Monday, 14 April 2014

Preparing Homeschoolers for University/College Writing

It's been interesting to see how my children have coped with learning at a tertiary level when they've had no experience of institutional schooling. One of the first questions we were asked when people knew we were going to teach our children ourselves was, 'What about university?' Someone quizzed me about this when my eldest was only 2 years of age. We had no idea at the time what we'd do when we got to that stage and I was more concerned about how we would get them entry into university than how they would cope once they were there. I wrote about how we went about that here.
I thought that to gain entry into university you would obviously have to possess the skills needed to do the work required in a particular course. I found out that isn't necessarily the case.

Our daughter Zana is in her fourth year of a double degree - Bachelor of Education/Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English - and is employed by her university to tutor first and second year university students. Much of her time is taken up with helping them with basic things that should have been covered before they left school.
I asked her to share some thoughts on writing essays. Some of what she's written here might not apply to students in other degrees such as science related areas, but there are some general areas such as grammar, structuring an argument, punctuation, spelling, apostrophes and run on sentences that were issues for many of the students she worked with, regardless of the degree they were studying.

"Essentially you need to understand the structure of an essay (thesis statement, introduction, body, conclusion) & how to create an argument that clearly answers the question & stays on topic while incorporating research & secondary sources.

Be aware that academic writing very rarely uses first person, so don't get used to writing essays with "I think" etc in them. That's generally saved for reflection type assessment tasks.

Having an understanding of paraphrasing, referencing & some experience of a referencing style (eg Harvard or APA) would be very useful as this is an area most first year uni students really struggle with. In my first semester of face-to-face university, I had to use 4 different referencing styles. The fact that I'd done two  online units with Open University Australia & therefore knew how to reference using two of the main styles already was really helpful. Referencing guides are readily available by searching on google.
I tutor 1st & 2nd year uni students & I've found that even the students who are good writers will often fall down in these areas.

In relation to exam essays, timed writing is also useful, as often you could have anywhere from 2-12 essays within an exam, depending on the subject. Being able to write at a rate of 10 minutes a page will set you up very well for uni exams. The faster you can interpret a question, brainstorm & write, the better you will perform under exam conditions.

Some Ideas on Preparing for University Writing

--Analyse the question: what exactly are they asking for?
--Outline: short sentences or bullet points. Means that you have a logical sequenced argument that you can then follow while writing to ensure that you stay focused & on topic.

Teach each of these areas specifically & gradually combine them together; keep a lookout for grammar & punctuation mistakes.

Get them to write using a variety of different topics. An essay on a factual topic will require different language & a different type of argument etc to that of an essay on literature"

SAT practice essays are great (even if you don't plan to do the SAT) because they make you think but require more general knowledge & logic than they do specific content knowledge. They're also timed (25min) which is good practice for writing concisely (we also used them un-timed, especially at first).
These are some examples from my daughter and son who were 14 & 17 years old at the time they did them.




I taught them to outline and they practiced taking notes eg. while listening to a sermon at church and then outlining it properly later.
A book like Writers Inc. or some other writing reference book and a grammar rules book is also helpful.


  1. Hello! This is Mama Squirrel from Dewey's Treehouse. I'm hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, and I'm still looking for submissions. Would you allow me to include this post? Thanks! (I'll check back here later.)

    1. Thanks, I'd be happy for you to include it.

  2. This is some good stuff. Maybe you could share more on how you taught your kids to write. It is my weakest area of instruction even using the Charlotte Mason method.

    1. Christy, what age group do you have in mind?

  3. Thank you so much! I will show this to my teens, one of whom has discovered that university writing is a bit more than he bargained for, and two of whom are still studying at home.

  4. Carol, I have middle school and a high school, who isn't going to college but could use some polish on her writing skills.

  5. These are great tips for teaching writing! I've always found outlining is key for my family. Once we get to the outline, writing isn't nearly as difficult. :-)