Originally published on LinkedIn.
Clear and compelling writing is an essential skill that high school students will carry into college and beyond. However, many students struggle with communicating effectively in their writing and feel they lack the resources to improve.
Becoming a better writer takes time and practice, but with the right habits, students can sharpen their vocabulary and command of language. The strongest high school writers do these three things on a regular basis:
1. Read challenging and diverse material.
The foundation of good writing is reading. As such, this is likely the most important habit to form early on. As Mary Tedrow writes for Education Week, “Writing and reading are intricately intertwined. One is the inverse of the other: Reading is the inhale; writing is the exhale.” When students read actively and analytically, they will begin to see stylistic choices, commonalities in the writing that they find most compelling, and the inspiration to emulate what they have read.
In order for students to expand their vocabulary and gain exposure to artful writing, they should not only read complex, well-written material, but they should also read in a variety of styles. For example, they can challenge themselves to read research papers on topics that interest them—not just fiction or required class readings. They can also read novels, persuasive essays, personal essays, biographies, and news articles. Becoming a strong reader who can understand different topics and styles is critical to becoming an adept and well-rounded writer.
2. Research unfamiliar words and concepts.
Being an active reader requires students to take the time to look up words that they don’t know or concepts that they don’t understand. Students should read with a pen in hand and a dictionary (hard copy or online version) nearby. As they discover the meaning of a word, they should write its definition in the margins or in a notebook. This is a critical habit for those who want to expand their vocabulary, as it exposes students to new words in context. This will allow them to feel more comfortable using the words correctly in their own writing and learn to parse through more difficult readings in the process.
3. Experiment and ask for feedback.
Finally, students can improve their writing by simply writing more. They should take the concepts and styles they have noted in their reading and try them out for themselves. Whether writing poetry, keeping a diary, experimenting with creative writing, or penning letters to their friends, the more they explore their own voice, the more comfortable they will be as they write final papers and compose their college essays.
Depending on the type of writing they are producing, they can also actively seek feedback on their writing and incorporate it. Feedback and drafting are key steps in the writing process, and learning how other people understand their writing can help students identify weaker areas in their work and catch any recurring errors.