[Essay Prep: Reading the Essay is part of a three-class series. The other two classes are Essay Prep: Dynamic Thinking and Essay Prep: Research and Citation. This series is based on the former class Kidswrite Intermediate.]

There is no room for the impurities of literature in an essay. —Virginia Woolf

As students move into the high school and college years, there are few writing forms they can expect to encounter with such frequency as the essay. Instructors ask students to produce essays in all subject areas in order to see their minds at work. Students must evaluate, analyze, and synthesize information to show what they have learned.

And yet, teens spend little time actually reading essays. If we expect students to spend the next few years writing essays, it makes sense to show those students what makes an essay worth reading and, ultimately, writing.

The best essays are electric, communicating ideas in a boiled-down-to-the-essence length, capturing a reader's attention for a brief moment before releasing her from the experience a changed person. There is a sense of immediacy in the essay, as if the information is of such import that the author needs a reader to devour it in one sitting. Essays follow a structure, but each essayist seems willing if not eager to break out of the traditional forms, to tear at the fabric that divides writing into types. A single essay can be story, satire, report, critique, and call to action—all in a few thousand words. What a ride!

As your student prepares for high school essay writing, then, we invite you to consider providing him or her with a chance to explore the art of essay writing from a reader's perspective. In this class, your teen will read essays that reveal, inform, reflect, and persuade.

Students will:

  • use vivid details as they communicate a clear perspective
  • find the "angle of vision" in the essays they read
  • write about a topic from different points of view
  • consider their audience as they write to inform
  • give a surprising view or debunk commonly held beliefs
  • discover underlying themes
  • reflect on personal experiences in writing
  • utilize writing voice to strengthen an argument
  • discover bias or slant in persuasive writing
  • develop reasoned arguments that form the foundation of persuasive essays

We'll use active reading strategies to uncover the techniques authors use to communicate their ideas in each type of essay. Students will spend the first half of the week reading the essay and learning about the essay type and literary strategies employed. In the second half of the week, students will engage in writing exercises. They'll practice literary analysis as they answer questions designed to help them think more deeply about the content of the essay; next, they'll engage in a vibrant discussion with other students in the class, sharing how the essay impacted them. Each week will culminate with a writing activity designed to help students implement essay-writing techniques.

The main essays we'll investigate in this class are

  • "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self" by Alice Walker
  • "To Siri, with Love" by Judith Newman***
  • "Black Men and Public Space" by Brent Staples
  • "Stuff Is Not Salvation" by Anna Quindlen

***Note: This essay is currently available on the New York Times site, but if you have used up your monthly quota of free articles, you'll have to subscribe to the NYT to access it.

Though the main essays we'll read are currently available online, we suggest you purchase, rent, or borrow a copy of The Little Norton Reader: 50 Essays from the First 50 Years compiled by Melissa A. Goldthwaite. Not only will this cover you in case the online articles become unavailable, but your student will also have access to some extra essays we recommend, not all of which are available on the internet. The paperback version used in class is ISBN number 978-0-393-62410-6.

Important Note: In Brave Writer, we read a wide range of essays and literature that address a wide variety of perspectives and that include time-bound references. Please be aware that you may experience strong reactions to what you read. By using literature as a teaching tool to foster understanding and growth, we have the opportunity to discuss these evolving ideologies.

We encourage you to pre-read books and essays to determine their appropriateness for your family and to prepare to have discussions on these topics with your students as they participate in the class. We have selected essays from The Norton Reader that we think your student will enjoy. Some of the other essays in that reader are intended for mature audiences, however. Please use your own judgment as you decide if this book and this class are a good fit for your teen.

Our Essay Prep classes are designed for 8th to 10th graders or high school students who've had little experience with academic writing.

The Essay Prep series provides a foundation for the Expository Essay class and ought to be taken first if your kids have never studied the essay form. The classes in this series are designed to be taken in any order. We recommend completing all three classes in the series before moving on to the essay class.

Learn more about the content of our three Essay Prep classes and how they complement each other by watching this 30-minute video. Please contact us with questions.

To explore our Brave Writer classroom, click here to access a sample class.

Class Structure Description #

Brave Writer online classes are specially designed with the busy homeschooling parent in mind. Classes last anywhere from four to six weeks. We offer courses that address a specific writing need so that you can take the ones that suit your family throughout the school year. Short class sessions enable you to work around family vacations, out-of-town swim meets, recovering from wisdom teeth removal, and visits from grandparents. We operate on the quarter system, including a summer session. Our most popular classes repeat each quarter, while others are seasonal.

Our classes meet in a customized online classroom, designed specifically to meet the needs of Brave Writer. Only registered students and the instructor have access to the classroom to ensure your privacy. Assignments and reading materials are posted by Brave Writer instructors each week (no additional supply fees necessary, unless otherwise indicated). Either you (homeschooling parent) or your child (homeschooling student) will visit the classroom daily at your convenience to read helpful information about the current topic or to find the writing assignment. We operate "asynchronously" (which means that the discussion is not live, but that posted information remains available to you in your time zone at your convenience). Instructors check the classroom throughout the day to answer questions and give feedback on writing.

Writing is done at home and then typed into the classroom, and shared with both the instructor and other classmates. You're not required to be online at any specific time of the day. We have students from all over the world participating in our classes so "live" discussion is impossible. Instead, the online classroom enables the instructor to post information and assignments when it is convenient to the instructor. Then, when it is convenient for you, you come to the classroom and read the latest postings.

Instructor feedback to student writing is offered for all participants to read. Writing questions are welcomed and encouraged! That's the point of class. We aim to give you immediate support as you face writing obstacles.

Brave Writer takes seriously the need for encouragement and emotional safety in writing. No student is ever at risk of being humiliated or mistreated. All online dialog is respectful and supportive of your child's process. This is the core of Brave Writer philosophy. You can read about Brave Writer values here.

What makes our program especially unique in the world of online education is that we value a corporate experience. Rather than teaching your child in a tutorial format, we prefer students to have the opportunity to both publish their work for an audience (other students) and also to have the chance to read other student writing. In no other setting is this possible. Schools-in-buildings rarely have students read each other's work. Homeschooled children are rarely in a classroom environment to begin with, so the opportunity to read peer-writing is nil.

Our classes provide an utterly unique experience in the world of writing instruction. Since most writers grow through emulation of good writing, it is a real advantage to Brave Writer kids to get the chance to read the writing of their fellow home-educated peers. They love it! They get to examine and internalize other ways of writing, analyzing and expressing ideas similar to their own. They have the chance to validate and cheer on their peers. And of course, the best part of all is that they receive the praise and affirmation of kids just like them.

Not only that, all instructor feedback is posted to the classroom for all students to read. That means your kids get the benefit of instructor comments on many papers, not just their own. We've noted that this style of instruction is especially effective and hope you'll agree!

To explore our Brave Writer classroom, click here to access a sample class.