4 Simple Tips to Improve Student Writing

4 ways to help high school and middle school students improve their writing.
Although what is considered to be “good” writing is lofty and subjective, we wouldn’t be English teachers if we didn’t try to improve our students’ writing skills. Here are some general tips and suggestions that can help polish any paper.

1. Use just and that sparingly
Most writers have words which they repeat without noticing throughout a paper, much like how some teenagers will say ‘like’ every other word or how an inexperienced public speaker will pepper their speeches with ‘um’s. For students, I find the most common, ineffective words they repeat are just and that. You might suggest your students do a ctrl + f  search for these words on their computers before they turn in a piece of writing and weed out as many of them as they can.

4 ways to help high school and middle school students improve their writing.
2. Place emphatic words near the beginning and at the end of the sentence
The eyes of readers tend to be drawn towards the white space at the beginning as well as at  the end of a sentence. As such, it is natural that the most exciting, crucial words are placed strategically in these positions. It takes a lot of practice and reading to get a natural feel for what makes a word emphatic, but generally, they’re the words which describe the most important aspects of the sentence and what it is trying to get across.

For example: “I have a dream,” said Dr. King, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” In this sentence, emphasis is placed on Dr. King’s hope, his dream, that people of color would one day be treated as human beings, judged solely on the content of their character - a beautiful sentiment and alliteration. Dr. King’s strong sense of emphasis can be found throughout his speeches and are a big part of what made him such an effective orator.

3. Use adverbs to modify
The problem with adverbs is that most students use them to state the obvious, as in: “She whispered quietly.” A reader can already assume that if someone is whispering, they’re doing it quietly and therefore the writer has wasted precious space. However, if someone were to go against my expectations and whisper loudly, that is something I would want to know. In short, try to use adverbs to modify the reader’s perspective of the verb rather than state what we can already assume. This type of descriptive writing enhances one's writing.

4. When to be passive and when to be active
When a subject is active, it acts, as in: “Jimmy ran for his life.” In this sentence the verb, ran, was performed by Jimmy, the subject. When a subject is passive, it is acted upon, as in: “The students were taught.” Both the active and passive voice have their uses. In general, students should use the active voice because it helps make writing more concise and speeds a narrative along. However, passive voice helps bring attention to the receivers of actions. For instance, if I wanted to write about how lazy students get near the end of the year, the passive voice can emphasize how the students are acted upon rather than acting themselves. For example: “The students were reluctant to start.” Both types of voices have a purpose in a paper, but it takes a lot of patience and practice to learn how to use both effectively.