Brave Writer Teen Essay Guide Writing

Summer KISS Essay Series #1: Topic Selection

Remember, guys, no folksy narrative openers with the Summer KISS series. Just straight to the point. And then to the pool. (There should be some perks for an unpaid full-time job, no?)

What To Do After Help for High School?

I’ve seen people ask that question in the Facebook groups after they’ve completed the manual. The answer is practice writing more essays. Of course it is! What a no-brainer!

Until you try to repeat the process and remember all of the steps and pieces leading to that final essay project in Help for High School.


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True story.

Academic writing is the opposite of a no-brainer. It’s a brainer! The whole point is for students to use their brains to speak on a particular topic, to demonstrate their thinking abilities.

But exactly how are they supposed to use their brains for this? Details! They matter sometimes.

I began taking lots of notes as we worked through essay projects. Look, I’d like to say I did this because I’m all goal-oriented and a super-achiever mom. I did it out of love of homeschooling and my kids!  

But the real story is I was done feeling frustrated with this, trying to remember what worked where, where we got stuck, how I got us unstuck, flipping back through H4HS trying to find that step we used that I only vaguely remember, where resource A was and then resource D to use in phase #4, but wait, weren’t we supposed to do X before Z?


I mean, I do love my kids and homeschooling them. Truly. But no more flailing our way through this process. Done with it! It wasn’t growing a love of writing doing it in a haphazard way thanks to my unrealistic expectation that we’d magically remember the details to this process.

Academic writing is a complex task and complex tasks need some structure you can return to and use as a launching pad. It was time to get a better handle on the process. Not a perfect handle. Just better.

Get a Binder

You’ll need a three-ring binder, notebook dividers with tabs, and one of those zippered pencil pouches.

I print most of the graphic organizers, tip sheets, relevant H4HS pages, etc listed in each section. I want my teens to have a complete guide for themselves. Everything in one place for them. Remember, keep it simple, sweetie. Meaning keep it simple for them to use.

Topic Selection

Okay! This is the first section in the writing guide. For an outside class, maybe the topic is already assigned and you can skip this. (If you need practice breaking down and understanding how to approach assigned writing prompts, I’ve used this handy TpT resource.)

If you create your own prompts, here are my notes for choosing topics.

Teacher Notes

I have some additional notes in this section for me as the writing coach. We should expose our teens to the type of essay we’re asking them to write. If we’re tackling compare/contrast essays, we need give them a few to read right before we launch into our essay project. Same for narrative, process analysis, movie review, etc.

So my teacher notes start there – introduce the particular essay.

One pain in the rear I still wrestled with last school year was finding quality examples to read. Ones that weren’t too advanced for high schoolers to be able to achieve. I mean, E.B. White wrote some great essays, but no high schooler is going to write at the E.B. White level. I’ve talked about my position on this before. So I’m all about giving them more attainable models. But I admit they take time to find.

Breakfast on Mars is one we’ve used. For this school year I purchased a used copy of The Norton Sampler Short Essays for Composition. It has sections for different essays plus annotated examples. This may be the ticket of convenience I’ve been searching for, but I can’t say just yet.

The second part of my teacher notes is mostly about modeling topic selection before sending my teens off to look through the multiple topic websites listed on their own.

Here are my teacher notes. If there are typos, I apologize. Instead of spending three more days perfecting the notes, I figured I’d just get them up. Plus the pool is calling my name.

So there you go. Brainstorming section will be next, but first I’m off to take care of other things so I can then head to the pool today with my son.