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3 reasons teens should read before writing

by | Jun 11, 2018 | College Prep, Essays & Research Papers, High school

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, your homeschooled high school students will need to read differently for different assignments. When they read before writing, it equips them to research, write, and respond.

1. Read for a Specific Writing Assignment

When you ask students to summarize an article, respond to a piece of literature, or write a reflection essay on a book, they first must read the selection (not merely skim it, as they might for other assignments). Sometimes they’ll have a choice (“read a novel by Mark Twain”), and sometimes not (“read Huckleberry Finn”).

If they complete the task correctly, their written response will show they have 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 students fine-tune their choices, they can follow up by reading a few articles or books on the subject.

General background reading will:

  • Give students a feel for different topics.
  • Direct them toward one or two that especially interest them.
  • Help them narrow a broad topic to a more specific one.
  • Show how certain topics relate to other topics or issues.
Teens need to read differently for different assignments. Here are three ways reading can help students prepare for essays and reports.

3. Read for Research Purposes

Once your high schooler has gathered background information and settled on a topic, it’s time for more in-depth reading and research. At this stage, students should start gathering facts, examples, and scholarly opinions to include in their paper.

They’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 about the topic.

Let’s look at three kinds of sources your homeschooled teen might read in preparation for research: Books, encyclopedias, and credible online sources.

Books, Periodicals, and Other Publications

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 books and periodicals on the topic, too. So now is a great time to introduce your high schooler to scholarly publications they can read before they start writing their papers.

Once your own home library has been scoured, head for the library in search of biographies, historical texts, trade journals, or other works. Enlist the librarians aid, because they’re trained and equipped to help your student mine the riches of the library’s research resources.


  • Without reading or skimming an entire magazine or 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!), they don’t have to read every bit of every publication. One magazine article or book chapter—or even just a paragraph or two—may be all they need to gather a timely quote or important fact.

Subject-specific Encyclopedias

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

Online Sources

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; .org websites may be trustworthy research sources—or they could be heavily biased.

When searching for online articles, discourage teens from using Wikipedia as a legitimate source of information. Instead, Wikipedia can direct them to journal or newspaper articles, official web sites, and other more credible sources.

Point them to helpful links and online research sites to supplement and improve your homeschooler’s research efforts.

Teach your homeschool 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.

Does your teen struggle with writing solid paragraphs or basic essays? It’s not too late to teach these skills!

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

Step-by-step instructions and self-editing checklists help them grow in their independence, and parent rubrics ensure that you’re assessing their writing objectively.

Not sure where to start? ???? Take a quick placement quiz! ????