At any age, prewriting activities help kids warm up, think about their topic, and consider the purpose and audience. Simply, prewriting gets them ready to write!
When working with teens, prewriting activities guide them toward shaping and developing their essays and reports. Prewriting can include any or all of these:
- Focusing and narrowing topics
- Determining the direction the paper will take
- Researching and gathering information
- Brainstorming, planning, and choosing details
- Organizing and outlining
From time to time, teens will need to read differently for different assignments. When they read before writing, they are better equipped to research, write, and respond.
1. Read for a Specific Writing Assignment
When a student is asked to summarize an article, respond to a piece of literature, or write a reflection essay on a book, she first must read the selection (not merely skim it, as she might for other assignments). Sometimes she’ll have a choice (“read a novel by Mark Twain”), and sometimes not (“read Huckleberry Finn”).
If she completes the task correctly, her written response will show that she both read and understood the material.
2. Read to Gather Background Information
Before choosing a topic for an essay or research paper, it’s important to start with general background information. Skimming through encyclopedia articles on two or three topics should provide a good overview. As your student fine-tunes her choices, she can follow up by reading a few articles or books on the subject.
General background reading will:
- Give the student a feel for different topics.
- Direct her toward one or two that especially interest her.
- Help her narrow a broad topic to a more specific one.
- Show how certain topics relate to other topics or issues.
3. Read for Research Purposes
Once your student has gathered background information and settled on a topic, it’s time for more in-depth reading and research. At this stage, she should start gathering facts, examples, and scholarly opinions to include in her paper. She’ll want to make use of various sources. These can include Internet resources, periodicals and other library reference works, subject-specific articles, newspaper articles, and books on her topic.
Let’s look at three kinds of sources your teen might read in preparation for research:
While encyclopedias are great for general overviews, they’re usually not detailed enough for research purposes. However, libraries usually carry a variety of subject-specific encyclopedias. These references are more focused, have longer entries, and go into greater detail. Examples include:
- Encyclopedia of Food Science & Technology
- Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
- Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
- Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy
A website’s URL can provide a good clue as to its reliability as a source.
- URLs ending in .edu are usually educational institutions and may be good sources for research.
- URLs ending in .gov are most likely reliable government websites. Usually, these will provide fairly trustworthy and objective statistics and reports.
- URLs ending in .org are often a non-profit organizations. Beware of any political agendas before citing such sources; an .org website may be a trustworthy research source—or it could be heavily biased.
When searching for online articles, discourage your teen from using Wikipedia as a legitimate source of information. Instead, she can let Wikipedia direct her to journal or newspaper articles, official web sites, and other more credible sources.
To get her started, here are some helpful links to online research sites that can supplement and improve your teen’s research efforts.
In these modern times, students are quick to rely on the Internet to provide source materials for their research. However, it’s always helpful—and often required—to find scholarly books on the topic as well.
Once your own home library has been scoured, head for the library in search of biographies, historical texts, or other works. Without reading or skimming an entire book, a quick look at the table of contents and index will help your teen determine its potential usefulness.
If the idea of research is daunting (as it is to most students!), encourage your teen that she doesn’t have to read every bit of every book. A chapter—or even just a paragraph or two—may be all she needs to read from a particular book to gather a timely quote or an important fact.
Teach your teen to read before writing! Each of these activities—specific assignments, general overviews, and detailed research—is an important prewriting activity that will help pave the way for a solid essay or research paper.
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