One of the most important skills students can master is writing an effective English composition. The effective written expression of ideas is a necessary skill in work, school, and life. Using the process-based writing resources below, students can master this important skill.
Effective writing carries over into many subject areas, so mastering the skill set that produces effective writing gives students an advantage in a wide range of situations. Some of these skills include:
- identifying a central topic of appropriate scope
- generating original thoughts about the topic and speaking or writing them
- discovering and crafting a thesis
- evaluating sources
- analyzing evidence through critical reading
- understanding and using citations
- following appropriate style guides for citations (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)
- avoiding plagiarism
- being concise
- using powerful prose
- coordinating syntax
- avoiding confusion
- covering a topic completely
- revising drafts
- editing and proofreading
- using correct grammar and punctuation
- meeting deadlines
The English composition resources below will teach students these skills through application as they work through a composition assignment. Students will learn process-based strategies of writing rather than product-based strategies of writing, which helps avoid writer's block.
Research Writing as a Process from Methods of Discovery: A Guide To Research Writing by Pavel Zemliansky, Ph.D., discusses the difference between product-based writing and process-based writing, and emphasizes the non-linear and recursive nature of the writing process. Zemliansky notes that "most writers do not 'begin at the beginning' of a piece and 'end at the end.'"
Instead, he contends that most writers compose in chunks, "going back and forth between clusters of ideas and writing possibilities, constantly reviewing and revising them, and moving them between the various parts of the prospective text..."
This process approach to writing means that the writing develops as the student researches and writes, rather than the writing simply documenting a linear record of the topic.
"The purpose of research is not to look for proofs that would fit the author’s pre-existing theories, but to learn about the subject of the investigation as much as possible and then form those theories, opinions, and arguments on the basis of this newly found knowledge and understanding. And what if there is no data that prove your theory? What if, after hours and days of searching, you realize that there is nothing out there that would allow you to make the claim that you wanted to make? Most likely, this will lead to frustration, a change of the paper’s topic, and having to start all over again . . .
"Even if you manage to create a neat and efficient paper, it will be false research, simply jumping through hoops in order to fulfill another meaningless school assignment . . .
"Speaking in terms of the process theory of writing, a good researcher and writer is willing to create new meaning, a new understanding of his or her subject through research and writing and based on the ideas and beliefs that he or she had entering the research project."
The flexibility of process-based writing allows for the pivoting required when the research process reveals unexpected information.
Jeanne Faulconer, who has taught composition at the college level, says that the writing process for creative thinkers and those who are just discovering what they think about a topic may appear backward to more left-brained analytical thinkers. These analytical thinkers tend to feel comfortable with the traditional format of high school writing, which covers the stages of writing in a product-based way, with emphasis on an outline and an Introduction/Three Main Points/Conclusion product.
For creative thinkers, it is important to let go of the "outline first" approach to writing and work with your child's natural bent, which may include thinking that is organized differently than you are accustomed to. Jeanne points out:
To help the kids who don't write naturally and easily, we can't just keep putting super structure on top.
We have to get them comfortable with the mystery. Get them comfortable with their voices. Get them comfortable with their opinions. Get them comfortable asking questions. Get them comfortable forming a hypothesis (thesis). Then seeking evidence.
When they have these things, and can be sure that they won't be skewered, they will begin to reach through their discovery toward expression to whatever extent they are able at that stage of development.
As we work through the writing process with students, our natural inclination tends to be pushing them toward the end goal—the finished, organized draft. That pushing may have the opposite effect, as they freeze and find themselves unable to produce any worthwhile writing.
Even for students who do write naturally and easily, focusing on the process over the product allows them to make more connections, resulting in more thoughtful treatment of the topic.
One way around this is to widen the focus and to recognize the importance of the discovery aspect of writing instead of focusing as much on the expression aspect. For example, when working toward a literature composition, Jeanne suggests:
"Do a unit study around this novel. See if you can find a play or movie version. Look for cartoons that refer to it. Encourage an art or dance project depicting some aspect of it. Look at current events that seem to echo similar themes or just plain courses of action—in politics, on the world stage, etc.
"Keep asking those open-ended questions, and follow them with another question, because becoming a responsive reader and then a sophisticated, thoughtful writer is all about making connections. Connections often can't come from a single text alone. They have to come from the brain, plucking 'aha' moments seemingly out of thin air."
Widening the process like this seems to work well for divergent thinkers, and as Jeanne contends, "Many divergent thinkers turn out to be our most important truth-tellers with effective writing, so we need to encourage their seeing and discovering."
The wider the focus, the more likely that your student will have that "aha" moment, finding a hook that resonates. If your student has trouble with the structure of writing, perhaps focusing on the content will help free up her creative juices.
English Composition Resources
Process-based writing can still be broken down into quantifiable smaller assignments, even if they do not follow the traditional format. The process-based writing assignments below use tools from The Writing Center at UNC, which has published a large collection of writing resources for college composition.
The center's printables and videos are excellent tools for teaching English composition for high school and offer detailed explanations about research, sourcing, organization, editing, and proofreading, voice, fallacies, thesis statements, and dozens of other writing topics.
The resources are arranged alphabetically. This makes them easy to find by topic, but unfortunately doesn't offer much in the way of an orderly progression for teaching. Our assignments are a suggested order of study to use the resources for English composition for a homeschooled high school student.
The UNC Writing Center offers Three Tips on Teaching Writing articles that you may find useful, particularly the In-Class Writing Exercises. Note that the writing and organizing process will affect students in dramatically different ways.
Our composition assignment is for a literary analysis composition, but these can be the most difficult types of papers to write. You may choose to initially use the process with a non-fiction topic of choice instead of writing about a literary work.
English Composition Course Assignments
The following assignments make use of the resources from the UNC Writing Center and are organized in such a way as to allow the student to take advantage of the non-linear and recursive nature of writing. Each step is a single assignment and links to the corresponding resources from the UNC Writing Center that will be the course materials.
Using these assignments over an appropriate number of work hours, students can meet a high school English composition requirement which can be included on the student's official homeschool transcript (always verify your state's requirements).
The assignments can be used for a wide range of writing topics, including:
- research papers
- argumentation/persuasion papers
- op-ed essays
- social sciences, technical sciences, or natural sciences topical papers
- literary analysis
The initial focus of the assignments is on the thought process rather than the structure, although the progression leads toward organization and structure. Some students may work through these assignments quickly. For others, it may be a months-long process.
Remember that the goal is not a certain number of papers per year, but mastery of the process.
Although not required in the assignments below, students may benefit from creating an annotated bibliography as part of their compiling and evaluation of sources.
If you would like to print the assignments, we have them as a PDF here: Composition assignment printable
- Writing About Literature - Read Writing About Literature. Familiarize yourself with how you might write about the book you have chosen using the ideas presented. (If you are using a topic other than literature, choose the appropriate topic from Writing for Specific Fields in the last column of the handout page.)
- Argument - Read the argument page and think about how you would like to argue your thesis for the book or topic you have chosen.
- Brainstorming - It's time to get some words on paper during the brainstorming phase—this is where the writing begins. Read the information about brainstorming and begin brainstorming for your essay. Choose the methods that work best for you, but do at least three methods. The more the better, because it gives you lots of ideas to use when you start putting everything together.
- Summarizing - Review the information on the page for Writing About Literature (or the appropriate topic from Writing for Specific Fields). Read the information about summarizing what you know at the provided link. Using the brainstorming resources that you did in the last assignment and what you just read about summarizing, start writing all of your random thoughts about the topic into sentences and/or paragraphs in a word processor document. Use the return key after each thought group to separate it from the next one. Do not worry about connecting your thoughts, just form them into sentences and/or paragraphs with returns after each. When you are finished, print your pages.
- Color Coding - Watch the video on the color coding page. Take the random sentences and paragraphs that you have written as part of your brainstorming and cut with scissors between each line where you have hit the return key. Use color coding to organize them into groups (you can just make a line or mark on each piece of paper with a colored marker where each color represents a topic). Group the colors and evaluate the amount of information that you have for each one. Items that do not have much information will need to be evaluated on whether the topic should be further researched and included or dropped altogether.
- Thesis Statements - Read the information at the link in preparation for deciding on a thesis for your paper. Using the information on the thesis page, come up with a thesis for your essay on the book you have chosen. Choose a thesis that you feel strongly about and that you can argue effectively. It should try to convince the reader of something instead of just listing facts.
- Outlines - Review the information on the Writing About Literature page. Use the color coding that you have completed to determine the main sections of your paper. Watch the video about outlines at the link provided. Create an outline.
- Evidence and Evaluating Print Sources - It is time to incorporate evidence into your thoughts for your paper. Read the information on the evidence page at the link provided. Using your outline, begin looking for sources that present information that backs up your thesis. You should have at least 5 sources. For the others, you may use primary sources, books, articles, and other sources as indicated in the provided link. Plan to go to the library to work on this. Before choosing your sources, read the information about evaluating print sources page at the link provided. For each source, create a notecard with the source information on the back and notes from the reading on the front. When you write the paper, you will know where you read an idea and can source it. All of the ideas presented in your paper should be sourced inline and cited at the end in the format appropriate for the style guide you are using (more on this later).
- Reading to Write - As you read through the material you have chosen as sources, it is important to know what to look for. Read about "reading to write" in the link provided. Use the information to help you read through the source material with an eye toward what you will write. Since this is a shorter assignment than most college papers, you do not need to create a calendar as suggested, but follow the suggestions under Writing Strategies on the linked page.
- Fallacies - People often commit logical fallacies when arguing a point. It is important to avoid this because fallacies undermine your argument. Read about fallacies at the provided link and make sure that as you start writing, you are not falling into the trap of arguing your point with poor logic.
- Flow - It's time to start putting your brainstorming together and analyzing your writing for coherence. Read the information about flow at the link provided to learn how to make your thoughts flow in your writing.
- Formatting and Citations - MLA is the preferred formatting style for literary analysis papers. Other types of papers use different formatting styles, so always choose the style that is the standard for the subject matter (it will usually be specified by your instructor). Read over the general guidelines at the link and familiarize yourself with the guidelines for the style guide appropriate to your paper. Be sure to set up your paper using the relevant standards.
- Introductions - Read the information about introductions at the link provided. Use it and your outline to write your introduction.
- Paragraphs - Read the information at the link provided about writing paragraphs. Use it and your outline to begin writing your supporting paragraphs for your paper. The number of paragraphs in your paper should be determined by how many you need to prove your thesis with ample evidence and concise wording. Over the next few days, write all of the supporting paragraphs. If you make a statement or supposition, you should support it with evidence from one of your sources. Cite each source from the notecard you created when you were researching. Although you will be checking the format of your citations when you proofread your paper, you should put the citations inline as you work so that you will not be confused later. Be concise in your writing.
- Transitions - Read the information on transitions at the link provided. Reread your introduction and paragraphs and make sure that you are making logical transitions from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next. Make revisions as necessary.
- Conclusions - Read the information at the link provided about conclusions. Keeping in mind what you read, write your conclusion. Pay particular attention to "Strategies for writing an effective conclusion" to help you come up with a conclusion that goes beyond just a summary.
- Now that you have written your conclusion, your first draft is complete. Take a break for a couple of days from your paper so that you can look at it objectively when you revise.
- Reading Aloud - Reading your paper aloud can help you identify problems with flow, sentence structure, and logic. Read the information at the provided link and use it to read your paper aloud and look for problems. Revise as necessary.
- Reorganizing Drafts - Read about reorganizing drafts at the link provided. Choose 2 of the strategies (or more if you think they will be helpful) and use them to check the organization of your work. Based on what you learn, do any necessary revisions to make your paper's flow more logical and organized.
- Revising Drafts and Conciseness - Read the information about revising drafts and go back to your paper. Read through your paper and go through the steps of revision. You may need to do a lot of work—that isn't a bad thing. All good writing goes through a heavy revision process, and the end result shows whether the writer was willing to be thorough with revision. The more papers you write, the faster the process will go. For your first papers, you will feel like you should be done by the time you get to the revision step. That is normal, but you will find that some of the most important work takes place after the first draft is complete and you reread your paper with a critical eye. View the video about conciseness, paying attention to removing ineffective words or excessive wordiness. Using the information in the link about revising drafts, revise the draft.
- Editing and Proofreading - Now that your paper is revised, take a look at the grammar and spelling. Read the information at the Editing and Proofreading link. Watch the video about proofreading and use the suggestions to proofread your paper. Use Writers Inc. (affiliate link) or the reference book of your choice to answer any questions that you have.
- Citing Your Work - It is time to format your citations. First, watch the Why We Cite video. Next, watch How We Cite. Read Introduction to Citations to learn about the different styles of citations and when each is used. Use the guide for the citation style appropriate to your topic to help you format your citations correctly.
- Type your final draft complete with formatting appropriate to the style guide.
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