Learning Challenges

Writing Like a Big Screen Pro

Does your middle- or high-school student have trouble with writing? Here’s how to help him find and maintain direction while working through the next big essay.

Close-up of a male student writing on book in the classroom

To write a five-paragraph essay, pretend you are a big-budget movie director.

If you’re like most teens, you love a good movie — the kind that keeps your attention with its strong plot, fully developed characters, and a story line that pulls together all the essential details to create a great ending. You can use some Hollywood thinking when you write your next school paper.

Act #1 Planning

As you begin to write, pretend you are directing a movie. Think of the opening scene and how it needs to grab your viewers’ attention. Imagine what your movie is about and where it’s heading within the first five minutes. That’s what the first paragraph of your essay should be like. Use a strong thesis statement to spell out your key points, where the paper’s heading, and how it’s going to get there.

Act #2 Writing Your Draft

Are you good at brainstorming, but slow at putting pen to paper? Pretend you’re trying to pitch your movie at a meeting of producers — the guys who will decide whether your idea is worth paying for. Grab a voice-recorder and talk through your thoughts. Don’t forget to mention the most important and exciting points. Do you need to be more visual? Grab a dry-erase board and colored markers, and draw out your ideas. Do you have enough information to answer the producers’ questions? If not, think through your story a bit more.

All right, you’ve got a great start. Now, pick your three strongest points, and turn each one into a paragraph. Think of each paragraph as an act in your screenplay. What are the plot twists that will keep your audience on the edge of its seat? At the beginning of each paragraph, pull in your viewers with a strong opener, then give ’em the details in another four to 10 sentences.

Finally, wrap it up with a punchy ending sentence. A conclusion reviews key points, creatively restates the thesis, and finishes with an inventive yet to-the-point final statement. In other words, give your audience something to think about.

Act #3 Editing

A good movie isn’t choppy. Remember to keep your paper flowing, from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. Keep asking yourself three key questions:

1. Does this sentence tie in to the last one? Does this paragraph flow logically from the previous paragraph?
2. Does each sentence enrich the main point of the paragraph?
3. Does it speak to the thesis statement and support your main idea?

Be careful not to let your creativity lead you into subplots that detract from your main story. Stay on subject and lead the reader forward.

Instead of just proofreading, sculpt a masterpiece. Reread and rewrite each sentence. Strive for brevity, proper grammar, and correct spelling. Use strong verbs and avoid slang words. Instead of having your character run, maybe he could bolt, scurry, or zoom from one action to the next.

Don’t forget to call on your assistants-your computer’s built-in spell- and grammar-check programs. When in doubt, get assistance from a tutor, teacher, or school librarian.

It’s a Wrap

Now do what Hollywood types do when they’ve finished their work-celebrate!