When your teen is struggling with a writing assignment, it can be hard to know how to help. But you can provide great essay writing help — and you don’t have to be a great writer yourself to do so. That’s the thinking behind one Northern California writing program that trains volunteers to work one-on-one with middle and high school students. The WriterCoach Connection (WCC) puts college students, lawyers, retirees, and other community members (no teaching experience necessary) through six hours of training before placing them in Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland schools.

Volunteers are trained to coach young writers so they can plan and write essays, not correct their papers. They learn strategies to help students organize their ideas and revise drafts. Associate Director Lynn Mueller describes a good writing coach as a “patient, friendly listener.”

WCC isn’t magic — or a substitute for a strong writing program at your child’s school. Since the best way to become a better writer is to practice, students should make time to write at school or home every day.

What can you do if your child is stumped about how to even begin a writing assignment? Or just “stuck” partway through an essay? These ideas are great essay writing help and they draw on the experiences of WCC volunteers.

10 tips that can help with essay writing

  1. Know the assignment

    Without fully understanding the details of their homework, it can be hard for kids to start writing. Ask your child to explain the assignment in their own words, and, if your child is unable to, consult the assignment sheet provided by the teacher. If you can’t find one, have your child call or email a friend to get the scoop on what’s expected.

  2. Plan ahead

    Some students struggle with writing because they haven’t thought enough about what they want to say. Ask your child to articulate the main point they want to make. If your teen can explain their ideas before putting pen to paper, writing will be so much easier.

    Ask your teen to list examples that support their thesis or main points, which should help them plan out their argument. If your child reacts negatively to an assignment, talk about what they dislike. If you can help your child articulate their ideas, they might be able to write a persuasive paper based on their objections to the assignment. Not bad!

  3. Gather the facts

    Strong evidence makes a paper that much better. Do the examples support your child’s main idea? Are they accurate? Lively? If your child is having trouble, ask them to take a minute and describe the scene as if they were a reporter, using the “five W’s” of journalism: who, what, where, when, and why.

  4. Get organized

    Great organization facilitates great writing. See if the teacher has given instructions on how to write the introduction, body of the essay, and conclusion. Review the sequence of ideas in each paragraph of your child’s writing. Can you follow their thinking, or are there gaps in their logic? Are transitions needed to link the paragraphs?

    Talk about what works well and how the introduction and conclusion relate to the theme. Does your child draw in the reader with the introduction? Does the conclusion include the thesis and sum up the ideas? The WCC coaches found these tips helpful once their kids had the beginnings of a piece of writing.

  5. Lend a hand

    As your child’s de facto writing coach, part of your role is to listen and figure out what your teen is trying to say. Ask how you can help. “You’re giving the child a sounding board to talk about their ideas,” says Mueller. “You’ll help them organize those ideas and support them with examples.”

  6. Read it out loud

    By reading what they’ve written aloud, children are more likely to notice any obvious mistakes. But remember: Reading requires concentration, so try not to interrupt. Otherwise, you risk interfering with your child’s thought process.

  7. Start with the strengths

    Always start with the good. Identify three strengths in your child’s writing, and point them out. Look for concrete details, clear sentences, and vivid words, and offer encouragement for what you find. Parents can point out the writing they like and read passages aloud for emphasis.

    Explain what you find engaging. For example, “I really think you understand the main character in this book” or “I love the colorful details in that sentence.” You’ll be showing your teen that writing isn’t a mystical process but one that requires skills anyone can master.

  8. Ask for more information

    Ask questions to understand what your child is trying to say. Don’t be afraid to tell them if there’s something you’d like to know more about, like an idea that’s not fully expressed. Don’t criticize or give the answer, but help your teen find their own answers. If you respond to your child’s writing as a reader, you’ll be showing your teen that writing is a way to communicate ideas.

    “Every writer has an audience,” says Mueller. “Student writers may not realize this because they’re writing an assignment for a teacher.”

  9. Ignore grammar in rough drafts

    Sometimes young writers will correct their own errors during the revision process, especially when they read their work aloud. If your teen makes consistent mistakes in mechanics at this stage, ask if your teen knows how to correct them. If your child doesn’t, explain how to make the appropriate corrections. In the final draft, encourage your child to edit their own work, resisting the temptation to make the paper “perfect” from your point of view.

  10. Respect your child as a writer

    What to revise — and how to revise it — should be your child’s decision, not yours. By extension, the “voice” your child uses should be their own, too. Instead of doing the writing for your child, offer suggestions. Remember that your child must learn to think and write on their own. This is, after all, great practice.