Tip Two:  Discuss first.

I remember sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of me, pen in hand, and feeling paralyzed.  There were ideas spinning in my head, but none worthy of a first sentence.  The ideas swam around, without coming close enough that I could reel them in.

This is when a discussion helps.  Hashing over a topic helps complete ideas.  One can verbally stumble-bumble through half-formed thoughts, but through dialogue see them develop into recognizable opinions or concepts.  The conversation should be give-and-take, with free exchange of thoughts and little or no censorship, as in a brainstorming session.

Start by asking who, what, where, when, why and how questions to direct what type information should be researched.  Even when an essay is opinion based, there must be facts behind the beliefs.

Discussing a topic before writing gives reluctant writers a sense that they aren't all on their own.  It gives gifted writers a jump-start on the direction they may wish to take.  It reduces some of the re-writing.

For the youngest writers, I jot down phrases to remind them of what was discussed.  For a little older student, I'll suggest he record any key ideas that spark his interest.  For a high school level student, I'll focus more on an engaging, thought-provoking discussion and let him decide what, if any, notes he wants to take.

The discussion step may require more than one session.  At the onset, the student may not have enough information to participate in a helpful dialogue.  Set him in the right direction by helping him come up with questions to research.

Listen and ask for clarification rather than monopolize the conversation.  Don't use this step to preach at your child or try to coerce him to agree with you.  The essay is his to write.  Motivate him by being interested in his thoughts.  Challenge him to explain his ideas with an example or illustration.  If his ideas are immature or illogical, don't rush to point out what is wrong.  These are his ideas, after all, and you are there to help him put them on paper, not dictate what he should think.

Some students will be more interested in your ideas than their own.  Some may be afraid of being "wrong."  Thinking takes a lot of energy and not every student cares enough about writing to expend much effort.  In the beginning, that's okay.  Because you are not recording the discussion word for word, he must still write the ideas his own way.  As he matures, he will care more about his own thoughts.

After a great discussion, don't let your student weasel out of writing the paper.  He may approach you with the idea that since you now know what he thinks, there's no reason to write the essay, but while understanding his thoughts is a key point, it is not the only point.  Learning to put his idea on paper is as important as the idea itself.

Tip Three is coming soon!