Educator Resources Writing

My Best Purchases for Homeschooling High School: They Say/I Say

I’ve spent more money on essay writing resources than I care to acknowledge. All in the spirit of turning out articulate and proficient teen writers by the end of this homeschooling gig, right? Still, though. I’ve wasted money on products that didn’t help all that much, and no one likes wasting money. So I’m sharing what I’ve purchased that has actually worked for us at the high school level.

So let’s get back to turning out those competent teen writers. Do you know what I’ve noticed about teen writers? They have a lot of opinions. Some stronger than others. But instead of eloquent ideas coming from teenagers, it’s more like…

Example from a teenager rough draft

Yeah, it’s what they do – they start forming opinions about the world, sometimes not all that positive. Criticism is one of the first signs of a teen’s new complex thinking skills, so we want to see this evidence of growth. It’s a stage we home educators have to wade through, yet we also want to balance our responsibility to train our high schoolers in academic writing.

We need to coach them towards academic-toned insights in essays, not teen-toned opinions. It’s been a challenge in our homeschool, particularly paraphrasing a source without inserting their own judgment. Sure, they can disagree with a point of view, but they can’t say the point of view is stupid in a formal paper. Our goal is to grow beyond such black and white critiques.

It’s the high school tightrope: accepting who and where our teens are while also stretching them to grow.  

So how do you get a teenager to ratchet down the intensity of their opinion without discouraging critical thinking skills? 

Enter They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing.  

You guys, this book has saved us countless hours and effort in figuring out how to word teenage ideas into academic style.

How do you disagree without being a jerk? In the book.

How do you agree with someone but still add something the conversation? In the book.

How do you frame and introduce a quote in your paper? In the book.

How do you articulate the significance of your point? In the book. 

They Say/I Say provides sentence templates to help students new to academic writing set up their ideas and commentary on their topic.

…the templates offered here are learning tools to get you started, not structures set in stone. Once you get used to using them, you can even dispense with them altogether, for the rhetorical moves they model will be at your fingertips in an unconscious, instinctive way.

(Graff and Birkenstein 14)

The book is a lifesaver and worth every penny I paid for it. I purchased the high school edition in the picture, and we use it every time we write an essay. Not only do we pull it out for our essays, we also use it for mini-lessons and skill building in between essay projects. Most chapters come with exercises to practice the particular skill addressed, and the book also includes sample readings for you to use to practice responding to what They Say, along with crafting commentary for subject-specific papers (sciences, literature, etc.).

Teen writers don’t automatically know how to write academically or in response to another author’s point of view. We have to coach them. They will possibly form strong and critical opinions, especially if we’ve created a safe environment for risks in our home (one way risk shows up in teens is through controversial opinions), and then they may struggle with appropriately framing their opinions in formal papers. Our high schoolers need tools to learn these new writing skills and They Say/I Say has been a useful one for us.




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  • Phase 2 for miniature gnome garden. Retaining wall up, tiny plants purchased. Gnomes in a bag, waiting for Parker to build a house.
  • Saturdaying with street art #atlanta #bigcitylife
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  • I honestly don’t know if I can read & study this book again with my high schooler. I did it four years ago with my oldest, but reading it again now? I really don’t know if we should continue holding up its position in the canon.
The watered-down explanations of who uses “N-word lover” and why. Ignorant, trashy people? You mean racists. They think someone’s favoring blacks *over* whites? You mean they don’t want blacks to be equal in our society. EQUAL. According to Atticus, we should respect people’s racist opinions. Not run-of-the-mill opinions, but racist ones. That blacks don’t deserve equal justice before the law. That’s the context of that scene with Atticus and Scout. 🙄
I understand the historical era of the story and when Lee wrote it. But I feel reinforcing these white-favored justifications and skirting the real issue (racism) is part of the problem we still face in our country. Maybe it’s time the book falls down the list of must-reads in high school.
  • Bloom where you’re planted. We all know that one, right? And there’s truth in it. But then, there’s not. There are conditions that, for you, make blooming near impossible.
It would take superhuman strength of character and willingness to turn a blind eye to incident after incident of harshness, criticism, cruelty and abuse. Again and again. Look away, look away, nothing to see here. Don’t object, don’t question, don’t resist. Die a slow death on the inside.
So bloom where you’re planted if that works for you, if the conditions are good for you. But if it’s not, you’re allowed to yank up your roots and march your ass to a kinder environment, if that’s what you need to thrive. A new city, a new circle, a new family. You can do that for yourself. And for your kids.
We’ve got one life. Just one. It’s too short to spend it with cruel and unloving people who mistreat or neglect one another more than they love one another.
If Mother’s Day is hard for you, I get it. What does it mean to reclaim this day for myself? I don’t know yet. I think I’ll focus on just loving my kids today, snuggling with my sweetheart. Grateful that I’m managing to break the cycle of abuse. For myself and for my kids.
  • Happy Teacher Appreciation to me! Times nine years. I figured it was finally time. #treatyoself #homeschoolmom
  • We counted it up and he’s been gone on business three out of the past four weeks. Between the kids and life, we think we’ve had 8 hours together in 14 days. No wonder I feel out of sorts. He flew in late last night, then I wandered downstairs to find out where he was, and he was on an 11pm call to India.
It feels like my right arm has been missing, which is both figurative and literal because I hurt my right arm while he’s been gone and I’ve been only half functional. His absence makes it feel way more than half. We missed our 26th date anniversary this week. 26 years! More than half my life with him by my side.
He mixed me a TGIF cocktail this afternoon, which knocked me on my butt, but hey, my arm isn’t hurting right now!
I plan to weekend SO HARD with him. And by that I mean rainy weekend sleep-ins and a lazy Sunday on the couch. What, middle-age weekend means something else?
  • I’ve reached the part in this book where it explains why contemporary lit is inferior. Um, there’s a very heated argument of one going on in the margins.

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