turn it in? How long is it supposed to be?

As they are searching for an idea, if it wasn’t assigned, ask open-ended questions to get them thinking.  Discuss the assignment around the dinner table or while driving in the car. Once they have an idea, go to the library and onto the Internet to gather more information.  Once they have seen what other opinions, facts, and evidence exists for their subject matter and have taken short notes on the ones that interest them, they can narrow it down to a single category to write about.

How to Narrow Down a Topic.
Imagine the various topics related to their subject are like toys in a messy room of several categories. It will be like sorting toys into a box that fits each category. Their notes should be sorted (you can even have them physically trim them and sort the sentences by category).  Select a category related to their topic. For instance, if I wanted to write about comics, I could look at the subject from a historical viewpoint such as the development of comic books.  I could also look at how they were used to persuade – such as in political satire or advertisements. I could instead look at styles of comics, or the lives of comic artists. I may also examine what it takes to become a successful comic artist and what opportunities currently exist for them.  So you see, a topic (such as “Comics”) can be as big as a book or an encyclopedia!  This is why narrowing it down is so necessary.

Write the Thesis or Topic Sentence.
A Thesis makes an assertion which you will prove in your paper. A Topic Sentence which appears as the first sentence in the first paragraph, introduces the subject matter in such a way, that the purpose of the entire paper is explained.

Using my Comic example:
“Since the early days of our nation, comic artists have used their talents to persuade the masses toward political and social change. ”  – Jane Clark
You may use a quotation, a surprising fact or a question for an opening topic sentence. If you do, it serves a double purpose. It is a “hook” or attention grabbing device and it says in an encapsulated form, what you are going to talk about.  Even if you don’t use one of those things, if the topic sentence makes an assertion, remember to include a “hook” early on in your first paragraph.

Keeping Your Promises.
What follows in your essay, must be what you promised to talk about in your opening sentence, or thesis.  If you have indicated you will prove a point,  you must do so and show you’ve done so by your conclusion. If you are going to explain a matter, it must be explained throughout your paper, without “rabbit trails” causing your reader to become confused. Keep it simple and orderly. Even if you don’t tend to think or write in an orderly fashion, use the tools available to an essay writer to make it so, for the sake of your readers!

The Voice
This article is written in a casual tone. I am speaking directly to you, my audience, and referring to myself in the first person.  Sometimes I address the parent, and sometimes the student.  The casual voice works well in blogs and when speaking to a live audience.

But, what “voice” does the assignment call for?  Is it a research paper? If so, you will want to use the third person – an authoritative tone. An informative or objective report takes the views of others into consideration. If it is persuasive, write with confidence, showing that the opposing viewpoint is not compelling.  In papers like these, students will not refer to themselves or use the words “I” or “me” unless directly quoting someone, when those pronouns are part of the quotation.

Sometimes a student is asked to write a narrative essay. This can take the form of a story or a journal entry. The casual, friendly tone works well for a narrative. The five-part structure will not apply here, but a short story model will do better.  If the story is about yourself, use the first-person pronouns. If the story is about others, third person pronouns and using their names to refer to them works best.  In an opinion essay, such as a book review, first person usage is also permitted.  A paper that gives directions or instructions will be written in the second person, but this kind of paper does not usually follow the 5 part essay structure (with supporting evidence), and mary more accurately be called an article.

Tomorrow’s article will address the 5 part essay structure.

Knowledge and Understanding

Isn’t it frustrating when knowledge is barricaded by complex systems of learning that don’t seem to make sense? That was my story. Moving from state to state frequently as a child, I missed some crucial building blocks of understanding. No measure of desire to know would help me when what was being taught was already too far ahead.

As an adult, I found tools to facilitate learning what I missed in the public school system.  Home educating my own children, I not only filled in the missing blanks for myself but also learned techniques to help other frustrated learners understand and master the material.

I hope this site will become a valuable resource; a bridge to understanding difficult concepts for elementary grades through junior high school. Please let me know if there is a particular concept you want me to cover.

You can follow my educational video posts and shares on Youtube by searching for GettingDialectic.

May God bless you on your journey from knowledge to understanding!

– Jane Clark