January 2005


Lia Manfredi Wu: Writing Well, Important School Dates

"What is written without effort in general is read without pleasure."
- Samuel Johnson

When students wonder what the secret, magical key to writing well is, they may not like hearing the answer - that it takes great effort and practice. But, if they can begin to view writing as a process, rather than an enigmatic and seemingly impossible task, then they can strive towards writing without tremendous fear and anxiety. 

As an English teacher, I try to get my students to realize that good writers don't pound out one perfect draft or have words flow out of their pens from mysterious inspiration. Effective writers have to work hard at their craft and usually follow some type of writing process.

If you are concerned that your child's writing skills are not up to par, or you believe that it couldn't hurt to give your child a bit more guidance and practice in writing, then you can start by reviewing or introducing the writing process with your child:

First, writers do pre-writing or planning, in which they think about the subject they will be writing about. They often make lists or maps, jot down notes or write a formal outline. One cannot expect to know exactly what to write and how to write it without thinking about the subject first.

Try to help your child brainstorm on all that he or she knows about the subject and do research to find out about any information needed to come up with a thesis - or a main point to center the essay around.  Then the youth can begin making a plan, in note form or outline, so there is a kind of blueprint for the essay.

Now, students can begin writing the first draft. During this phase of the process, students should try to get all of their ideas down on paper without being stifled too much by concern over perfection in sentence structure, spelling or grammar. The aim here is to write a first draft of what was thought about and planned during the pre-writing stage.

In his guide book, "On Writing Well," William Zinsser explains, "... rewriting is the essence of writing ... professional writers rewrite their sentences repeatedly and then rewrite what they have rewritten."  Zinsser stresses the importance of the third step in the writing process. He says rewriting, reworking and carefully choosing each word is the key to writing well. 

Teach your child that writing is a skill that they can learn how to do, but it is not something that comes to anyone easily.  Good writers work hard to write well and there is never one perfect first draft that is ready to hand in. 

Of course, some students may prefer to combine some steps in the writing process, writing a paragraph and then rewriting it, rather than writing the entire essay without taking a peek back. Whether a student writes an essay straight through, then rewrites, checking for clarification of meaning, precise word choice and coherence, or writes and rewrites, and writes and rewrites, the point is to emphasize that rewriting is key. A second, third or fourth look back to examine and rework the piece is important.

Editing is the last step in the writing process. It allows the writer and possibly a proofreader (peer editing is done in some writing classes) to reexamine the content and clarity of the essay. 

At this stage of the writing, the student can come up with their own "check-off sheet" of elements to consider and include in their writing. The student can use his or her teacher's grading sheet to help check over their own work or use the following check-off sheet (which I compiled for peer editing and grading my own students). It should help your child examine their own essay, checking for content and clarity.

Clear thesis - argument, idea;

Detailed examples - support for ideas, proof of claims, etc.;

Developed, unified topic - clear explanations of examples;

Clear transitions and flow - sentences follow in meaning, paragraphs separate different ideas;

Style - strong nouns and verbs with precise meaning, advanced vocabulary, no superfluous information, no repetition of information;

Conclusion - connection of information, examples to thesis;

Correct punctuation and spelling;

Correct grammar - subject verb agreement, no run-ons or fragments.

 Encourage your child, whether in elementary, middle or high school or college, to see that writing does take hard work, but one can strive to write well by learning that writing is a process.

Important Dates to Remember:

Jan. 14 - Last day to submit applications for participation in Round 1 of enrollment for the SFUSD for the 2005-2006 school year.

Jan. 14 - Registration deadline for Feb. 5 Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT).

Feb. 5 - SSAT test given.

Feb. 7 - Registration deadline for March 12 SAT (this will be a new SAT test).  

March 11 - SFUSD Round 1 offers mailed to families.

March 12 - New SAT test given.

March 14 - Parents must register students at schools to accept Round 1 offers.

March 25 - If parents do not register their child by the deadline, the offer will be cancelled and the space will be made available to other students.

March 31 - Last day to submit an application for participation in Round 2 (late applicant enrollment).

March 31 - Last day for Round 1 applicants to submit an appeal or submit an amended application form.

Lia Manfredi Wu earned her California teaching credential at SF State University. She is the founder of Tutoring Teachers, a professional tutoring service that provides one-on-one tutoring to students in need of academic assistance, guidance and growth.