5 Tips for Tutoring Writing
Fourteen years ago, a fresh English major graduate, I was hired by a group of homeschool moms to teach their middle schoolers how to write and tutor writing with them one-on-one. They gave me the original IEW teacher-training VHS tapes and 3-ring binder, and I gave it a shot. A couple weeks later I had a stack of student paragraphs, which I stared at blankly. Sure, they had their adverb openers and they had retold the fable, but was that really all I was supposed to go for? So many sentences just didn’t make sense, but all I could tell them was, “we don’t say it like that” or “it doesn’t sound good.” That’s not helpful and it bothered me that I didn’t know why it didn’t sound good. To tutor writing, I realized I would need more than a checklist.
I wanted to write better myself and I knew that teaching others how to write better – that is, teaching them to fish (knowing how to write better) rather than giving them a fish (rewriting their draft for them or a mediocre grade and calling it good enough) – was a needed skill. This skill comes from tutoring writing, not from writing curriculum checklists. Individualized attention, honing work, improving ability, these are the practices that help our students’ writing improve. To tutor writing with individual students was – and is – highly rewarding. Although it can be painful and slow, to see students find their voice and become comfortable not only expressing their thoughts, but doing so clearly and articulately, is exciting.
I remembered the composition instruction – here and there, from parents, friends’ parents, a homeschool class in Washington State history – I had had as a homeschooled student. I knew meaningful feedback, constructive criticism, was hard to know, hard to give, and hard to receive. Writing is a piece of yourself – taking criticism is hard. Writing requires style, which can differ from person to person – what’s style and what’s flat wrong? One person’s writing advice can be the exact opposite of someone else’s. But all that I learned came from those various times when someone sat down with me and talked over what needed to happen to improve my work, not from the journal entries or vocabulary sentences I had to write from textbook assignments.
Writing is communication, and more than ever, all of us write. We write emails, we write Facebook updates, we write texts. Our children, in their young adult life right around the corner, will be writing college exam essays, scholarship essays, resume cover letters, love letters – written work that will shape others’ perception of them and affect their life. So how do we tutor writing with them?
So as we look over our kids’ paragraphs and try to help them develop into clear writers with elegant prose and a command of both their thoughts and the words they clothe them in, it’s no wonder we’re overwhelmed and at a loss. What can we tell them that will be helpful? How can we give criticism that is also encouraging and actionable? How can we help them with this paragraph such that their next one is better. How can we tutor writing skill?
Here are 5 ways I’ve come up with in my over ten years of teaching & tutoring writing to middle school kids, including my own two current middle schoolers, both of whom could already hold their own in an English 101 class (only because the current standards of composition in our society are abysmal, not because they’re amazing).
Tutor Writing Tip #1: They can’t write without material to work with.
This is priority #1. When parents with elementary kids ask about what they should do for composition, my answer is read, read, read – the kids should read, the parents should read to the kids, the kids should read aloud themselves, and there should be audio books and memory work as well. Hearing and seeing and saying correct English, beautiful English even, will develop their ear, their style, and their vocabulary better than any program.
Good writing says something. Before our kids can write, they have to have things to say. Young children will not be able to write well because they don’t yet have anything to say – they need to build that up over years of reading and living first.
The practice of having students retell fables as a beginning writing technique – like IEW and most classical writing programs – is a smart one, because it gives the students something to say. You can work on the mechanics of composition without worrying about what the content should be. Written narrations are also a way to practice writing skills without having to come up with something to say.
The 7 Best Online Writing Tutoring Services of 2022
Best Overall : Chegg
Chegg covers pretty much any subject you might need writing help in, which is a comfort for any student seeking help. The site has thousands of writing experts, all with their own individual expertise and specialties. Whether students need help with literary analysis, lab reports, or a history research paper, someone can assist.
Chegg’s system allows learners to submit a paper they need help with and have it checked by a suitable expert who can provide feedback within 48 hours, whether for a specific question or a general scan of your paper and writing style.
The platform offers a subscription plan for Chegg Writing, including a plagiarism detector, free citation creation, and proofreading and grammar scans for an unlimited number of papers.
There is no price listed on the website for the subscription—you have to upload a paper first and then add payment information to access a three-day free trial. Prices start at around $14.95 per month.
Best for High School Students : Tutor.com
High school students will benefit from the help of expert tutors that can cater to individuals’ one-on-one needs and specific learning goals. The tutors are available 24/7 for those late-night cramming sessions.
Tutor.com, which has the resources of the well-respected Princeton Review behind it, just might be the perfect fit for high school students looking for help with their writing skills.
Whether they’re looking for help on a book report, a research paper, an admissions essay, or something else, these tutors are available 24/7 to polish students’ writing skills. Even better: Tutor.com’s instructors are categorized by topic, so they can specifically search for tutors with expertise in whatever subject help is needed.
Rather than negotiating rates with individual tutors, Tutor.com offers several different pricing plans, including monthly subscriptions with a set number of hours per month or a more flexible plan allowing access anytime.
Monthly packages range from about $40 for one hour to roughly $340 for 10 hours per month, while six-month flex plans run from approximately $350 for 10 hours ($35 per hour) to around 800,450 for 50 hours ($29 per hour).
Best for Transparent Pricing : Skooli
Since Skooli offers tutoring in plenty of different subjects, you’re likely to be able to find writing tutors who can help tailor your essays to the specific needs of your subject. Writing a history research paper is very different from writing a literary analysis, and you can browse Skooli’s wide range of tutors to find one with the background and expertise to help with your specific project.
Although you can use Skooli as a long-term tutoring option—either with one specific instructor or different ones each time students log on—it’s also designed for in-the-moment queries. The pricing structure reflects that: Skooli charges around 800 per minute rather than monthly or even hourly rates, so all time is accounted for while learning.
For the most part, tutors on Skooli are well-vetted and experienced and hold degrees and teaching certifications, so students can be sure that every minute spent is furthering their knowledge.
Best National : Kaplan
You know Kaplan’s name, and its test prep is top of the line. For students looking for private or group tutoring to prepare for a standardized test or entrance exam, Kaplan’s tutoring program is one of the most comprehensive.
Students can sign up for small group remote classes with experienced teachers or enroll in private, one-on-one tutoring. Its tutoring sessions are highly structured, including multiple full-length practice tests and in-depth explanations for scores. It’s as close as it gets to taking the test before you actually take it.
While a good portion of the tutoring will focus on the multiple-choice sections of these tests, Kaplan tutors will also work with students to improve their writing skills and help them learn what the test review boards are looking for in each individual exam. The platform is for serious, long-term tutoring with highly experienced tutors and exclusive materials, not one-time sessions, and the prices reflect that.
How We Chose the Best Online Writing Tutoring Services
Online writing tutoring doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and we’ve tried to make selecting an instructor as easy as possible. Because “writing” is such a broad skill applied to so many different settings, we’ve sorted out some of the categories that we think will be the most useful to the largest number of students. The platforms here range from specialized expertise in niches like business writing (Business Writing Center) and test prep (TutorMe) to more general essay-writing assistance (Chegg).
Students seeking a writing tutor may want a long-term preparatory course or help figuring out an individual essay. With this in mind, we’ve included a wide range of specialties and, more importantly, price points, from pay-per-minute instant feedback to formal, highly researched, long-term prep classes that cost significantly more over the course of several months.
Connect with a writing tutor today
The process of your own tutoring will depend on the field and concern of your course, as well as your tutor’s own teaching process. The role of the tutor is to provide writing tips and critiques after reading their student’s work. They’ll provide you with useful tips like the most effective ways to structure your writing, how to create an essay outline, writing do’s and don’ts, how to self edit using an editing checklist, productive writing habits, how to write consistently, etc.
Apart from working on your overall writing skill through appropriate writing exercises, a tutor will structure your personalized sessions according to your own unique challenges. Working with an online tutor allows you to write in your own workspace, which can prove beneficial since one’s working environment contributes a lot to the writing process.
When you write in a space and setting you’re most comfortable and familiar with, you can write like you normally would. A tutor can, therefore, have the most accurate assessment of your work and process. An experienced writing tutor will be aware of all the common writing mistakes and struggles for writers and will be able to provide directions accordingly.
A writing coach can sometimes double as an ESL tutor for someone with good basic comprehension skills. A writing tutor will foster your writing and basic language skills by providing effective grammar lessons just like an English tutor. However, make sure you choose a tutor who specializes in writing courses for ESL students if you require this type of guidance.
Is Writing Tutoring Worth It?
You may have every desire to work on your writing skills but that can be a Herculean task without first understanding the correct process. You’ll also need to learn the most effective ways to practice writing, the correct grammatical and syntactical constructions, the correct sentence structure for different types of writing etc.
Having someone to guide you in the right direction can speed up the learning process and double the impact of your efforts. With the help of a tutor, you can learn how to write more effectively by identifying the issues with your writing and getting equipped to combat those errors. Since every individual has their own personal challenges, personalized help is your best bet towards improvement.
Jacqueline Zote is a copywriter with a passion for all things relating to the English language. Her interests range from pop culture and mythology to social activism. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies published by HarperCollins Publishers and Zubaan Books.