Writing the Personal Essay

Blog, She Wrote: Writing the Personal Essay

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If you have a high school senior, chances are you helping them to navigate the college application process right now. Or maybe your aspiring middle or high schooler wants to enjoy a special program requiring a personal statement. It’s time to sharpen our skills with Writing the Personal Essay.

Reasons to Write a Well Composed Personal Essay

Why take the time to master the personal essay? There are many reasons. Here are some:

  • Applications for Special Programs- Summer camps, gifted programs, and other opportunities often require an essay from the student stating why he or she is qualified and why they want to attend.
  • Job Applications- Depending on the job, your student may be asked to tell why he or she wants to work there.
  • Job Interviews- Being able to talk about oneself in a confident manner is an important life skill we all need to have.
  • College Applications & Interviews- If your student is college bound, then without a doubt she will be asked to write a personal essay for the college application. He may have to write many depending on how many schools he is applying to. Some schools follow up the application with an interview.

Qualities of a Well Written Personal Essay

The organization or college receiving the application will deterine who your student is and how well they write by reading this essay. Often it is the only part of the application process which allows your student to share his personal voice. Ready for some advice?

  • Be self-reflective. Your student wants to be thoughtful and honest. The institution wants to see she has gained a clear perspective on her experiences.
  • Personalize the essay to its purpose- for the individual college, program, or job.
  • Take the time to plan, write, edit, and revise until the essay is perfect in topic and composition & grammar. This is not meant to be a quick process, so make sure you leave time for the task.
  • Give a unique perspective of yourself (written by the student)
  • Be authentic.
  • Give a vivid & compelling picture of yourself.
  • Strive for depth, not breathe- you don’t want just a list of accomplishments, but an essay that well supports the them with your experience (think quality vs. quantity).
  • Hits & conforms to the target guideline- did you answer the question the application is asking?
  • Contains compelling introduction- which makes the reader want to keep reading.
  • Transforms challenges into positives- it’s ok to have flaws. Remember to be authentic.
  • Avoid repeating information from the essay in other parts of the application- I read this from several different sources. Must be important!
  • Avoid sarcasm & snark- even if that is authentic!
  • Demonstrates confidence- to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.

That’s quite a list! However, it’s pretty specific. Based on this list, I can see how the personal essays we’ve written can be improved dramatically. Focusing on the quality of the essay and its uniqueness is desired over the laundry list of accomplishments. Remember, those will be enumerated in other parts of the application process.

Other Benefits of a Well Written Personal Essay

Taking the time to write about oneself has many benefits. What other activities help to do the following:

  • Helps students to reflect on what they like to do
  • Gives students pause to formulate who they are & what they are about in a succinct manner.
  • Gives voice to their talents
  • Refines the skill of finding a niche when they retool the basic essay for various venues

Using a Mentor to Write the Personal Essay

It’s good practice to start practicing good personal essays before you need them! It’s a great high school writing task no matter what grade your students are in. How about resources for getting the job done? The list above is a tall order. Perhaps you need some help.

  • Tips from Websites- a simple search yielded a lot of results including this one. While we focused on the qualities of a good essay, it might be good to check on the non-examples too. Make sure to avoid the pitfalls!
  • Books on Preparing for College- There are so many on the market from the College Board to Homeschooling books aimed at helping your kids get into college.
  • Personalized Mentoring- Fortuigence offers an Essay Rockstar course in Mastering the Personal Statement Essay. Even more than knowing what makes a good personal essay is practicing it and refining it until it’s neared perfection. If you are not confident in your expertise in this area, outsourcing can be a solution. The one on on mentoring through Fortuigence offers your student additional feedback and as a parent you are not left out of the loop. Working with Essay Rockstar courses can help you, as a parent, to be a better mentor for your kids as writers.

If you subscribe to Fortuigence’s website today, you can receive 20% off all courses, including Mastering the Personal Statement Essay through October 14, 2014.

Is it time to approach mastery of the personal essay in your homeschool? Make use of these tips and get one step closer to achieving your future goals!

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Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay

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Back in high school I took a class that all the college bound students took- Expository Writing or “Expos” (pronounced X-Paas) for short. Thanks to Mrs. Etzler, I have a profound knowledge of certain grammar musts and how to keep sentences and ideas balanced- even if you don’t always see them practiced here. Being able to write a simple essay of explanation is imperative for homeschooled college hopefuls. It’s also a non-negotiable life skill in our home. Our goal as parents and teachers of our children is to help them to become effective written communicators. Today’s post- Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay.

What Is an Expository Essay?

These types of essays are explaining essays. They can explain any thing and a student’s position on a concept. The result of the essay will help others understand the topic at hand. There are always some general guidelines on what evaluators look for in an expository essay:

  • Develop a point of view given a prompt.
  • Support your position with experience, reading, studies, or observations- I have it on good authority that the SAT evaluators love it if you connect your position to a book. Also, take a side! Be bold!
  • Present a logical organization of the facts.
  • Follow grammar conventions of English

Resources for Practicing the Expository Essay

There are many websites with practice prompts and ideas for you to use with your high school student. Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • ACT sample essays- from The ACT folks. Prompts which ask you to look over an issue, choose a position and write an essay.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab- There are some great pointers and reminders on this page as well as other information non-fiction writers might find useful including a link to MLA standards.
  • SAT Writing Practice- from the College Board website. This site has a wealth of information on what to expect on the SAT and how to prepare.

Make sure you require the expository style writing in your homeschool. It’s easy to ask our students to write creatively, but knowing how to develop an argument and state it concisely is a significant goal for high schoolers and for our students beyond high school no matter what they choose to pursue.

We require expository writing in all disciplines within our high school curriculum and we practice it weekly.

Outsourcing the Foundation for the Expository Essay

What if you aren’t feeling confident about teaching your college-bound student how to write an expository essay? Now that you have ideas for resources for practicing the essay, how about taking a class which offers your student another mentor?

Fortuigence offers modules of a course called, Essay Rockstar. Master the Expository Essay is an opportunity for your student to have one on one instruction in how to accomplish non-fiction writing in five steps. The objectives met in this class will help your student to write college exam and application essays in addition to improving their high school course writing.

Taking advantage of one four week course can be a smart addition to your high school English course.

Writing a well organized, concise essay with a clear position and specific support is essential to a student’s success in an expository essay. It’s a life skill for all adults and one necessary for admission to colleges.

How do you teach non-fiction writing in your homeschool? If you have other resources you enjoy, please leave a comment.

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Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Ethan, our 11th grader, is a writer. He loves to create worlds and activity within them. When he was younger, his stories told a tale, but they often didn’t end concisely. Or they simply ended. A bit too concisely. Now that he is half way through high school, we’ve been honing in on his interests and his course work reflects this. Enter novel writing courses. For the past two years, he has immersed himself in the many worlds of his novel settings. Do you have a student who loves to write science fiction and fantasy?

Creating Other Worlds- Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing

If you are unfamiliar with the genres, suffice it to say the world in which the story takes place helps to set these stories apart from just any adventure tale. In some way, the author of a fantasy and science fiction novel will build a world. Sometimes the author creates a whole new fantastical world and sometimes it is a world within our world.

The basic story structure is carried over into “other worlds”. In both fantasy & sci fi literature one main thing is the game changer.

  • Science Fiction- You’ll find one main scientific breakthrough or advance which changes how the story will play out or it can be a single change in history that gives the story its twist.
  • Fantasy- There will be something else magical about the world. For example, in Narnia the animals talk.

Resources for World Building

Does your student like to write and immerse himself in new worlds? Here are a few links from the website Go Teen Writers to help students think about their world building.

Worldbuilding is a lot of work! That’s why learning to write an adventure first is a good idea because it takes place in our world and you can concentrate on the story itself rather than building a world at the same time. If you have a student working on writing herself a world, these posts will be very insightful.

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science FictionUsing Other Worlds Curriculum to Teach Fantasy & Science Fiction Writing

Other Worlds is the science fiction and fantasy expansion module from One Year Adventure Novel by Daniel Schwabauer. Ethan, our 11th grader, has been working with the curriculum for a year. I asked him for his take on the program and here’s what he said:

  • One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN)- has to be completed first. The Other Worlds curriculum is based on the original OYAN and referencing the original lessons is helpful as you go along.
  • The Tools Are There to Be a Finisher- You still need to bang out twelve chapters, but the OYAN model is helpful in finishing your storytelling.
  • There’s a Basic Story Structure- Which is carried over from OYAN. Three acts with four defining scenes. The outlining of the events in your novel is important for the story.
  • History of the Genres- You’ll learn how science fiction and fantasy got their start and who the major players were.
  • What Makes Science Fiction & Fantasy?- There are 10 to 12 lessons devoted to what defines these genres.
  • Collision Course Anthology- Is a collection of stories and excerpts from fantasy and science fiction which help to illustrate Daniel’s lessons.
  • Community Forum- For students of OYAN & Other Worlds. This is a community of writers where you can get advice on developing characters, general writing tips, get help with story ideas, engage in novel critiques, contribute to a collective novel, etc.
  • Summer Workshops- Every summer OYAN students gather from all over to listen to seminars and work in critique groups to improve their writing and learn writer’s craft.

As the teacher and a mom I’ll add a few more tidibits I like about the curriculum:

  • Video Lessons- They are thorough and so well done. I enjoyed watching them with my student and I’m looking forward to seeing them again with Rebecca this year.
  • Great Talking Points- As you progress through the curriculum, there will be a lot of opportunity for discussion. This has been invaluable in our homeschool. We’ve talked about books- classics and modern and read even more. It’s been fun to talk about books and about life with our teens based on the lessons.
  • Engagement- Whether it’s the online community of teens or the regularly scheduled evening webinars and summer workshops, the author and his wife interact with and encourage your student as do the other students.

Science Fiction Writing Sample

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Having completed the outline over the last school year as an elective, Ethan has been working on the novel. I’m not sure it has a name yet, but the first chapter is complete. He said I could share it with you all as long as I let you know it’s a work in progress! This is the first three paragraphs of the first chapter. Currently, he’s working on a prologue.

I woke with a start at the crack of lightning overhead, drowning the room in a flash of light. The whole house shook when the thunder came a moment later. The rain pelted down, making little ‘ting’ sounds as it hit the roof and gutters. A dull roar built up in my head; each raindrop seemed to increase the pressure inside. With a sigh I pulled the blankets up a little farther up and rolled over. A moment later I pushed them back down and rolled the other way. Another crack lit up the sky.

I looked at the clock. 11:43. It was still early. And the storms were as bad as they ever had been. There were no good explanations. No explanations at all, in fact. Except one.… Whispers, rumors moving through the populace. Tales of a people who- No, I thought. But there was no doubt that the storms were getting worse. And there was nothing the government could do this time.

I slipped my feet from underneath the covers and onto the hard wood floor. The old boards creaked as I put my weight on them. I tip-toed down the hall to the old study. My exhaustion vanished in there, I was able to sleep. Why can I sleep in here? But I didn’t really care why, I just came to rest. I closed the heavy door behind me and sat in my father’s armchair to wait out the night.

His writing has really matured over the last few years since he initially started OYAN in 8th grade. It’s been enjoyable to watch the process. These days he writes (even in the summer) about an hour a day on average, but he said it should be more. I’m excited to see how his writing schedule takes shape this fall as he enters into a variety of writing courses.

Other Resources for Teaching Science Fiction & Fantasy Genres

Given that Ethan has such a profound interest in writing and literature, we’ve been taking advantage of opportunities as they come along.

  • Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop- At our local library. A local author is teaching “other world” writing through twice weekly gatherings for teens. At the end, their writing will be included in an anthology which is published.
  • Dystopian Literature Class- As part of our two hour, ten week co-op, Ethan is taking a dystopian literature class in which they will read and compare Fahrenheit 451 with The Hunger Games- a classic sci fi novel with a modern tale.
  • World of Imagination: Fantasy & Science Fiction Literature- Taught through The Potter’s School, these are two one semester courses. They will make the bulk of his English course for the year.

Do you have a student who loves to write stories? Do you have a big fantasy and science fiction fan in your home? Enjoy the journey with your student and engage in their world with them!

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