February 6, 2013

Putting it All Together (Part 4 of 4)

Now that your child has found resources and taken notes for her long-term project or paper, the next step is to put it all together towards the goal of creating an informative and readable final product. Keep in mind that, much like with the note-taking process, the writing process can also take many forms and your child’s approach will differ from her classmates’. If something doesn’t appear to be working or is causing your child more stress than success, there is nothing wrong with shifting to another approach; frequent discussion can help make the writing process smoother and more productive for you and your child.

Note cards cork board

Organize your notes

The first step your child should take is to organize her notes. This can take many forms, depending on the topic, the assigned length of the paper and your child’s individual needs. But regardless of these, organization is key. Have your child take her Post-Its or notecards and organize them by subtopic. These groupings will comprise the paragraphs she will eventually create for the final paper/project. Post-It notes can be stuck onto sheets of paper in logical sequence from the most general information to the more specific; likewise, notecards can be sequenced in a stack in the same fashion or tacked onto a wall or board, much like writers do when crafting a story or plotting out a television show or movie.

Create an outline or use a graphic organizer

For some students, the next step is to create an outline; for others, this step presents more challenges than it does help with the creation of the final product. If your child is not going to outline her paper, another helpful intermediate step might be to create a graphic organizer that helps him/her visualize the entirety of the final product without actually having to yet commit everything to its more final, paragraph form. There are even computer programs, such as Inspiration, that allow your child to do this on the computer and then turn the organizer into an outline that can be more easily transitioned into the actual rough draft of the paper. Your child’s Engaging Mind tutor can also be a particularly helpful partner at this stage as we have a number of graphic organizers at the ready that can be utilized and tailored to your child’s specific needs. Regardless of what method your child uses to organize her notes, it can be helpful to remind him/her that some information may turn out to be better suited to another part of the paper or may not be useful at all; flexibility at this stage can make things go much more smoothly.

Develop the introductory paragraph

Next, have your child go through and read ALL of her notes and, using this inspiration, craft an introductory paragraph. Your child’s teacher will probably have already discussed what comprises a good introductory paragraph, but keep in mind that it should contain a basic introduction to the topic and mention, in general terms, all of the subtopics that will be covered in the paper in the order she plans on presenting them in the paper. The introductory paragraph should end with its thesis statement if it is an argument or opinion paper, and if not there should be a sentence that helps smoothly transition to the first subtopic.

Where to begin when you’re ready to write

Once your child has a graphic organizer or outline in place, it’s time to start writing! Many students struggle with the actual “getting started” of the writing process; they simply don’t know where to begin. You can help your child over this hurdle by initially discussing with him/her how she wants to phrase the information, reminding him/her to put things in her own words and use quotes when the information is better suited to that format. As your child verbalizes her ideas, you can stop him/her at appropriate points and have him/her type or write out what she just said, prompting him/her if she seems to forget what was just said (again, this is something that your child’s Engaging Minds tutor can help with, as well). While this may seem a bit much, and there certainly will be students who don’t need this degree of assistance, starting off with this method can help your child see that she does, in fact, know what to write. As she sees this success and is ready to work more independently, you can gradually release responsibility to him/her and remove yourself from the process as much as is suitable for your child’s ability and needs.

Writing a Conclusion

Once your child has completed the body paragraphs (comprised of information about the subtopics), it’s time to write a conclusion. Different teachers have different instructions about this crucial aspect of a research paper, so make sure your child is aware of her teacher’s expectations. But for the most part, the rule of thumb is to restate the thesis or topic and summarize in a general way the main points of the paper. It is never a good idea to introduce new information in the conclusion nor is it generally recommended that a conclusion include the author’s personal opinion about the topic. (We spend a lot of time working on conclusions at Engaging Minds as students often find this piece of the writing process as difficult as getting started.


Now that your child has a rough draft in hand, it is possible that her teacher will give it a once-over and hand it back with recommendations for changes before it becomes a final draft. If that is not the case (or even if it is), you and/or your child ’s Engaging Minds tutor can do this step with your child. Here it is important that your child feel a part of the editing process and that you justify and explain any changes or edits you think should ensue; this is a wonderful opportunity for your child’s skills as a writer to benefit from your input and from this collaborative process.

Review the Rubric

Before you hit “print” on the final draft, have your child go over the rubric or specifications for the paper/project one last time to make sure that every aspect has been covered. Create a title page if that is required and double-check the bibliography to make that it follows the prescribed format and that all sources used are correctly noted. If your teacher wants the paper handed in in a folder or stapled or paper-clipped a certain way, make sure your child adheres to these standards, as well.

Finally, take the time to do a debriefing with your child about the process overall – what worked, what didn’t work, what she felt she learned about the topic and how she is feeling now that all of this work is completed. This sort of introspection about her process can go a long way towards making the next long-term paper or project an even easier and more rewarding task for you both, and it allows you the opportunity to provide very specific praise to your child for the hard work she has just completed.