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iphigeneia's avatar

How do I tutor someone without writing their essay for them?

Asked by iphigeneia (6207 points ) March 31st, 2010

It’s just my little brother, he’s 14, and he has trouble completing his assignments on time. I’m helping him with his English essay, (which is on a book I haven’t read, but isn’t exactly complicated to pick up on)

I’ve helped him to create an essay plan by asking him questions about the novel, but now he just doesn’t know where to go. We don’t have a lot of time, and I find it’s easier to just dictate his essay to him. How can I help him to find his inner intelligent writer?

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14 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

Your idea is a good one for a start. Find some guidelines on the internet – a list of things to include in an essay, and just work your way down the list, verbally – let him ‘fill in the blanks’ so to speak. When I was homeschooling my sons and grandsons, I would record what they said, so they could copy down the words later, and not forget.

JeffVader's avatar

When I first went to college I really didn’t have any idea how to write a proper essay. Yeh, I cobbled them together in High School & got reasonable marks, but that was more by accident than design.
It’s excellent that you’ve helped him with his plan….. however, surely all he needs to do now is put a little flesh on the bones of the plan. I guess what I’m getting at is, is the plan any good? Assuming he’s done all his reading for the essay question, he needs to chose a perspective from which to argue. All this means is he needs to use his notes & reading to develop an argument. Firstly he needs to present his point / argument in the introduction. Whatever his point is going to be he needs 3 or 4 points that back up his argument. Then 2 or 3 points that counter his argument in order to show some balance. After this a simple conclusion on the end explaining why his argument is more valid. All you need to do is keep him focused on the question & draw out of him what he thinks, then get him to write it in an ordered manor.

hug_of_war's avatar

1. If your brotherr isn’t a natural writer don’t expect this beautiful masterpiece of the quality you would write.

2. Help him write an outline. You can help him with the structure for an outline but you really need to push him to contribute to the content of it.

3. Have him write a paragraph (of the body paragraphs) and then go and critic here. “Oh you need to better connect these ideas”, “you have a good base but you need more specifics from the book” then send him back to revise it.

4. If it’s acceptable and he starts to get it tell him to write the rest and you’ll look over the whole thing when he’s done.

This is the method I used with my brother when he was in high school because it starts out being really collaborative and gradually pushes them towards independence.

john65pennington's avatar

Tell your little brother to write his essay based on who, what, when, where, and why.

If your brother has read the book, he should be able to write a convincing essay, on his own, using the above questions.

wundayatta's avatar

At my kids’ school they start teaching them how to write essays starting in third or fourth grade. The first step is to write a paragraph. That consists of your opening sentence telling the reader the point of the paragraph, followed by three sentences that explain the point of the paragraph, followed by a concluding sentence that summarizes what has been said,

The essay is the same thing, except with five paragraphs and the first one explaining the point of the essay and the last one summarizing the point of the essay.

It sounds like your brother has an outline or a structure for their essay, so all they have to do is fill in the meat of the essay, following that structure. If he is just whining and saying he can’t do it, he might be just playing you to see if he can get you to do his work. On the other hand, it isn’t always bad to do work for someone, so long as they are paying close attention. In this way, they can learn from your model as you demonstrate how you think about it. This is fine, so long as it doesn’t happen more than a couple of times. My general rule about these things is the first time, I’ll show you the answer; the second time, I’ll talk you through the answer; the third time, you’re on your own, but I’ll be there to confirm if you are on the right track or not,.

Just make sure you keep your goal in mind—you are trying to teach, not punish. Make it doable, not impossible. You have to make some guesses about the inner state of your student’s mind. It’s ok to make mistakes. You’ll learn. There is no exact science here. Love counts as much as anything else.

Good luck!

LostInParadise's avatar

Sometimes it helps to teach by example. This would be a bit of work for you but it may prove to be instructive. Choose some book you are familiar with and write an essay plan for it. Then demonstrate how to follow the plan. You don’t have to write a complete essay. Just show how you would start.

Jeruba's avatar

@john65pennington, that’s the formula for journalism. It may not work for a scholastic essay, which may well have an assigned topic and not just be an open-ended report.

He needs to understand the question or topic, have a response or point of view or position to take on it, and be able to back it up with evidence from the reading. Wrap an introduction and conclusion around that body and you have an essay.

PacificToast's avatar

Help him make an outline and make him elaborate upon these ideas.

Jeruba's avatar

Consider an example. Suppose you have a topic such as this: “Analyze the protagonist’s relationship to authority figures in Little Red Riding Hood.” You might think about this and form the opinion that LRR is submissive to authority figures only as long as they tell her to do what she wants to do anyway.

Your outline is simple:

Introduction
Point 1: argument and evidence from text
Point 2: argument and evidence from text
Point 3: argument and evidence from text
(You might want to cover more than three points, but three good ones are enough for most purposes.)
Conclusion

You would write an introduction setting forth your view or opinion on the topic—the opinion you formed as you were thinking about it. In this case you’d also have to define what you mean by authority figures; you might say they’re anyone who is older and bigger than LRR.

You’d then discuss the first encounter with an authority figure—the mother—and explain how the text shows LRR’s obedience to her mother when she agrees to carry the basket to her grandmother. This is point 1. You might note the mother’s warnings, which suggest that she knows LRR might be tempted to stray.

Next you’d talk about the second encounter, when LRR meets the wolf, and point to evidence in the text that shows how readily the girl agrees to depart from the path and ignore her mother’s instructions now that someone else is influencing her. This is point 2.

Third, you’d explain what happens when the girl meets the wolf posing as the grandmother. This time she is frightened because she senses something amiss with the authority figure—grandmother does not look as expected—and she resists. This is point 3.

Then you’d draw a conclusion that is not the same as the introduction. The conclusion adds up the points you’ve made and goes beyond them, such as to arrive at a summation saying that LRR is a foolish, susceptible youngster who deserves to be eaten up and who needs yet another authority figure, the woodsman, to rescue her.

Now you have an essay.

Notice three things here, please:

— You have to begin by doing the reading.
— Then you have to form an opinion or arrive at some insight about it relative to the prompt or essay topic. This is indispensable. If you don’t have a thought, you can’t write about it. Try to have a thought on a manageable scale and not tackle something so big that people write Ph.D. dissertations about it.
— The structure itself is simple and formulaic. you state your position, you make each point citing evidence from the text, and you draw your conclusion.

You can write a thousand successful essays without ever varying from that formula. I wrote my first such in about 1961 and my most recent only two weeks ago, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

iphigeneia's avatar

Thanks everyone, I have got some ideas I can work with now. I just wanted to clarify that I know how to write an essay, actually, I’m pretty good at them, but my problem is teaching my brother how to write them. I tell him to write a paragraph, and his response goes along the lines of, “But I don’t knowwwwwww whaaaaaat to wriiiiiiiiiiite!”

We’ll go back to his original argument, and I will work on not being so soft.

YARNLADY's avatar

Oh, for heaven’s sake – write it for him already. – No, really – writing is just like talking, only you write the words instead of speaking them – even a child should be able to understand that.

Jeruba's avatar

If that were so, @anyarnladyim, engineers would write the documentation.

YARNLADY's avatar

@timjerubaenew Sorry, of course you are correct, I meant even a caveman would be able to understand that, thank you for the head’s up/

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