5 Habits for Improving (and Maintaining) Reading and Writing Skills

Posted by MG on 5/31/16 9:30 AM

The first few months after my college graduation, I began my 9-5 job and was disappointed by how much less time I had to read.  After majoring in English and becoming accustomed to finishing multiple novels a week during the semester, I wished that I could dedicate more time to that hobby.  Furthermore, after a few months of working 40-hour weeks, I fell out of my writing groove, and it became difficult to draft anything more creative than a work email with the same alacrity I once possessed.  Noticing that my reading and writing skills had begun to rust, I attempted to find ways to reclaim my affinity for language.  Below are five recommendations for doing so; whether you are in high school, college, graduate school, or the working world, hopefully, these tips will help hone and maintain your verbal skills. 

Read More

Tags: creative writing, expository writing

The Best Ways to Prepare for an Essay Exam

Posted by Danielle D. on 5/20/16 9:00 AM

College students are often intimidated by essay exams, a common final exam format for courses in the humanities and social sciences. Because the exam itself provides so little structure for your answers, it can feel impossible to get all of your thoughts on paper in an organized way without running out of time. As someone who has graded a lot of college students’ exams, I’ve realized that students most often lose points because they don’t realize that an exam essay is a specific genre of writing that you can practice in advance, even if you don’t know the exact questions you’ll be answering. By developing a strategy for success in writing exam essays, you’ll be able to make sure that the material you worked hard all semester to learn shows up in your answers on the day of the test.

Read More

Tags: study skills, English, expository writing

How to Close Read a Passage of Text

Posted by Martha C. on 4/29/16 9:30 AM

Close_Reading.jpg

Whether you are an incoming freshman in your first expository writing class, studying for the SAT, or simply a lover of literature, close reading a passage of text is one of the most essential skills a critical reader can master.  Close reading requires us to read beyond the immediate or superficial meaning of the text by forcing us to interpret the choices an author makes within their craft.

Read More

Tags: expository writing

Four types of questions and when to ask them

Posted by Cypress Marss on 1/13/16 4:10 PM


source: Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat

When a toddler asks why to an infinite regress, their line of questioning inevitably becomes annoying. The reason is not that their questions individually are inherently uninteresting—or if answered seriously will not illicit fascinating information—but rather that the line of questioning that that toddler embarks on is without end.

Read More

Tags: English, expository writing, college, high school

It's Not What You Say But The Way That You Say It: Tips For Developing Voice

Posted by Cypress Marss on 11/25/15 8:30 AM

Have you ever accidently texted the wrong person? Sent a text meant for your best friend to your dad or to your boss? I have; it’s horrifying. Horrifying because I was being a person that this other person didn’t know.

Read More

Tags: expository writing

Proofread Using the Top Five Most Useful Techniques

Posted by Cypress Marss on 10/5/15 10:00 AM

Ouch! Follow the rules below and you're sure not to end up in the same position.

Proofreading is a drag—after having come up with a thesis, found evidence to support that thesis, and structured the essay to best support your ideas, you have to find and fix all of the mistakes you made along the way. I also find proofreading stressful; I worry that small mistakes will undermine all my hard work. Luckily, over time I’ve developed a series of techniques, which help me proofread;  I’ve collected here five of what I believe to be the most useful proofreading techniques, all of which are great used alone, or in combination.

Read More

Tags: expository writing

How to Write and Edit a College Paper: A Roadmap

Posted by Emily Leven on 6/17/15 11:47 AM

Step 1: Write your paper. Step 2: Graduate. Step 3: Roadtrip across Australia. [image source]

Why is college-level writing so hard?

Making the switch to college-level writing is tough, and doesn’t happen overnight. Papers in college are often long (although the short ones with strict word limits can be tricky, too!). The subject matter is complicated and requires a good deal of analysis.

Read More

Tags: expository writing

Homework Help: How Do I Write a Good Thesis?

Posted by Kyle Eichner on 3/13/15 11:00 AM

Writing a good thesis is simple: pick a position, then defend it like crazy.

Your English teacher likes to talk about writing a thesis. You've learned about this every year, it seems, and yet somehow, when you get your paper back, your teacher has always marked all over it, and said that your thesis is "not an argument" or "not specific enough" or "not provable." What's the big deal?  This is one of the biggest problems I encounter as a homework tutor for middle schoolers in NYC, so today, we'll go over the basics.

Thesis 

One thesis. Two theses (pronounced thee-sees; why do plurals have to sound so weird sometimes? Thank Latin, one of the many parent languages of English). This is the argument of your essay. The point of every essay is to persuade someone of your point of view. If it's a formal essay for school, you won't use "I" or "you," but your thesis is still telling your opinion. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence, but it is also THE MOST IMPORTANT SENTENCE in your essay. Every other sentence is supporting this one. That means everything in your essay should relate to this sentence in some way, either introducing the ideas or helping prove this idea.
 

Thesis vs. Topic

A topic is what your essay is about. Maybe "the death penalty" or "the role of fate in Romeo and Juliet." That is not your thesis. Everyone in your class could have the same topic, but write completely different theses. A thesis must be debatable. "The death penalty is when the government kills people who committed crimes" is a definition or fact. It cannot be debated. "The death penalty reduces crime" or "The death penalty should be abolished" are two different theses, taking opposing sides on the death penalty. You can debate either one. 

Not every topic has a pro/con side. In an analytical essay, your thesis might look more like, "In Romeo and Juliet, fate is responsible for the lovers’ deaths." Your thesis must be provable, with evidence you will take from the book, and it must still be debatable (someone else could say, "No! Fate is not the deciding factor! It's Romeo and Juliet's own stupid decisions, which is not fate!").

Thesis vs. Topic Sentence

The thesis is the last sentence of your introduction. You spend your introduction setting up the context, and then the thesis goes at the end.

Each paragraph after that should have a topic sentence. The topic sentence is like a mini-thesis for each paragraph. Everything in the following paragraph should be evidence to help prove the topic sentence of that paragraph. But each topic sentence should be directly related to the thesis of the whole essay. It's like a puzzle: the body paragraphs should fit together to show the whole picture - which could be summarized by the thesis.

The topic sentence of your concluding paragraph should be restating your thesis in different words. The main idea of your conclusion is to wrap up all of your great ideas and remind the reader why you are correct.

 

Thesis Construction

How to build a thesis? You need to have done some good thinking about your topic. Probably your teacher will help you brainstorm. The thesis can be the hardest part of writing - but if you think of a really good thesis, the rest of your writing should come easily. 

Some teachers have a very specific model for your thesis. If your teacher doesn't tell you otherwise, here is one model: 

[Occasion], [claim] because/by/through/etc [support 1], [support 2], and [support 3].

  • An occasion sets the stage. It starts with words like despite/if/while/though/in/when.
  • The claim is the centerpiece: the opinion or argument.
  • The supports back up the claim, and each one will become the focus point of one paragraph. 

For example:

Even though she is supposed to be the heroine of The Little Mermaid, Ariel is portrayed as incompetent and foolish because she is consistently late, daydreaming, and clumsy.

Here's a model:

My Essay: 

Topic: Taylor Swift

Thesis: Though not everyone likes her music, Taylor Swift is the most successful singer of her generation because of her singing voice, her songwriting genius, and her magnetic stage presence.

Topic Sentence 1: Taylor Swift's singing is sweet and perfectly tuned to the time.

Topic Sentence 2: Though TayTay's singing is how we hear her, it is her songwriting skills, especially with lyrics, that make her listeners connect to her music.

Topic Sentence 3: Taylor shows skill not only in her original composition, but in the composition of her performance as a whole, from costuming to set arrangement to performance style.

Concluding Topic Sentence: Taylor's stage presence hooks live audience members, while those listening to recordings can also connect to her singing voice and the lyrics and tunes she writes. 

Just flesh each of those topics out fully with 3-5 more sentences proving your points, and bam! You’ve got yourself a thesis. Happy writing!

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our Middle School homework tutors in NYCHow Middle Schoolers Can Manage Their Time, Getting the Most Out of an Academic Tutor, How to Survive Geography Tests.

Read More

Tags: expository writing, middle school

GRE/SAT Tutor: How to Use Rubrics to Hack the Writing Section

Posted by Kyle Eichner on 12/17/14 4:00 PM

It is possible that I might have one or two of these in my back pocket.....


I have a secret for you, from my years of experience as a SAT verbal tutor in Boston. Lean close, and don't let the teachers and graders know that I'm going to tell you. Here it is: you have access to a key that will grant you an A on every written assignment. It’s a rubric.

It’s easy to ignore rubrics. You’ve probably flipped past rubrics in your SAT book, and stuffed them in the back of your binders. In the post, I’ll explain how you can harness the wealth of information in a rubric to improve your writing score on the SAT, GRE, and any other assignment.

Why Should I Care about Rubrics?

A well-constructed rubric will tell you exactly how to approach an essay. It will spell out what’s most important, what details to include, and how you should style and format your writing. I’ve been an SAT verbal tutor in Boston (specifically, the MIT and Harvard neighborhood) for a long while, and I’ve seen a lot of rubrics. (In my education assessment class, I even had a "Rubric for Rubrics" to assess the rubrics I created for my own students!

Understanding a rubric is like having a window into the grader's brain. It tells you what they value in the assignment— for example, that you could earn (or lose) just as many points on the formatting as on the clarity of your phrasing. Rubrics evens the playing field, and gives you, the student, some of the power. That is useful whether it is your middle school Social Studies class, your high school AP U.S. History class, the SAT writing section, your History of Boston class at Harvard, or the GRE writing section.

Read More

Tags: SAT, GRE, expository writing

Writing Tutor: Transitioning from One Paragraph to the Next

Posted by Michael Schub on 11/10/14 10:00 AM

You can't make a rainbow connection without connecting

Read More

Tags: expository writing