By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

So how do you help your child prepare for success on these tests? Here are some tips:

Build expertise in the five-paragraph essay. The five-paragraph essay is frequently used as a model for strengthening students' abilities to write persuasively and clearly to support a point of view. The first paragraph should state the key argument, with the next three paragraphs (or sentences) providing supporting evidence for that point of view, and the last paragraph summarizing the key point and supporting evidence.

Encourage writing to express feelings. Keeping a journal can be a very effective way to strengthen writing skills. Writing about personal feelings, successes and disappointments can also help students resolve conflicts. Activities such as these can build skills in a non-stressful way, and spark the urge for self-expression through writing.

Develop a broad vocabulary. Knowing the meanings of many words and being able to use them effectively will be useful on both the multiple choice and essay sections of these tests. The best way to develop a broad vocabulary is to read extensively from pre-school onward. An excellent resource for building word power is www.dictionary.com, a site that enables visitors to check the meanings and spellings of words. The site also has numerous games and puzzles that build word knowledge and vocabulary skills in a fun way. Simply subscribing - for free - to "word of the day" will introduce a new word every morning as your child logs on to email.

Reinforce the role of writing and learning. As students reach middle school, homework assignments tend to require more reading and analyzing. After reading a chapter or an important section of an assignment, students should create a "notes page" summarizing the key facts and restating, in their own words, the most important points to remember. This process enhances retention and strengthens writing skills as well.

Students who really want to improve their writing skills should keep in mind that this is one task where you really will "learn by doing." They should also remember there are significant rewards for young people and adults who write well. From letters to prospective employers, to office correspondence, to communications with friends and family, the ability to use written language effectively has a remarkable impact on our professional and personal success.


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