High school writing: How to help your homeschool teen

I’VE BEEN GIVING YOU an overview of the basic writing stages and writing needs of children at various grade levels. Today I’m wrapping up the series with a look at high school.

Writing is the most important academic skill students need to develop in their secondary education.

Why? Because it’s “the most visible expression not only of what [they] know but also of how well they have learned it” (Carl Nagin, Because Writing Matters).

Use these important high school years to teach, train, guide, and direct. Provide opportunities for your child to work more independently, letting the rope out bit by bit so she has a chance to prove herself. Your goal is to produce a strong, independent writer who’s equipped and confident to enter college or the workplace.

Where Should You Focus?

Secondary students need to:

  • Write clearly, concisely, and correctly for both academic and personal purposes.
  • Develop research skills.
  • Vary sentence structure beyond the subject-verb sentence.
  • Use correct conventions (spelling, grammar and usage). Incorrect or sloppy grammar distracts the audience from the content, so continue working on grammar and punctuation throughout these secondary years until you know their skills are solid.

There are no shortcuts to improving student writing achievement in your home. Teens need:

  • Skill development that builds incrementally.
  • Short, relevant, high-interest assignments.
  • Tools to help them refine word choice and sentence fluency.
  • An involved parent!

How Much and How Often?

  • Have your high schooler write regularly—4-5 days a week—for a variety of subjects.
  • 2-3 short writing projects per month makes a good goal. Your child should take these compositions completely through the stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to final copy.
  • In addition, assign 1-2 longer research papers, each of which can be spread out over an entire quarter. These can range from 4-15 pages, depending on age and skill level. Requirements for a 9th grader should not be as stringent as those for a senior.
  • Tuck in shorter essays, journal writing, book summaries, or responses to current events along the way—assignments that only take a day or so and that don’t require much in terms of editing or revising.
  • To prepare your student for college entrance exams and other timed writing situations, make sure to assign timed essays at least every other week.
  • Keeping in mind her maturity and attention span, spend about 1 hour per day on writing.

Promote Independence but Remain Involved

When our children become teens, it’s easy to think: “They’re getting older. I’ll back off and let them take responsibility.” There will come a time to step back. But that time comes when your child has proven herself trustworthy and reliable.

Even with such a dependable child, you’ll still need to monitor her work. As part of your involvement:

You need to help your teen develop self-discipline and independence, but you also need to hold her accountable. In doing so, you’re preparing her for the demands of college-level writing.

Catch the Whole Series

Helping your K-2nd grader with writing
Helping your 3rd-5th grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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WriteShop I and II are great programs for teaching and reinforcing the steps of the writing process to your junior high and high schoolers. 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
NaNoWriMo – Are your pencils sharpened?
Perfect time to write


  • Posted October 28, 2010


    I appreciate the tip on timed essays. I remember taking my first “real” timed essay; it was a timed application piece on a CS Lewis quote. I had 60 minutes to produce a finished product. This was the summer after high school graduation, and I had never- not once- completed timed essays in my high school honors courses! How well I did on this particular piece determined which English courses I’d be taking at the private college I’d be attending that fall. Fortunately, the professor must’ve liked what I wrote, for I was invited into the advanced composition class. From my experience, I would urge parents to give their high-schoolers timed essays on a regular basis. One never knows what doors might more easily open for your children!

  • Posted October 28, 2010


    You don’t know how much I appreciate your comment, Janet. Timed writing isn’t even on the radar for many parents, yet it’s such a vital skill for college success.

  • Posted November 1, 2010

    John Andrew Williams

    Great writing tips! I am relieved that promoting independence was mentioned because as a Life Coach focusing on developing the skills of young adults, I can say that it is critical for students to learn the essential life skills on their own.

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