Posted in HS4CC

Before ENG101

High school Language Arts is usually the last opportunity to build a foundation in written communication before English 101. Whether your teen will take ENG101 in high school or after, here are 3 pro tips to get them ready.

I would never say that the sum total of a K-12 language arts curriculum boils down to reading and writing, but if were talking about what your teen really needs to know before ENG101, reading and writing are easily the most important.

English Composition is usually taught as two courses, taken in sequence, during a student’s first year of college. Unless your teen majors in English, those are probably the only two English classes they’ll take for their entire degree. Occasionally you’ll see programs with one composition course instead of two (college level diplomas, AAS degrees), but for students who plan to earn an associates degree or bachelor’s degree, two courses are the standard.

Students are not expected to be an expert before class, but they are expected to move along with the speed of the class and generate a good deal of written work. This means that there is time to learn, but not time to linger. Remember, colleges teach this sequence for a reason. They want to teach your teen how to write in a certain way.

Pro-Tip #1: The 5-Paragraph Essay

The 5-paragraph essay is really just a template. I use the 5-paragraph essay all the time, and my kids used it as their “default template of choice” hundreds of times in high school and college. I love that this template is both simple and straightforward. It lends itself to almost any assignment that calls you to make an argument (persuasive/debate) or information (expository/teach a topic). I don’t think it’s a great template for creative writing, but the type of writing you’ll do in ENG101 will be less creative and more focused on teaching how to find information and then present it properly. If your teen is terrified of college writing and struggles to churn out even a paragraph, mastering the 5-paragraph essay will not only get them ready for ENG101, but they can use this format over and over again in a pinch.

HOMEWORK: Watch this video. It is by FAR the best tutorial I’ve ever seen on how to write a 5-paragraph essay. After you watch it, have your teen watch it.

Pro Tip #2: Just Write!

For years my family used the Robinson Curriculum. It’s a very simple program, really more of a philosophy, that requires each kid produce a full page of writing every day on any topic. For younger kids they do copy work, but older kids generate their own content. Writing daily removes the pressure many kids feel when writing, because it becomes routine. Think of it like practicing a musical instrument or running. You don’t have to do it perfectly, you just have to do it. When you do it more, you can improve one aspect of your technique. When you improve one aspect of your technique you work on the next.

Homework: write 12 essays. Each school day should include writing a 5-paragraph essay using the format above (1-3-1). For these essays you can give them topics that don’t require research and don’t require overthinking. This exercise is in format, not content, so make sure the content is so basic or rudimentary that they can focus on the format. The purpose is to lock in on using a template. Mix it up between reporting the facts and taking a position, but again, keep the topics so simple that the focus is only on the format. Don’t grade, edit, or correct their work. Just discuss 1-3-1.

  • What is Neapolitan Ice Cream?
  • What are Primary Colors?
  • The Three Little Pig’s Houses
  • Three Advantages of Being Tall
  • Three Advantages of Being Short

Homework: Write 180 more essays. Once the format is second-nature, keep them writing. They should write an essay every day. They don’t have to perfect every skill at once, but as they master one skill, you can maintain your expectations while adding in a new skill.

  • Speed (typing, formulate an idea, take a position, get the words on paper/screen) Allow an hour but shoot for 30 minutes or less.
  • Accuracy (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.) There are software programs that assist the process, but a human should still check the work – especially when using words that don’t appear in a simple dictionary.
  • Research (using sources, citing sources, credibility) Once in college, they will be asked to write using APA, MLA, or Chicago style. This simply refers to how something is cited in writing. If your teen is exposed to this in high school, they’ll be ahead! The BEST source is free and online Purdue Writing Lab
  • Sophistication (vocabulary, depth, scope, credibility, clarity, etc.) What’s much harder to develop, and takes the longest amount of time, is an ability to write with sophistication. Sophisticated writing is refined and clear. It’s choosing words with precision and connecting with their audience. Don’t mistake using “big words” with sophistication, rather emphasize to your teen the importance of conveying the message. You’ll know they’re ready for this phase when they complain that 5 paragraphs aren’t enough to say what they need to say!

Pro Tip #3: Reading Stamina

If your teen devours a new novel in a weekend or easily spends hours reading blogs, you may think this tip doesn’t apply to you – but let’s talk about reading stamina for a few minutes. Reading in college will most certainly include reading textbooks or literature that your teen isn’t interested in. Whether they consider it boring, a waste of time, or too challenging, they may have to do it anyway! I think it’s normal for any of us to become frustrated when we read something we don’t understand or turned off when the topic is boring. The essential skill in college is being able to read (and understand) books that you haven’t selected yourself. Perdue Global offers these strategies to improve your reading comprehension in college:

  1. Find Your Reading Corner -The right spot will increase your focus and concentration.
  2. Preview the Text – Survey the material and ask some questions before you start reading. What’s the topic? What do you already know?
  3. Use Smart Starting Strategies – When you start reading, don’t let the text overwhelm you.
  4. Break up the reading: If an assignment seems daunting, break it into bite-sized sections.
  5. Check for understanding: As you read, occasionally ask yourself if you understand what is being communicated. If not, you may need to go back and reread a paragraph or section.
  6. Highlight or Annotate the Text-Watch for important terms, definitions, facts, and phrases and highlight them or add annotations within the document.
  7. Take Notes on Main Points -This is different from highlighting because you can take your own notes separately.
  8. Look Up Words You Don’t Know -Don’t let unfamiliar words derail you. Look them up in a dictionary before you go any further.
  9. Make Connections -Look for links and connections between the text and your experiences, thoughts, ideas, and other texts.
  10. Discuss What You’ve Read
    Describe what you have learned to someone else. This will move the information (or content) from short-term to long-term memory.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit

3 thoughts on “Before ENG101

  1. I appreciate the blog. In order to take CLEP Composition (the equivalent of EN101) we’ve found that typing speed is a big factor.

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