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May 28, 2024

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Survive the Last-Minute Essay!

Your kid WILL tell you she has a five-paragraph essay — due tomorrow! Here's help for tackling it fast.

You are your child’s first teacher, and that starts with helping him learn to write his name. But what about later on when he needs help with a last-minute essay? Three-quarters of 12th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Process, but why?      Solid writing skills are needed in order to communicate intelligently beginning with writing a good, old sentence. And because writing is important to future college and job applications, you need to take matters into your hands at home.    

Practice, practice and more practice leads to better writing, says Susan Neuman, Ph.D., co-author of Nurturing Knowledge (Scholastic; 2007) and many other books. So does awareness of structure and grammar. But it all takes time … years, Neuman says.     For everybody though, writing well begins with inspiration. Your child’s teachers will give him tools (grammar, etc.) as he goes through his schooling, but at home, you need to back it up with lots and lots of practice.     Meanwhile: the all-important essay. That moment will come when your child needs last-minute help. The key is to work together and to move along without getting weighed down and headachy.



For a quick start to your child’s essay, identify the type of essay she’s supposed to write. There are four major types: narrative; descriptive; expository; persuasive. You should be able to find the type of essay she’s supposed to write on her assignment. Identify that, then move on to determining the point of the essay. This is the hardest part because it’s the most important part. Help her brainstorm and try leading her to her own idea. Try not to get bogged down; keep things moving. So, say she’s supposed to write something about the founding fathers. What ABOUT the founding fathers? Identify first what she wants to say, the point she wants to make, then move on.


Want a good essay? Help your child find the motivation to write it. Do a little quick online research together to find some juicy content that can fire up your child’s imagination. Stay on your topic until a light bulb goes on for your child. You can search “quick fascinating facts about the founding fathers,” for example. The point is, you need your child’s wheels to start turning so he can find the interest within himself to put his words to paper. Ask your child questions — including “how” and “why” — and aim to keep it interesting!


Your child’s essay needs an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. Help her write the first sentence of each paragraph. Teachers often go over what each paragraph should contain, but they can stop short of sharing invaluable examples.

    Search examples of student essays online and you’ll find great guidelines and samples of various types of papers. Seeing other examples will help to clear away the cobwebs in your child’s mind about how to organize what she’s doing and propel her forward.


Sometimes kids think that using big words will impress the teacher. You can only impress the teacher with skills and the truth or your originality, so it’s important to keep essays clear and simple. Last-minute essays can turn into a repetitious mess, saying the same thing over and over again only with different words. Avoid that. A straight-forward, easy-to-follow essay that sticks to your topic will get her a good grade every time.


As soon as your child writes his last sentence he’ll say, “I’m done!” and slam his notebook closed. Stop right there, Buckaroo. After going through all the work together, it’s important to proofread for spelling and grammatical errors and to double check the assignment to make sure everything’s formatted correctly. And get the name down on the paper — teachers will mark off for that teeny but huge oversight!

    There you have it. It’s not the optimum way to write an essay (you really want more time to luxuriate in the process) but this is the parent-assisted-last-minute essay that will help your child come up with a decent grade.      When your child’s young, turn writing practice into a fun, daily routine so when he gets a writing assignment during his school years, he’ll get right on it — without needing your help!

Marnie Clarkson is a freelance writer, writing coach for kids, and a mom of three.

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