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How can I help my teen learn to write better?

By Robin Levinson, Consulting Educator

Question:

I am concerned about my daughter who is 15 and a high school junior. She is currently working on a term paper. I feel my daughter does not write as well as she should. The paper appears to be choppy with run-on sentences. What should I do to help?

Answer:

The way to Carnegie Hall and the way to solid writing skills are the same: practice, practice, practice. Your daughter also needs an editor - someone who is able to point out exactly where her sentences are choppy, what a run-on sentence means, and how to structure an argument. Sometimes teachers are so overwhelmed with grading dozens of papers, it is impossible for them to correct every essay thoroughly. Go over one of her essays with her English teacher, and ask if your daughter could stay after class for extra editing help. Beyond having her mistakes pointed out to her, your daughter should rewrite the paper or offending sentences in order to understand what a good sentence looks like.

Aside from grammar, your daughter should try to focus on the structure and style of her writing: Is she using imagery? An active voice?

It is commendable that you are concerned about your daughter's writing skills - all too often parents focus on the difficulties of math and science, and forget the importance of being able to write clearly and concisely.

When your daughter applies to college next year, her writing could make or break her application. If her teacher cannot give her extra tutoring, perhaps you can do it. You seem to have an eye for grammar and will probably be able to point out the areas that need improvement. Just remember to be encouraging. The exercise only works if she learns from it; it shouldn't seem like a form of punishment.

If either of those options does not work for you, there are many paid and free tutoring options available. Perhaps your school has a tutoring center or homework club, or contact a local college to see if there are college students who tutor for a fee. You might also check if there are tutorial services available in your community. Your school might be able to recommend one.

Robin Levinson is the content editor for CampusCompare, a Web site that helps college-bound students find the right school.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.