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Archive for the tag “Effective Writing”

2 key emotional ingredients for school success

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients, and she was telling me how emotional she is getting about her first grade daughter’s reading level.  She said that when she got her latest test scores, she just burst out crying.

It got me thinking about the emotions of learning.  When I taught elementary school, many children in my classroom were unable to learn at first, because they had so much going on in their lives that was more important.  The turning point in their learning abilities came when they realized they could trust me and gained confidence in themselves.

From this experience, I will argue that there are 2 key factors to being successful in school (or really, any endeavor).

1. Self-confidence

Do you approach your assignments and papers with the knowledge that you can tackle any task?  Self-confident people view difficult experiences as learning opportunities.  What do you tell yourself about your skills and abilities?  Does your internal voice say that you can do it, or shy away from difficult tasks?  If you lack confidence in your abilities, get help by hiring a tutor or visiting your school’s writing center.  Break assignments down into smaller tasks so that you can see what you need to do to be successful.

Remember that everyone is brilliant in different ways.  Know yourself – where do your strengths lie?  Can you apply them to assignments you find more difficult?

Finally, self-confidence grows from accomplishments.  So if you are feeling badly about your abilities, fake it until you make it.  Just keep working and know that when you complete assignments, you will not only learn more, but gain confidence as well.

2. Support from others

Do you have a teacher you trust, someone who always encourages you and knows you can accomplish any task? If not, seek one out.  Get to know your professors; see if one of them can serve as your mentor.

Surround yourself with people who know how brilliant you are and who will help you achieve your goals.  Are your friends understanding when you can’t go out with them because you have to do schoolwork, or do they tell you to have more fun?  Are they willing to discuss academic topics with you?   If not, befriend fellow students and make a point of spending time with those who are succeeding in school.


In elementary education, we spend a lot of time focusing on our students’ emotional needs, but it seems to me that this focus is lost as students grow older.  However, the older we get, the more complex our emotions become.  We may be able to push them aside more effectively, but they can still greatly affect our success.  Who hasn’t experienced an argument with a loved one followed by an unsuccessful day at work? Take time to nurture yourself.  When you feel good, you will be much more successful.

Paper planning and writing for visual/spatial learners

©Copyright Silverman, L.K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner

Yesterday’s blog focused on paper planning for mathematical learners, and today I am going to tackle the task of paper planning and writing in a more visual, spatial manner.

Visual/spatial learners are artists, architects, and great parallel parkers.  They can easily see how objects relate to one another in space.  They may think in pictures rather than words, which can make it difficult to write papers effectively.  They tend to learn things all at once, instead of in a sequential manner.  Instead of using typical methods, they prefer to come up with their own answers to problems.  These students learn best by grasping relationships between ideas.

So, what are the implications for how visual learners can best approach the paper writing process?


1. Plan visually.

Most people are taught to plan their writing by creating an outline.  However, visual learners may benefit from laying their ideas out in a more spatial manner. Instead of writing in a list format, why not create an idea map for your paper? Below are two documents to help visual/spatial learners plan their papers in a different way.  The first is a template, the second an example of how to fill in the template.

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template, Color coded

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Example

2. Visualize while you read.

This is a skill that most readers do naturally, but when reading high level, academic texts, it is easy to stop visualizing.  Try to see the concepts or ideas in your mind.  Maybe even sketch a picture of your thoughts.  This can help you ground yourself and understand your reading.

3. If you are unfamiliar with a topic, gain some background knowledge by watching educational videos or looking at books with pictures.

A key component to gaining deep understanding is connecting to background knowledge.  If you don’t know enough about a topic, first fill your background knowledge bucket by watching a video on YouTube or finding some other visual way to become acquainted with your topic.  A great paper shows that its writer is an expert on the topic.

Information on visual/spatial learners gathered from:

The Gifted Development Center

Visual/Spatial Learners

How not to use the word “they” in a paper

Of all of the grammar mistakes I’ve seen my students make, using the word “they” incorrectly is the most common.

When you are writing an academic paper, NEVER follow a singular subject in the beginning of a sentence with the word “they” in the second part of the sentence.  Here are a few examples of how NOT to use the word “they”:

1. When a student doesn’t understand an assignment, they might just need to hear it in a different way.

2. When a person becomes a victim of sexual assault, they can access many resources.

3. If a goalie wants to effectively block a shot, they should put complete focus on the ball.

Why are these sentences wrong?  

The beginning of the sentence refers to a singular subject.  In the second part of the sentence, the writer refers to that one person as “they”.

Why do students love to do this?  

In many essays and papers, it is considered incorrect to assume one gender or another for a subject.  For example, in the third sentence, the goalie could be a male or a female.  The word “they” could refer to either gender, thus avoiding any sexist stereotyping.  However, “they” is also grammatically incorrect.

How can you correct this mistake?

One method is replacing “they” with “he or she”. This sounds a but awkward at times, but avoids gender stereotyping while maintaining a grammatically correct sentence structure.

In many papers, it seems like we have to repeat “he or she” over and over, making the writing seem a but clumsy or choppy.  In that case, it is just as correct to change the singular subject to a plural one:

If goalies want to effectively block shots, they should put complete focus on the ball.

By changing the subject to a plural word, “goalies,” and modifying the rest of the sentence, the writer can avoid using “he or she” and also have a correctly worded sentence.

If you are editing your paper for grammatical errors, notice how you used the word “they.”  Make sure that anytime you wrote it, you were referring to a plural subject.  If not, use the above hints to change your paper.

2 Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading Assignments

Knowing how to write “A” quality papers may seem like navigating a complicated labyrinth at times,  but really, all the clues you need to be successful can usually be found in your assignment.

When reading a paper assignment, look for the answers to two key questions:

1. What is my professor trying to find out about me as a student by assigning this paper?

You professor assigned this paper for one purpose: to learn about you as a student.  Think about the context of the paper – what are the key learnings you have been focusing on in class?  Look at your syllabus for the main objectives of the course.  Is this paper assigned primarily to test your abilities as a writer?  Or is the greater purpose to determine if you understand course material?  What is the material you need to prove you’ve mastered?

Did your professor give you a rubric?  If so, use it!  By following all of the requirements on the rubric, you are practically guaranteed to get a good grade.

If all else fails, you can even ask your professor, “What are you trying to learn about me as a student from this paper?” He or she will probably be impressed and hopefully tell you exactly what you need to aim for in your paper.

The key to getting an A on your paper is giving your professor what he or she wants.

2. How long will it take me to write this paper?

In order to determine the amount of time you will need to spend writing your paper, look at the required length of the paper.  How many sources will you need?  How in depth do you need to go into your subject matter?

Once you have a clear idea of the length of time you will need to write the paper, immediately schedule times for writing it into your calendar.  While knowing what your professor is looking for will point you in the right direction, planning ahead and giving yourself enough time will ensure that you are able to reach your destination of an A quality paper.

In summary, if you know exactly what your professor wants in an A paper, and you give yourself enough time to write it, you are much more likely to succeed in getting a high grade on your paper.

3 Research Habits That Will Save You Time

1.Read the abstract first.

If you are looking for scholarly articles on a topic, don’t read the articles until you’ve looked over the abstract and made sure that this article fits in with your intended subtopics.  Don’t fall into the trap of using any article as a resource just because it vaguely relates to your topic.  You will waste time that could be better spent reading the right articles.

2. Type quotes as you go.

If you find a quote that you think you can use in your paper, type it into your outline under the appropriate subtopic. Make sure to note the author and page number.  By the time you get to the writing stage of your paper, you will already have relevant quotes ready to go.  You won’t have to waste time going back and finding them. This will also help you solidify your thesis statement.

3. Site your sources as you find them.

I remember getting to the end of papers in high school and having to go back through all of my sources and create a works cited page.  By that point, I was so done with my paper that it felt tortuous to do this last step.  Don’t make it your last step – do this as you go.  Whenever you realize you will use a certain source in your paper, immediately add it to your works cited page.  That way, when you are done writing and revising your paper, you won’t have to worry about it.

For extensive guides on citing in APA and MLA styles, follow the links below:

Purdue OWL APA

Purdue OWL MLA

What Can Your Research Paper Do For You?

The Top Ten Benefits You Get From Writing a Research Paper:

1. You get to choose a topic and learn about that topic.

2. Writing research papers can help you figure out your true interests and know which direction to move in your education and in your life.

3. The more you write, the better you get at writing, and knowing how to express yourself well is always a good thing.

4. This is your opportunity to show your professor how much you have learned in class.

5. You can show off your amazing new knowledge on dates or to your friends.

6. Once you are out of school, learning about new things can go from being a requirement to a hobby, so enjoy it while you can.

7. As you move toward writing a thesis, your brain makes new connections, therefore making you just a tiny bit smarter.

8. You never know when your writing or new knowledge will help you in other classes, or in future jobs.

9. A great research paper can really boost your grade, and, unlike on exams, you are in control of the quality of your work.

10. They are a great excuse to put off unpleasant tasks, like cleaning your room.

Change a few words in your paper and sound more like an academic expert

I was recently helping a client revise his master’s thesis paper, and I realized that many of the changes we made involved replacing basic words with more academic vocabulary. Just by changing a few words, you can dramatically improve your paper. Below, find an incomplete list of words with their more academic-sounding counterparts.

better – more effective
said – noted, explained, stated, indicated, acknowledged
shows – indicates, demonstrates, identifies, displays
use – utilize
part – component
before – previously
try – attempt
way – method
gives – provides

Do you have any more examples? Feel free to include them in the comments section below.

5 Secrets to Getting a Great Grade on Your Paper

1. Know your professor.

Your professor assigned this paper because he or she wants to know something about you as a learner.  Look over your syllabus.  What are the main objectives for your course? Talk to your professor.  Ask her what she is looking for in your paper.  The best way of acing a paper is giving your audience – in this case, your professor – what she wants.

2. Read the assignment thoroughly.

Many students look over writing assignments for paper length and font size, but don’t take the time to notice the content requirements.  Make sure to read your assignment a few times so that you know exactly what you need to do.  This will help you determine what your professor wants, get some ideas about your topic, and also figure out the amount of time you need to get the paper done.

3. Choose a focused topic.

Make sure that the topic you choose is specific and that your thesis statement is concise.  Many students think choosing that a broader topic will make it easier to find lots of things to write about. However, the broader your topic, the more difficulty you will have in narrowing down your subtopics and making a clear, concise thesis statement.  For example, if you are in a U.S. History course, instead of writing about the 1960s, write about political music in the 1960s.  Better yet, write about the Bob Dylan and how he influenced the politics of the time.

4. Organize your ideas first.

Once you have a focused topic, do a little research and come up with a few subtopics.  Then break those down into smaller subtopics.  Create an outline for yourself before you begin writing.  This will help you stay on track with your writing, and will reduce the time you need to spend later on editing and revising your paper.

5. Give yourself enough time.

This is probably the most important thing you can do to get a good grade on your paper!  As soon as you know how long your paper needs to be, calculate the amount of time it will take you to complete each step of the paper writing process.  Don’t forget to factor in time to try out a few different topics, research, create an outline, find great quotes, edit and revise, and do citations.  Schedule paper writing time into your calendar.  The more time you give yourself, the less stressed you will be, and the more likely you are to ace your paper!

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